Encapsulated by lush jungle mountains, volcanoes and picturesque lake villages — Lago de Atitlan must be one of the world’s most beautiful and captivating natural landscapes. Giant waterfalls pour off clifftops in the distance, clouds roll over the tops of mountains as sun-rays shine through sparkling and reflecting on the water. If visiting for the first time, the descent toward the lake is sure to be captivating. And the experience of being in awe of your surroundings is probably not likely to diminish, regardless of how long you stay. With ten towns to visit around Lago de Atitlan, each distinct from the others, it’s hard to imagine spending less than a week exploring just a glimpse of what life on the lake has to offer. However, budgets and time constrains considered, if you have less time, it’s worth finding the town that best suits your travel interests and agenda.
Panajachel is a town worth passing through, in our opinion (though we’ve met a handful of expats who saw no reason to leave.) Souvenir shopping is a good option here, as vendors with large tents line the main streets, offering a less claustrophobic alternative to the indoor, or closed-off markets of other cities. And, Pana isn’t a bad option for longer term stays, centered around studying spanish, or volunteering. (See Pana page for more information.) Panajachel is also the most-connected of the towns, offering easy access by bus to further away destinations. Panajachel also offers a few different options for grocery shopping, numerous ATMs, a nice sized market, and more options for dining and drinking than some of the other Lakeside towns.
San Pedro is a more popular destination with the younger crowd for longer stays. San Pedro is laid back, and inexpensive when it comes finding a place to sleep. There are also a number of Spanish Schools and volunteer opportunities here, in addition to the bars. Like in San Marcos, the main tourist drag sits close to the lake, while the village, the church, and the market, are farther up the hill.
From San Pedro, San Juan is a short pick-up ride away. It’s much quieter than it’s neighbor, and displays some of the most beautiful and interesting murals, mostly of Mayan themes, that we’ve found in our travels.
San Marcos is considered the “New Age” Capital of Lake Atitlan. Yoga, Meditation, Reiki, and a wide variety of other workshops, services, and classes are offered here. It’s also the most vegetarian friendly town we’ve come across in our travels.
Finally, Santiago may be the closest to our hearts, primarily because of it’s elusiveness. Santiago does not cater to tourists in quite the same way as other towns, which cuts out the distractions, and leaves more to be discovered (though it’s not an easy task.) Here Mayan culture is still very much alive.
To get to and from any town on the lake, the travel takes 40 minutes or less, and costs Q25 (around $3 USD) or less, making it possible to explore different villages for a morning or afternoon, without having to pack up and find a new bed.
For more information on what to do and where to stay, check out information on the following destinations:
Also check out Emily’s Story: