In 2017, CN Traveler listed Lake Atitlan as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Set in the highlands, at 5,100 feet above sea level, surrounded by three majestic volcanoes and authentic Mayan villages, Lake Atitlan is the top tourist destination in Guatemala.
Panajachel, the gateway and famous lakeside town in Lake Atitlan is 86 miles northwest of Guatemala City and 49 miles from Antigua Guatemala. Because of traffic, it takes about two and half hours to get from Guatemala City or Antigua to Panajachel.
If you’re planning to visit Guatemala, don’t miss Lake Atitlan. Here are 5 things you must do there:
1. Lake Atitlan sightseeing cruise
There are 11 towns and villages around the lake – Panajachel or Pana, San Marcos, San Juan, Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, San Pedro, Santiago Atitlan, Tzununa, San Lucas, Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo.
Private and group sightseeing cruises to the villages are available every day. Most sightseeing cruises include either three or four villages departing from Panajachel. Travelers who are not in Panajachel can still enjoy a sightseeing cruise. It is possible to hire a boat for a private sightseeing cruise from other towns and villages, which we did from Santa Catarina Palopo. The booking process is easy, and you can book it with your hotel.
The cruise usually includes stops at Santiago Atitlan, San Pedro, San Juan and San Marcos. Each village is uniquely different, and the Mayan ladies wear colorful traditional dresses with variations of motifs and design. Those who live there can tell where the ladies are from by looking at their dresses.
Santiago Atitlan and San Pedro are the most visited villages, while San Marcos and San Juan are more laid back and quiet. San Marcos is the hippy center in Lake Atitlan. San Pedro is known as the backpackers’ party town with lots of bars and cafés. Santiago Atitlan is much busier offering plenty of souvenir shopping. San Juan is a quiet and friendly village with many traditional weavers and crafters.
2. Enjoy nature and the views
When visiting Lake Atitlan, it is best to stay at a resort perched on the hillside with unobstructed panoramic views of the lake and three volcanoes – Volcan San Pedro, Volcan Atitlan, and Volcan Toliman. Stay at Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, B’alam Ya Resort, located near Santa Catarina Palopo or Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort in Santa Cruz.
Hear the birds singing in the tropical gardens while you relax on a hammock and enjoy the views of the lake and volcanoes.
3. Kayaking on the lake
Morning is the best time to go kayaking on Lake Atitlan. The water is calmer during the morning hours (before noon), and the sun is less intense. There are fewer boats during that time of day too. You can rent kayaks from the hotel or in Panajachel. Some resorts like B’alam Ya offer free kayak rentals.
4. Drink coffee in Panajachel
Guatemala is one of the top 10 coffee producing countries in the world. And the Lake Atitlan region plays an integral part in the production of Guatemalan Arabica coffee. The highland climate and the fertile soil are perfect for coffee plantations. The USDA Foreign Agriculture Service estimated Guatemala would produce 2.8 million bags of coffee in 2018.
When in Panajachel, visit Crossroads Café, Café la Parada and Café Loco.
5. Go shopping
The towns and villages in Lake Atitlan offer unique products made by local artists. Every town and village sells original art, locally produced and reasonably priced jewelry, bags, accessories, and blankets. If you like one of a kind souvenirs, you’ll be in for a treat. San Juan is the best village to learn to weave and buy handwoven products made by local weavers. It’s the best place to purchase table runners, bags, scarves and hair ornaments.
Have you been to Lake Atitlan Guatemala? Which is your favorite town/village?