If you are traveling to Guatemala, Atitlán Lake is a must in your journey. It is described as "the most beautiful lake in the world", surrounded by three volcanoes and 11 Mayan Villages - 90% of its population are natives-. It is a natural spectacle.
Lake Atitlán is located in Sololá department. It is 115 kilometers from Guatemala Capital City ( 3-hour land transfer) and 80 kilometers from Antigua Guatemala (2-hour land transfer). Many people visit Atitlán in one day departing from any of the two locations mentioned above. Others, prefer to star 3 days, minimum, to live the complete lake experience.
If you are departing from Antigua or Guatemala City, you can ask at your hotel for shared tourist shuttles departing daily and book the service.
Once you arrive, the first attraction is Panajachel, one of the Mayan Villages. For many years, Panajachel or "Pana" has been the main tourist site with its handicraft market, restaurants, and all type of hotels on the shores of the lake and over the "Santander Street". Some of the recommended hotels are "Regis, 3- star hotel", "Porta del Lago, a 4-star hotel", "Posada Don Rodrigo, a 3-star hotel", "Dos Mundos, a 3-star hotel", "Selina nomad hotel", "Atitlán, a 4-star hotel".
In Panajachel, you should go to its port to embark on a public boat towards the villages. Our recommendation is to be at Panajachel at 8 am so you can take the first boats departing at 9 am from the port. These public boats common capacity is 20 people maximum. Most of the transfers take from 15 to 30 minutes on the lake, depending on your destination. The transfer from one village to another in these boats is of Q25 per person (one way) and Q15 per person only if you are a local (one way).
If you are visiting Atitlán only for one day, you can take the option of acquiring a boat during the day that will take you to 3 villages for Q100 per person round trip. The route is Panajachel - Santiago Atitlán - San Juan la laguna - Panajachel. This route may take from 5 to 6 hours. If it is your first-time visiting Atitlán, this is the route you should take. If you have another day, visit the villages of the east side which are Santa Catarina Palopó y San Antonio Palopó.
Here is a short description of the most visited villages:
It is home to the Tz´utujil and the largest village of the zone. Its inhabitants live from agriculture and handicrafts. These handicrafts are of high quality and are sent to other places of the country as Antigua and the capital city. The typical dish is "Patín" made with tomato sauce, corned beef of fish wrapped in a "mashán" leaf.
An important fact is that Guatemala´s national twenty-five-cent coin has the face of one of the inhabitants of this village, the beautiful Concepción Ramírez Mendoza in 1963.
Places to visit:
It is also home to the Tz´utujil. Its inhabitants live from handicrafts, art galleries, agriculture, and fishing. It was the first village of the zone to organize its structure and laws to become sustainable; as of today, it remains as an example for all tourist sites of Guatemala as a sustainable destination. San Juan la laguna is a very culture-oriented town, which offers to its visitors chocolate factories-stores, medicinal plants, textiles factories-stores, cacao & corn production, art galleries, cooking classes, and more. Additionally, it offers community-based tours and community lodging.
It is located on the east side of the lake and home of the Cakchiquel culture. Its name "Palopó" means "Amate (Ficus) tree" due to the abundance of it in this land. The economy depends on agriculture and handicrafts. Today, due to tourism, it has varied and locals live of hand-made high-quality textiles. The town differentiates from the rest by the colorful traditional clothing its inhabitants wear. Women wear turquoise hand-made textiles and men wear embroidered hand-made pants. The typical dish is "Pulique", a spiced chicken stew.
Places to visit:
Coming from Panajachel, you can arrive by land, it is 10 km from Pana. You pass first Santa Catarina Palopó and then you find San Antonio Palopó. It is also home to Cakchiquel culture and its name "Palopó" means "Amate (Ficus) tree" due to the abundance of it in this land. The beauty of this village led it to be the place to film the movie "Paloma Herida" in 1963, a Mexican film produced in a society with Guatemalans.
This village is very particular and different from the rest. The town is dressed in colors where white showcases. Its economy depends on agricultural practices; however, nowadays, tourism has pushed its handicrafts, especially its beautiful pottery and textiles.
Places to visit:
Note: on the streets of the village, natives offer you to take pictures of them wearing their typical clothing at Q1 per picture and sometimes they dress you up with typical clothing. This is a life-time experience.
There are other villages to visit including San Pedro la Laguna (party town) or San Marcos la Laguna (Spiritual retreat) and many hotels at each of these villages.
Important note: If you are planning to visit some of the Mayan Villages and taking a boat to cross the lake, you should visit first the Tourist Information Center in Panajachel to travel with a certified guide, or better yet, acquire a day tour or excursion with a certified Tour Operator. Do not travel on your own.
► A Helicopter Ride Over Ancient Temples Found Deep in the Jungle (optional) ► Watching an Active Volcano Erupt in the Middle of the Night (optional) ► Hanging Out with Hippies in the Village of San Marcos (optional) ► A Visit to the Country’s Biggest Indigenous Market (optional) ► And Much, Much More...