Lake Atitlan is one of the most visited destinations in Guatemala by local and international tourists, alike. It is surrounded by several Mayan villages, some which openly welcome visitors to learn about their traditions, culture, and history.
If you’re looking for surreal scenery, tranquility, and culture while visiting Guatemala, look no further than Lake Atitlan. This picturesque bucket list destination allows you to indulge your senses at one of the largest lakes in Latin America. Its beauty is surrounded by three towering volcanoes making this site more magical.
Comfortable Charter Bus
Probably the easiest, and most convenient, way to commute to Lake Atitlan is via charter bus from Antigua or Guatemala City, depending on your origin. A round-trip ticket will average about $20 thanks to its increasing popularity. They can be purchased at any tour operator in Antigua or Guatemala City. Buses run on a regular schedule and arrive from either location in about 3.5-4 hours, so there shouldn’t be an issue making this a day trip if you’re limited on time. However, you might want to give yourself more time to relax in this Guatemalan haven.
Adventurous Chicken Bus
As a Guatemalan stamp of approval, choose the chicken bus option. The lively and colorfully decorated school buses act as local transportation throughout the country. It’s also the cheaper alternative at just $3 roundtrip, but only if you put those Spanish language immersion classes to use! The buses are usually packed to capacity and seating is scarce, and likely uncomfortable. Luckily, there is a direct bus that leaves in the morning, so no transfers are necessary.
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Renting a private car is the most comfortable, private, and expensive option. With a cost of about $100, you can try this more exclusive choice and leave at your own time.
Arriving & Getting Around
No matter how you choose to arrive, you will all arrive at the same location in the town of Panajachel. Because of all the incoming traffic, you’ll notice it’s the largest and busiest town in the area. Unfortunately, you won’t get the peace and tranquility we promised in this part of the lake, but you can easily hop on a taxi boat to avoid the crowds.
Taxi boats are the main method of transportation for traveling between the various towns at Lake Atitlan. Depending on the distance, you can expect to pay anywhere from $1-$5 for a ride on these motorboats. They run from 6AM-5: 30 PM, so be sure not to miss the last boat as you will be forced to charter a private boat to get you where you need to be–this can be expensive!
Tuk-tuks are available for those who prefer to travel overland, but they only travel to neighboring towns. These also help if you choose to stay outside of the main area of town and need to go a bit further inland. You should negotiate the price you will pay before entering, so as not to be taken advantage of. Since they travel short distances, you shouldn’t pay more than $1.50.
In addition to the marvelous beauty that is Lake Atitlan, the surrounding villages also give it a reason for being a buck list destination. There are 11 neighboring towns, each with their own characteristics and vibes; from towns that cater to tourist, specifically, to the more traditional and authentic villages. With so much diversity, you can see there’s a lot to explore. One thing all of the villages have in common are the spectacular views. Here are a few of the villages that visitors tend to fall head over heels with:
Santa Catarina Palopo
Located near the main town of Panajachel makes it the perfect starting point for a hike into Santa Catarina Palopo. Several vendors along the way sell handmade trinkets and you can also find a few shops. Overall, it’s a local town and the ideal location to admire the lake life.
As a bonus, you can extend your hike into San Antonio Palopo, famous for its traditional fashions and hot springs.
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Unique to Santa Cruz is the diving center for those interested in some lake action. You can also arrange yoga classes, cooking classes, or weaving through a little hostel that sits right near the main dock. You can easily hike to the next village over, Jabailito, which is said to be the most scenic hike in the area.
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Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is surrounded by small, dare I say quite cute, towns where the people are super friendly and traditional. Quite cheap e.g. rode a horse all around a small town for an hour and about $5! Worth a visit for a few days! #lakeatitlan #maximoguatemala #travellatinamerica #travelblogger #learnteachtravel
The town of San Juan maintains an authentic feel and seems less commercialized than some of the other neighboring villages. San Juan is a popular destination for weaving co-ops and is home to over 30 different shops. Each shop will provide demonstrations of the traditional process and you are able to purchase unique designs and quality Guatemalan textiles.
San Marcos is a favorite destination among yogis. Near to the water, you will find a large expat community which helped to establish the many yoga studios, meditation centers, and yoga retreats. And if you want to take it a step further, you can enroll in a Yoga Certification Course. There is also a small nature reserve which houses some of the best swimming holes and kayaking. All of the trails can be hiked in an easy half hour. Entrance fee is about $1, or 15Q.
After Panajachel, Santiago has the most metropolitan feel. The patron saint of the town is Maximon and you will be approached by those eager to give you a tour of his house and its history. The people are very traditional and the town is known for its huipiles (traditional women’s skirts) intricately embroidered with patterns, florals, and birds.
In almost all of the villages, you will be able to find small hotels or hostels for reasonable prices. Most of the accommodations are located within walking distance of one another making it easy to mingle with other visitors. The town of Jabailito has only one large resort if you’re looking for a more luxurious stay away from other tourists.
No matter how you get to Lake Atitlan, which villages you visit, or what you do while you’re there, one thing’s for sure, you’ll be glad to have added it to your bucket list. It’s a unique destination filled with unparalleled beauty and authentic culture. And if you’re already planning to Study Abroad or Intern in Guatemala, make sure not to miss this trip!