Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, is one of the most magical destinations in all of Central America. This turquoise, high-altitude lake is surrounded by volcanoes and dotted with small, colorful towns.
Curiously, one thing I’ve noticed about Guatemala guidebooks and tours is that they tend to label Lake Atitlan as a singular destination. “Spend a few days exploring Antigua before a few days on Lake Atitlán, then move on to Tikal…”
By the sound of that, you’d think that Lake Atitlan — Lago de Atitlán — is tiny, maybe with one town and a public beach or two, the kind of place you drop in for a night and leave without thinking too much about it.
This couldn’t be more false. Lake Atitlan is ENORMOUS. And the different villages that surround it are so interesting and diverse, each with its own personality.
I feel like these guidebooks and tours really do travelers a disservice — they convince people that the lake is only worth a few days at most. Instead, Lake Atitlan is one of the best places in Central America to kick back, relax, and enjoy tranquil nature. It’s a wonderful contrast to the more hectic destinations in the region.
Lake Atitlan, located in the heart of the Guatemala Highlands, is the deepest lake in Central America. It has a maximum depth of 340 meters (1,120 feet), yet it’s also perched at an elevation of 1,562 meters (5,125 feet) above sea level.
Atitlan is also one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen. Imagine an immense blue abyss sparkling in the sunlight, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes covered with blooming wildflowers.
The weather is absolutely perfect — temperatures hover around 70s-80s (21-27 C) during the day and 50s-60s (10-20 C) at night. No need for heating or air conditioning. Dry season runs from November to April; you’ll experience the clearest, sunniest days from January through March. Rainy season is usually from June through October.
Second, Lake Atitlan is home to a primarily Indigenous community. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the Ancient Mayans, well, they’re still here! Come to Lake Atitlan and you’ll be surrounded by Mayans. And each lake town has its own signature style of Indigenous clothing.
This is a great thing, and makes Lake Atitlan a wonderfully welcoming placer. Mayans are immeasurably kind, and I feel particularly safe in this region because Mayan men do not catcall or hit on non-Mayan women — ever.
Third, Lake Atitlan is home to more than a dozen different towns. Tiny villages, large towns, Gringo heavens, Indigenous communities. Each beautiful place is so different than the last and it’s worth exploring as many as possible.
I’ve written this guide as a way to differentiate the villages, letting you figure out which Lake Atitlan towns are best for you.
This post was most recently updated in January 2023.
If you want a well-connected town with lots of tourist services, I recommend staying in Panajachel. If you are a backpacker who loves a fun night out, you may prefer the backpacker-oriented San Pedro La Laguna.
The best cheap place to stay on Lake Atitlan is San Pedro La Laguna. You will find the greatest variety of cheap accommodation in this town.
Technically you can swim in Lake Atitlan, but some parts of the lake are on the dirty side. I recommend swimming in the beautiful, clean area around San Marcos.
You need much more than one day! I recommend spending at least four days exploring the different towns of the lake. Here are the best Lake Atitlan travel tips.
Lake Atitlan is very safe — one of the safest places in Latin America. Like all other destinations, keep an eye on your belongings and don’t drink too much.
I generally spend a week on Lake Atitlan with stays in Panajachel, Jaibalito, and San Pedro, plus visits to surrounding towns. I feel like a full week on the lake is enough time to get a good sense of the many different communities that call it home.
Here are the top towns to visit, located counterclockwise from the lake’s main hub of Panajachel. Which Lake Atitlan town is best for you? Read on!
Panajachel, Guatemala, is known as the tourist town of Lake Atitlan.
Panajachel, a.k.a. Pana, is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit in Guatemala, and if you’re going to visit only one town in Lake Atitlan, it will probably be here. You’ll find a well-developed town with a lot of resources for both locals and expats.
Panajachel’s main drag is Calle Santander and it’s here that you’ll find the best shopping in Guatemala. There are plenty of tour agencies offering day trips and tours around the entire lake.
If I were to live anywhere in Guatemala, it would be Panajachel — but that doesn’t mean it’s my favorite place in Guatemala!
Pana has the perfect mix of natural beauty, resources, good prices, easy travel connections, amenities for digital nomads, and an expat community that existed long before remote work became popular. All important things in choosing a place to live.
Best Things to Do in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
Shop for EVERYTHING! Pana has the best selection and prices in Guatemala. If you’re looking to buy souvenirs, Panajachel is the perfect place. Jewelry, textiles, leather goods, artwork — they’ve got it all!
Visit Crossroads Coffee. This is more than just a coffee shop. The beans are obviously amazing (it’s Guatemala, after all!), but the true highlight of this place is Mike, the owner. He is the kindest, friendliest, most interesting man, he will talk your ear off in the best way, and I promise that you will feel so happy and light after having a conversation with him.
Take a Mayan cooking class. Indigenous Mayan flavors are different from what you may consider to be Latin American food. You’ll take the recipes home afterward, and this is something you can pass on to your family and friends.
Take a sunset ATV tour. Of all the towns on Lake Atitlan, Panajachel has the best views of the sunset. This tour takes you up into the mountains for the best view over the lake.
How about a sunset cruise, too? If you’re adventurous and speak a bit of Spanish, bargain with a captain at one of the docks! You’ll find the best sunsets from December to February; other months of the year, it’s rainy or it gets cloudy by late afternoon.
Go for a scenic bike tour. You get a good sense of the size and beauty of the lake when on two wheels. But don’t think you’re not in good enough shape — this leisurely bike tour is “98% downhill” and stops at every scenic overview.
Hike Indian Nose Peak at sunrise. Yep, this one has a very early start time, but the hike isn’t bad — just 30 minutes to one of the highest points on the lake. From there you’ll get to experience panoramic views of an Atitlan sunrise in perfect silence.
Where to Stay in Panajachel
When it comes to accommodation on Lake Atitlan, Panajachel has the most extensive selection and best options.
Here are the top-rated hotels in Panajachel:
- Luxury: Porta Hotel del Lago
- Mid-Range: Hotel-Villas Jabel Tinamit
- Budget: Hotel El Sol
Find deals on Panajachel hotels here.
Where to Eat in Panajachel
Chez Alex is the fanciest and most expensive place in town — but let me tell you that at low Guatemalan prices, it’s so worth it. I had a fantastic steak with green peppercorn sauce along with plenty of red wine.
If you’ve been craving sushi after weeks on the road, Restaurant Hana has nice Japanese food.
Circus Bar has great pizza and live music on the weekends. We ordered from them for our pizza booze cruise!
Street tacos are abundant on Calle Santander and elsewhere. You’ll also find GFC (Guatemalan fried chicken) if you’re up for an indulgence.
Santa Cruz, Guatemala, is known as the nearly-vertical town of Lake Atitlan.
Want to develop huge muscles in your calves? Come to Santa Cruz! I say this in jest, but seriously. Most of the villages in Lake Atitlan are built onto hills, but Santa Cruz is the steepest one of all.
Santa Cruz, also called Santa Cruz la Laguna, is a traditional Mayan town and though there are several expats living here, this feels much more like a local town. Most of the Gringo-oriented businesses are right down at the lake’s edge; once you climb into town, it’s purely local.
I liked Santa Cruz for a day trip; anything longer than that would be a bit excessive. Make sure you don’t miss the area down by the docks as well as the town itself.
Best Things to do in Santa Cruz
Tour Santa Cruz and visit a local nonprofit. This tour takes you around town with a visit to a vocational training center showing locals how to develop more skills and make a better living.
Go diving! Ever dived at altitude before?! Lake Atitlan’s one dive shop, ATI Divers, is located in Santa Cruz. It might not seem like a conventional diving destination, but with Atitlan’s rising waters, you’ll find lots of buildings that have been swallowed by the lake.
Walk to the top of the village. My friends were grumbling by the end, but it was an accomplishment to walk to the tippity top of the very vertical town!
Where to Stay in Santa Cruz
Here are the top-rated hotels in Santa Cruz, Guatemala:
- Something for everyone: La Iguana Perdida (everything from dorms to high-end private rooms and a great local atmosphere)
- Mid-Range: Atitlan Sunset Lodge
- Budget: Hotel & Restaurant Arca de Noé (go for the rooms with shared bathroom)
Find deals on hotels in Santa Cruz here.
Where to Eat in Santa Cruz
Cafe Sabor Cruceno is a culinary school creating Guatemalan and fusion dishes. If you’re coming to Santa Cruz for a day trip, this is where you want to eat for lunch! It’s located on the main plaza in town.
The building also has the best views of the town and I took the first Santa Cruz photo from there.
Jaibalito, Guatemala, is known as the town people don’t want you to know about on Lake Atitlan.
I have so much affection for Jaibalito — it’s a small town only accessible by water or by hiking, it’s home to three great establishments, the local community is very friendly, and the views of the lake are wonderful. It’s also conveniently located for day trips to other towns on the lake.
At night, noise swells — competing churches play incredibly loud and boisterous music, while in the middle of the night, all of the dogs on the lake seem to be barking at each other.
There’s not much to do in Jaibalito, but that’s where I think the charm lies. It feels like stumbling upon a secret that nobody knows about.
Best Things to Do in Jaibalito
Just hang out and relax. If you’ve come to Jaibalito with an agenda, you’re doing it wrong. This is a place for doing nothing.
Note: Club Ven Aca, once a mainstay of Jaibalito, has closed since the original publication of this post.
Where to Stay in Jaibalito
Hotel La Casa del Mundo is a high-end property with a gorgeous location right on the lake.
Posada Jaibalito (no website!), also known as Hans’s place, is a casual hostel and restaurant dishing up surprisingly good schnitzel.
Vulcano Lodge, a hotel in Jaibalito I adored, has closed since the original publication of this post. It looks like nothing has taken its place.
Find deals on Jaibalito hotels here.
Where to Eat in Jaibalito
Posada Jaibalito (a.k.a. Hans’s place). This hostel is home to a restaurant with super-delicious and super-cheap food, including German dishes like schnitzel and goulash. Their salads are basic but ridiculously good — I can’t figure out why! This is also where Jaibalito’s expat community gathers each night.
San Marcos La Laguna
San Marcos, Guatemala, is known as the hippie town of Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan is known for its mystical pull, and the pull is strongest in San Marcos, attracting a hippie community. You can pretty much figure out who in the boat is going to San Marcos based on what they’re wearing!
San Marcos is one of the most beautiful villages on the lake, but it’s tiny. After all the praises I had heard sung about San Marcos, I was stunned to see how small it actually was! I wouldn’t want to base in San Marcos, but it’s a great spot for a day trip.
Come here to get into your mystical side, or come here for the beautiful scenery. It’s worth a visit on both accounts.
Best Things to Do in San Marcos
Get your hippie on. Want your chakras balanced? Want a birth chart done? Manifestation? Astrology? This is where to do it. There are several beauty salons, too, if you’re in need of a manicure or a wax.
Jump into the water. San Marcos is home to Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil, a beautiful trail that leads to a platform where you can jump into the lake! If you’re not up for a jump, you can climb into the water for a swim. I think this is the best place to swim in Lake Atitlan.
Visit the Eagle’s Nest. This retreat puts on all kinds of yoga classes and events. You can buy a day pass for Community Day Fridays, where you can join the open mic or just hang out and meet fellow cool people.
Do a formal retreat. Las Piramides hosts meditation and yoga retreats, as well as classes and short-term sessions. For a challenge, do one of their many silent retreats.
Where to Stay in San Marcos
Here are the top-rated hotels in San Marcos:
- Luxury: Eagle’s Nest Atitlán
- Mid-Range: Lush Atitlán
- Budget: Hotel Berena
Find deals on San Marcos hotels here.
Where to Eat in San Marcos
Are you a vegetarian? Welcome to heaven. San Marcos especially excels when it comes to vegetarian offerings.
Restaurant Fe. So good, I never ate anywhere else when in San Marcos. The curries and the Indian soups are fabulous (and a nice change from Latin American food).
Shambhala Cafe is a nice place to hang out and sip a tea or kombucha.
San Pedro La Laguna
San Pedro, Guatemala, is known as the backpacker town of Lake Atitlan.
San Pedro is home to the lowest prices on Lake Atitlan, making this a popular spot for backpackers traveling long-term on the cheap. With good accommodation, excellent food, and a wild nightlife scene, it’s not surprising that plenty of backpackers end up stuck in San Pedro for weeks or months!
It might seem like Gringo-land, but walk up the steep hill and you’ll be in an entirely Mayan part of the town. I loved taking long walks around here, photographing the colorful buildings.
If you’ve been spending a bit too much money on a long-term trip, this is a great place to spend time without breaking the bank.
Best Things to Do in San Pedro:
Climb San Pedro Volcano. You should have a good level of fitness to climb Volcán San Pedro, as it’s a tough climb, but if you do it, you’ll be rewarded with sensational views all over the lake. If you’re fit and you can handle the early wakeup, consider a sunrise Indian Nose hike.
Learn Spanish. San Pedro is home to several language schools and Spanish classes are quite cheap — two of my friends took a weeklong course for just $40!
Go on a kayaking tour. Some of the best lake views are around San Pedro.
Go horseback riding to coffee plantations. You’ll see locals riding horses throughout San Pedro — why not go on a ride of your own? The best rides take you at scenic overlooks where the lake shimmers in front of you.
Party. This is the place. I’m usually at Sublime every evening, and they do fun theme nights like funk night, Disney night, and a black light party.
Zoola is a fun for day drinking in the pool (and it’s the cleanest pool I experienced in Central America).
Where to Stay in San Pedro:
Hotel Mikaso is the nicest place in town with a gorgeous deck with purple flowers and hot and cold tubs. The beds are hand-carved and there’s a grand piano upstairs. Dorms from 60q ($8), private rooms from 180q ($24).
Hotel Playa Linda is a highly rated and cheap alternative.
Find deals on hotels in San Pedro here.
Where to Eat in San Pedro
Idea Connection. I can’t believe I found legitimate, Italian-quality pasta in Guatemala. Probably the best wifi I found in town, too.
Hotel Mikaso has the best pizza on Lake Atitlan. Thin-crust, gooey cheese, lightly charred. Dinner only.
Zoola is one of the many good Israeli restaurants in town.
Street tacos. Available everywhere on the main drag and always delicious. You’ll also find Japanese street food like yakitori and okonomiyaki, and plenty of street barbecue!
Other Lake Atitlan Towns
I haven’t visited the next towns on Lake Atitlan, but I thought they were worth including in the list for informational purposes:
The largest town on Lake Atitlan, Santiago is famous for its church (people make its saints handmade clothes!), its market, and the saint Maximon, whose home is in Santiago. Views of the lake are gorgeous from here and while you can climb San Pedro Volcano from here, it’s a longer and more dangerous route.
Santiago is a bit isolated from the major towns on the lake, but you can find direct lanchas from Panajachel and San Pedro.
San Juan La Laguna
Several women on my first tour visited San Juan and were captivated by it, describing it as a perfect small village with colorful buildings, friendly people, and hardly any tourists. Their highlight was learning how to weave from a group of Mayan women at Lema, a collective in town.
San Juan is the next town over from San Pedro.
Santa Catarina Palopo
Santa Catarina Palopo is a pretty town just past Panajachel and if you’re up for a (non-volcanic) hike, this is an easy and fun way to enjoy the coastline! Santa Catarina is also home to hot springs (aguas termales) that appear to be built right into the lake. This was one of the stops on the motorcycle trip on our tour.
Santa Catarina is most easily accessed from Panajachel, by road, hiking, or boat.
Lake Atitlan Travel Tips
Guatemala City Airport, near Antigua, is the closest airport to Lake Atitlan. I find that Skyscanner tends to have the cheapest prices for flights. Some people come in from Tuxtla Gutierrez near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico.
To get from town to town, take a lancha (boat) from the town’s dock. Generally boats run in either direction from town to town from Panajachel-Santa Cruz-Jaibalito-Tzununa-San Marcos-San Juan-San Pedro, plus stops in between at other towns and private docks where people need to be picked up.
Other lines run direct between Panajachel and San Pedro, Panajachel and Santiago, and Santiago and San Pedro.
Prices vary and can be negotiated. Some function as public transportation, taking as many people as they can; others act more like water taxis. Generally, ask someone nearby what you should pay, or negotiate down when the driver tells the price. Short distances are usually 15-25q ($2-3). You pay the driver when you arrive.
Within the towns of Lake Atitlan, you can get around by hiring a driver with a tuk-tuk. Be sure to negotiate the fee with the driver before you get in.
Keep in mind that many Mayans don’t like being photographed. Some are happy to pose for photos, but always ask permission before you take a photo of a Mayan person.
Child trafficking is an issue in Guatemala, so please don’t take photos of children without permission from their parents.
Do not flirt with Mayans. It’s forbidden for Mayans to entertain romance with non-Mayans.
If you want to swim in Lake Atitlan, Panajachel and San Marcos are good places to do so. The lake is dirtier around San Pedro, though it didn’t stop a few of my friends from jumping in…
Not all towns have ATMs! Make sure to stock up on cash in Panajachel or San Pedro before visiting the other towns. Cash is king here.
Prepare for crazy dreams. Some say it’s due the altitude (Atitlan is a mile-high lake!); others refer to the lake’s mystical powers. I don’t know what it is, but several of my friends and I had crazy dreams the whole time we were on the lake, especially in Jaibalito.
What if I only have one day in Lake Atitlan?
You have only one real day to explore Lake Atitlan? A shame. But I understand. Sometimes you can’t fit in everything. In that case, I recommend basing in Panajachel and taking a one-day tour of the villages. You’ll have a local tour guide and get to take a lovely boat ride around the lake.
This tour visits San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago, while this tour visits San Antonio Palopo and Santa Catarina.
Is it ideal? No. Nothing compares to spending a few days or even a week at Lake Atitlan. But it’s better to see a few different towns than just base in Pana the whole time.
Where to Go After Lake Atitlan
Both Panajachel and San Pedro are well-connected for onward transportation; if you’re staying in any of the other towns, I recommend getting yourself to either of these hubs by boat first.
Antigua is a beautiful colonial city about 2.5 hours from Panajachel (and you’ve probably already visited it en route to the lake). Antigua is one of Guatemala’s standout spots and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can read more about my time in Antigua here.
Chichicastenango has an enormous and enormously popular market on Sundays and Thursdays. (Keep in mind that Panajachel has many of the same items in the local market for cheaper.) It’s about two hours from either Panajachel or San Pedro. You can book a day trip to Chichicastenango from Panajachel here.
Quetzaltenango (Xela) is a medium-sized city about three hours from San Pedro and a popular hotspot for low-cost Spanish lessons, some that include a homestay with a family.
You can get to pretty much any major tourist destination in Guatemala from San Pedro or Panajachel. Our journey from San Pedro to Lanquín for Semuc Champey was supposed to take around eight hours but took twelve. (It was worth it. More on Semuc Champey here.)
Godspeed if you want to go all the way to Flores or Rio Dulce in a single trip. That’s a LOOOONG journey.
If you want to cross into Mexico next, San Cristobal de las Casas is an overnight journey from either Panajachel or San Pedro. (If you go to San Cristobal, I recommend a day trip to Sumidero Canyon.)
Some agencies have direct buses to San Salvador and the fantastic beach town of El Tunco in El Salvador; others have direct buses to Copan Ruinas in Honduras.
And if you need to go to Guatemala City Airport, you can find direct connections from both Panajachel (three hours) and San Pedro (four and a half hours). You may want to reserve ahead of time; some shuttles fill quickly. Book a seat on a shuttle from Panajachel to the airport here.
(These times are all by direct shuttle, and keep in mind that “Latin time” means they might take longer. Brightly painted “chicken buses” are much cheaper but will invariably take much longer and possibly require you to change buses once or more.)
Is Lake Atitlan Safe?
Lake Atitlan is generally an extremely safe place for travelers, due in part to the Mayan laws of conduct. I consider it one of the safest places I’ve traveled in Central America, a region I’ve traveled solo extensively.
That said, there’s one big Atitlan issue: some travelers have been robbed while crossing to other towns on foot. Many of these paths are safe, like between Santa Cruz and Jaibalito, but the situation can change frequently, so ask locals whether it’s safe for you to do so.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women.
I recommend bringing the following items:
Portable safe — Leave your valuables locked in this and lock it to something sturdy in your room.
A crossbody purse that zips. This is the kind of handbag I recommend for keeping your belongings close and safe. Amazon has lots of affordable options.
No matter where you go in Guatemala, be sure to get travel insurance for your trip. Travel insurance will save you if you get sick or injured and need medical attention, or if you get robbed on your trip and need money. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Guatemala.
More on Guatemala:
- Semuc Champey, Guatemala: Lakes, Waterfalls, Caves, and More!
- Visiting Tikal, Guatemala, at Sunset
- I Still Don’t Know How I Feel About Antigua, Guatemala
- Solo Female Travel in Central America: Is it Safe?
Best of Central America:
- El Tunco, El Salvador: The Ultimate Offbeat Beach Town
- Chilling Out in Caye Caulker, Belize
- Snorkeling with Sharks in Belize
- Sailing from Caye Caulker to Placencia, Belize
- A Volcanic Rural Getaway of Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
- Alive in the Vibrant City of León, Nicaragua
- A Getaway to Laguna de Apoyo, Nicaragua
- Things to Do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
- Rocking Out on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua
- Offbeat Beach Town of Sámara, Costa Rica
- Into the Monteverde Cloud Forest of Costa Rica
- Backpacking Southeast Asia vs. Backpacking Central America
Have you been to Lake Atitlan? Which town was your favorite?
136 thoughts on “Lake Atitlan Guatemala Guide: Best Towns & Things to Do”
You’re so right about guidebooks referring to the lake as if it were a quick stopover type of place. I’d love to visit Guatemala, maybe next year (it’s not looking like it’s in the cards for this year) so this is a helpful comprehensive kind of guide to the lake. Jaibalito seems like the perfect place for me–I love places where you just can do nothing!
Well, you have me convinced! All of the villages look amazing (and these are some of the best photos I think you’ve posted!). Can I come on your next tour?
PLEASE DO! Would love to have you and you’d love Guatemala! Thanks. 🙂 I like these photos.
Kate thank you for this article. I booked my trip for Jan 30th 2017, Staying for 7 days. This article is very informative and will definitely help me during my travels around the lake. If you have any other tips or information please email me. Would be greatly appreciated thank you again
Hey I’m finding your guide to Atitlan very helpful. What are these motorcycle tours you speak of?
They were created by my friend for our tour only. Sorry!
My buddy and I are heading to Guatemala on Dec 24 – Jan 1 2016-2017..
Wondering if this rough itinerary is feasible?
Dec 24 land — head to Antigua
Dec 25 – day trip and hike volcanoes
26- bus to Lake Atitlan stay there for the 26th and 27th
Dec 28 – bus back to gua city and fly to Flores stay 28th
Dec 29 – day trip to Tikal -stay night
Dec 30 – bus to Izabal spend the day and night bus back to Flores on 31 and fly back to Gua city..
We’re cramming that last Izabal part in.. probably not the best option? Would you suggest staying an extra night in Lake Atitlan?
Are there any 1 night 2 day hikes you would recommend, or places a little off the beaten path we could hit that aren’t in the typical guidebooks? We’re open to anything and any place and love the local vibes.
Also, where would the best place be to go jungle trekking, kayaking, ziplining, anything of that sort? Thank you so much in advance.. I appreciate your time and look forward to your response!
In my opinion, this is way too rushed a trip. You’ve got to keep in mind that transportation in Guatemala is longer and rougher than it would be at home. You can kayak on Lake Atitlan. If I were you, I’d add much more time into Lake Atitlan. And is there a point of going to Antigua if you’re not going to spend any time there? You can volcano trek on Lake Atitlan as well.
Thanks for that info.. we were definitely thinking it was going to be too packed. Probably going to spend more time around Lake Atitlan (Dec 24-27) and then just head to Tikal on the 28th.
Is it possible to catch an overnight backpacking trip on Volcano Acatenango from Lake Atitlan.. or do all of the jump offs begin from Antigua..? Thanks so much!
No clue. Keep it simple!!
Hi there-I know that it’s too late to help you in particular, but this may help the next visitor. The departures for Acatenango are from Antigua only, and please be prepared! This is a hefty hike, and loaner gear from the agency tends to be on the heavy side. But it is magnificent and well worth the effort.
Great write-up and overview of the lake. We’ve been leaving in Pana for the past 9 months and love it here.
I see that you are living in Pana, we are thinking on moving there in the next 6-10 months. Can you please let me know about living there? We have visited in the past, but are considering to make the permanent move.
Wow, I had never heard of Lake Atitlan before, but this makes me want to visit. Santiago sounds particularly worth a trip!
Julie, I’m surprised you haven’t been yet considering how many places you’ve visited! You’d like it a lot.
Any idea what the lake is like during rainy season? Still worth a visit? Some places experience rains for a few hours in the afternoon whereas other places have them all day…
Fantastic commentary! So I’m 50 fem. Traveling alone. Spending
2 or 3 night’s. Which local do you recommend? I’m thinking san Pedro. I booked in santa Cruz but I like a bit more of a town too. I hike and kayak. Thanks Lisa. Oh arriving 5/5
Atitlan is such a gorgeous lake, I really want to visit all those towns now. Particularly San Marcos!
I must admit that this part of the world wasn’t really on my radar yet, but it looks absolutely gorgeous! I can’t even imagine what it must look in real life! Regarding this and the coffee, Guatemala definitely just got moved further up the priority list!
I think Guatemala is so underrated. You’d love it!
STOP TELLING PEOPLE ABOUT MY FAVORITE SIMI UNTUCHED GETAWAY ! Lol I spent a month backpacking around last year .. I love it there ssshhhhh!
This is so well-researched, and I completely agree with you! My only input is that I found Santa Cruz as lovely as you found Jaibalito! I stayed at La Iguana Perdida for two weeks, and wasn’t ready to leave when it was over! The hostel draws amazing people. They have amazing food. And they’re great about coming up with fun things to do (trivia nights, kayaking, Spanish lessons, weaving lessons, the famous cross-dressing party every Saturday). But it’s also a great place to do nothing — lay in a hammock, lay on the docks, swim… Man, now I want to book another trip!
I totally get that, Lindsay! Another nice place to hang out. I’m sorry I missed the cross-dressing party!
We spent Christmas in San Pedro in 2012 and I loved it there. We also hiked Indian nose which included visiting the small non-touristy town of San Juan la Laguna and did a day trip to San Marcos. It was probably my favourite place in Guatemala and somewhere I would love to return to
I love being able to prove the guidebooks wrong, it gives me such a twisted sense of satisfaction! The Lake looks stunning and your pictures are incredible, I look forward to hearing more from your Central American adventures 🙂
I’d love to visit all of these lovely towns, but San Pedro sounds so charming! Love the way you have captured the essence of each place in your photographs. Thanks for taking us on a virtual tour!
Wow your pictures of the lake are absolutely stunning! Everything I had heard about it made it sound like a two day stopover. I had I no idea there was so much to do there 🙂
And that’s why you should never listen to guidebooks. At least not all the time! 🙂 Gorgeous places.
Oh, I think guidebooks are great resources! Just don’t use them as the only resource.
Loved your article! just one little detail, the picture you have of San Juan la Laguna is not actually San Juan but San Antonio Palopó, another beautiful town in Atitlán famous for it´s pottery!
Ooh, are you sure? This one was GPS-tagged in San Juan.
Kate, this round up of Lake Atitlan is super useful, thank you!! The Lake specifically has been on my radar for about 6 month… I’ve been fantasizing about it and researching it and trying to make a trip happen. A friend and I are thinking of going to Brazil for 2 weeks in December, but I honestly think we might change plans and go to Guatemala instead!! Thanks again for the info!
I had never heard about the Lake Atitlan until now. Looks like Guatemala will make a great trip. I honestly cannot consider ditching one of the towns and spending all the days of my travel at only one town. Thanks for the information. Great help, again.
Atitlan is the most beautiful lake I’ve been to and your photos definitely do it justice! I loved zip lining in Pana, it’s really beautiful and you will have an amazing view of the lake.
About that street fried chicken…I wouldn’t eat that! We stayed for 2 days and there was a chicken vendor outside of our hotel. I am 100% sure he was selling the same chicken on day 2 as he was the first day.
That’s why you look for long lines when you buy street food! Fast turnover!
I never been to Atitlan. It looks like a nice place.
Beautiful pics. I think my favorite thing about finding your blog is that now I know where to look for info first when I research travel in the future. It might be a while before I get to S. America but these pics give me a travel craving for sure.
I’m glad that you come here first, Deserae!
I was having a strange case of deja vu while looking at those photos – particularly surprising bc my sole experience with the tropics has been 3 days in Casa de Campo in the Dominican R. Then it hit me – there are SO many parallels with off-the-beaten-bath Crimea! The villages that still have native population, serene beaches, beautiful nature – all in a kind of forgotten corner of the planet. Weird…
The article is great travel guide for the region. The towns are beautiful and remind me of the Como lake, Italy and the cities like Como and Lugano.
These photos are amazing! Definitely planning on staying around Lake Atitlan for a month or so when I backpack Central America. Very helpful stuff!
The absolute best way to travel on Lake Atitlan is by kayak. You can rent boats and hire a guide through Lee and Elaine Beal, owners of Los Elementos Adventure Center. Spend the morning kayaking to one of the villages on the lake, spend the afternoon exploring the local charm, and spend the evenings enjoying the food in tucked away restaurants. Get up the next day and do it all over again. Each village has it’s own distinctive charm and personality, and the Guatemalan people are simply beautiful in spirit. I truly felt the sacredness of the lake by kayaking on it. I can’t wait to go back. I’ve traveled all over the world, but I’ve never considered becoming an ex-pat because no place has felt like home…until Guatemala. Well, maybe not an ex-pat but definitely a frequent visitor.
I grew up on the lake (in Santiago). This was a fun description and I appreciate the deeper delve into the culture and various townships. You should really come to Santiago next time. It’s the biggest indigenous population pretty much anywhere, and that keeps the cultural embers alive in a powerful way that feels a little lost in some other places. There is the 500 year old conquest church, but right across from it the Maximon – the Mayan God that is guarded by sorceror priests. The bay at the end of the lake between the three volcanos is the best for camping and kayaking, and the Posada de Santiago is obviously not to be missed 😉 I’ll be down there this summer – hit me up if you will be there as well.
Absolutely love that you did guatemala as I’m planning on heading there this time next year! Loving all the tips and from the sounds of it I think I’l end up spending longer here than I originally thought! All of these little towns definitely seem like the kinds of places I absolutely love!
Great photos Kate! Thanks for the recommendations, looks like a fantastic destination.
Nice pictures. Looks like a great place to visit
This is the second time I’ve heard about Jaibalito. It sounds like an amazing find. Great overview on all these places!
I never been to Atitlan. looks like a nice place and will be great to visit Atitlan
We stayed in Panajachel and loved it! I wish we could have spent more time there. Kayaking on the lake was very fun but it took a little bit of searching to find a hire that wasn’t a rip off.
Would love to know where you stayed while you were there? Would you recommend it to an 18 year-old male traveling solo?
La Iguana Perdida is by far the best stay on the lake for both accommodations and food. They offer hostel style rooms as well as single rooms, and their restaurant has fare for every budget as well. While I will stay in other places overnight if I am enjoying another town, this is my go to stop every time I’m in Guate.
I have never heard of this place before but the photos look gorgeous. Worth to give it a try some day!
Wow that looks amazing. You had me convinced with the breakfast shot 😉 I have a weird thing for lakes and am actually blogging from Lake Bled in Slovenia, which is also beautiful! Cheers!
Ha, I warn you, in order to get that breakfast shot you must travel with a friend who knows how to cook Japanese food. 😉
Full of so much useful information – definitely one to refer back to. Now which picture to pin…
Much love, Beanie x
Great article and beautiful photos 🙂 For some time I reflect on visiting to one of the countries of Central America. Now, certainly in the the first place I’ll visit Guatemala.
I loved hiking up the Indian Nose for sunrise.
You post has brought back fond memories of a year ago when I stayed in San Pedro La Laguna for a couple of months. Hotel Chi-ya was wonderful, we stayed in a gorgeous, modern, well-equipped cabin by the lake, but out of the way from party central – up on the hill as you approach San Juan. Free use of canoe, and sunrise views over the lake and Indian Nose. The water was clean enough for swimming there too.
We hired a lancha for several hours on my friends birthday and the driver took us around the lake while we got merry on cuba libres. There are so many great places to eat in San Pedro, favourites being Blue Parrot, Hummus Ya, Idea Connection (you are so right about that place), and my favourite for food was Sublime bar.
We did have a few ‘moments’ in the area such as being robbed between Santiago and San Pedro on the motorbike, and also losing our brakes on a mountain road, and being chased by a pack of wild dogs, but the good times far outweighed the bad. I’d love to go there again!
Hey 🙂 I just wrote a post recommending my favorite blogs at the moment – and you’re one of them! Check it out on travelfemme.com.
Thanks so much!
Wow! I’d never even heard of this lake and now it’s on my “must-do” list! This is a really well researched, helpful piece that I’m going to bookmark for when I get to go to Lake Atitlan!
You’d love it, Kay! Thanks.
These pictures are breathtaking. I love how you decided to go for your passion of traveling and quit your job to do it. Good luck with the rest of your travels!
Great post Kate. Thinking of exploring this part of the world late next year and some of this info will come in really useful should we get to Guatemala.
Thanks for sharing.
Yes I fell in love with Lake Atitlan and rented a house in Santa Cruz for several months. Each town is so different that you have to see them all. I stayed in San Marcos for 6 weeks before discovering Santa Cruz where I made many friends and wrote a book while living on the lake. Sublime time it was and yes it is the steepest town but also the safest as you can’t get too far with stolen items when you have to take a boat or hike to get out. Never heard of any robberies here in Santa Cruz. Yes it is mystical and I did have nightly dreams igniting my soul and refreshing my heart. Highly recommend it. BTW here is a tour of my house on the lake http://bit.ly/1RdwDUz
Love the photos you took and shared. I wish to travel USA & defiantly i’ll visit Guatemala on my trip to USA.
All the place are really look amazing. Worth visiting indeed.
I’m glad to see Guatemala and Lake Atitlan getting some coverage. It’s one of the most overlooked areas in my opinion. When people think of Guatemala, they usually think of Antigua. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored Antigua too but Guatemala have so much more to offer. I spent a month during my college years volunteering in San Lucas Toliman (the eastern side of the lake). I absolutely adore that place and the people there. Thank you so much for this article!
That’s it, these have been added to the hit list! When will we see you in London again?
Lovely! I have to say, I don’t know when I’ll be back in London. Probably best to take a breather for awhile.
Ahh! I am SO happy you blogged about Guatemala and specifically to raise awareness of some of the lesser known gems on the shores of Lake Atitlán. Guatemala is such a beautiful country and I was fortunate to have lived there for 2.5 years and continuing visiting often. My husband (a Guatemalan) and I were just wed in Antigua last month and we were so overwhelmed with passion for our country that we have decided to make a plan to move back in the next few years. In the meantime we are working on a new blog to help promote travel in Guatemala as so many people are still turned off due to the negative reputation it acquired during the 36 year civil war. Thank you for this wonderful article about Guatemala!
P.S. I LOVE Santiago Atitlán, it is has a very authentic feel (compared to Pana and San Pedro that have have been fused in with western culture as well…which is also cool, but just a different experience) and it houses the San Maximón shrine and there is this fabulous artist who sells the most brillant paintings there.
I’m really glad you liked it, Chelsea! It’s such a great country.
Lake Atitlan was the highlight of Central America for me … few other sites came close (maybe Little Corn Island)!
I wish and wish and wish I started travelling earlier but again it’s never too late. I love love love your website and all your adventures. I would like details of your backpacking tour as Central America is definitely on my list. I would like to do it soon either on your tour or on my own.
Thank you! Sign up for email updates on my site and you’ll always know!
Lago de Atitlan is an incredibly beautiful place and your excellent photos definitely do it justice. I lived for a month one winter in San Marcos de la Laguna and did the one month Lunar program at Las Piramides. It’s a pretty rad experience to live and meditate daily in your own pyramid!
Hey Kyle! It’s so great to see other people who have gone to Guatemala and fallen in love with it. I absolutely love San Marcos and it is definitely one of the best places in Guatemala for people who are looking for a relaxing, meditative place whether it be a formal retreat or just a personal escape!
My love for Guatemala has grown so much over the last 5 years for the country that I am not blogging about it with the plan to convert my blog, La Gringa Chapina, into a full time project in the near future. If you have any ideas or suggestions for articles pertaining to Guatemala or Central America feel free to send them my way 🙂
Chelsea – La Gringa Chapina – http://www.lagringachapina.com
This is so beautiful Kate! I love that your chronically Central America because it’s nots somewhere I’d normally choose to travel! xx Thanks for the post