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  • Writer's pictureAlliey Kutynec

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala Travel Guide

Lake Atitlan has been growing and becoming a travellers must-see destination when coming to Guatemala. It is located just a few hours out of the capital city and just a great place to explore from nature reserves, hiking, coffee plantations, mayan culture and local markets. Before visiting the lake I had talked about it with a few travellers who have already been, each person comes to the lake for different reasons such as heading to a retreat, Spanish school and home stay, or volunteer opportunities. I knew coming to the lake would offer a lot of opportunity and it would never be boring.


As I was sitting in enjoying a caramel latte, a lady from another table looked at me and said "this lake is a magical place, it does these things where it never wants you to leave".

I knew right there that this was going to be an amazing place to explore.


How I ended up here:


We had met a Canadian Family in our travels through Mexico, they had invited us to come hangout and volunteer for their project they are building to help the local community. We had stayed almost 90 days, and got to know the local market lady, our favourite restaurants and cafes and also our local juice lady. It was a great journey to be able to cross paths and be surrounded by like minded people, and experience a great opportunity to help the locals of San Juan.


This is what we experienced and recommend for travels around Lake Atitlan:


San Pedro La Laguna

This town is located on the far west side of the lake, it is known for nightlife and a backpacker destination. There is plenty of accommodation available from all price ranges, and restaurants scattered around town. The market is in the heart of town located next the church and the chicken bus station. Big market days are on Wednesday's and Sundays from 9am- 12pm; this is where you'll find all your vegetable, fruits, cooking spices, souvenirs and household items. On the downtown Main Street you'll find the ATM's, coffee shops, restaurants, travel agencies and your laundry services.


Recommended Cafes:

Recommended Restaurants:

Recommended Stays:

Hikes

Each town around the lake has a nice nature hike whether its walking along the lake, up a volcano or through the forest. San Pedro sits at the bottom of 'San Pedro Volcan'.


Recommended Hikes :

Travel Agencies

San Pedro has plenty of travel agencies to pick from, they are located down town by the dock and has all the destinations you are looking for. Everybody is very nice and ready to help you for your tour needs.


Recommended Agencies:



Getting Here & Away

When I was looking for a travel guide for Lake Atitlan, I couldn't find the local bus schedules and nothing was clear on transportation to and from the lake. One of my favourite ways to transport is by local buses and collectivo's. They are always cheaper and much more of an adventure. Here is various of different ways to get here and from the lake with more of a clear description:


Recommended Transport:

Tuk Tuk - Around San Pedro

Tuk Tuk - To San Juan

Tuk Tuk - To San Pablo Via San Marcos

Boat - Around the Lake (San Juan, San Marcos, Santiago, Panajachel & ect.)

Chicken Bus - To & From Guatemala City

Chicken Bus - To & From Xela

Shuttles - To anywhere in Guatemala

Some Tips

There is nothing better then some local tips on saving money or watching out for scams.

Laundry

Walking at Night

ATM


San Juan La Laguna

San Juan is super special, it doesn't have a tourist/backpacker vibe what so ever. It has a a mayan culture experience, there is chocolate factories, mayan souvenirs stores and great Guatemalan street food. Towards the dock you will find the roads painted the San Juan colours, hanging hat lights above and souvenir stores that have the local print from outfits to pillows.


Cafes, Restaurants, & Stays


San Juan has lots of local cafes and restaurants and very few accommodation. When spending time in this town I loved to visit these gems. They add a special touch to San Juan.



Hikes

San Juan has the most popular hike Indian Nose and the Mirador.

*Note: if staying in San Pedro and not booking with a tour agency you can connect with a tuk tuk driver to pick you up early and take you directly to the hike trail head as walking from San Pedro is not permitted.

Volunteering


There if plenty of volunteering around the lake on workaways, and the local Facebook page.


In 'how I ended up here' section; I had mentioned I had met an Canadian family that has started a organisation to help reduce plastic, uses of plastic and had started a kids club for local community. Their goal is to help kids understand and process of using plastic and where it goes, but also exploring the reuses of it into making beautiful art. They spend one hour every Saturday with the kids club and pick up the garbage on the local beach near. If looking for a place to volunteer, please visit their website and contact Owen. They are always looking for volunteers to help with kids club and to spread the word of the organisation.


San Marcos La Laguna


This town is known for the Vegan/vegetarian culture, the spiritual wanders and the yoga retreats. it also has a wonderful view of volcano San Pedro, and has the best sunsets. Lots of fresh veggies and fruits and has about 5 different health food stores for clean eating. You can get a locally fresh juice just off the dock and explore all the hippy vibe shops with natural made cosmetics and baked foods. It is a very special place on the lake.

I didn't spend more then the day here, but there is plenty of restaurants, and accommodation.


Recommended things to do:

Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve

Santiago Atitlan


Most people head here for the day or stay at a nice airbnb on the lake side, the town is pretty big and has lots to see. You can either take the chicken bus here from San Pedro or take the boat across. The boat ride is very beautiful it follows the lake shore around volcano San Pedro, you will see hidden air bnbs that are only accessible by boat. When you get off the boat there is your local souvenir market, they sell clothes in Santiago colour such as hoodies, pant suits and shirts. As you head up the hill there is local restaurants, cafes and stores, if you are there on a Sunday; there is big market that fills the streets with local fruit, vegetable stands, and Pacas. There is plenty of tuktuks that will offer you tours of the town for a few hours for 100Q and it takes you the the church, a monument and the market.

Note: Most people speak english, Tz' utuzjil and Spanish.


Things to do


Santiago has plenty of things to do to fill your time, there is paddle board rentals, kayak and hiking trails if into nature. Also there is quite a few coffee shops and shopping. The view of the volcanos from Santiago is stunning whether its below or up high, it is a great place to relax and take some photos.


Recommended to do:

Bird & Nature Tours

How to get here & away


Locals are super helpful when your looking for your next destination. They are very motivate for their community to make a buck. They will find you the best agency or shuttle to your destination. Don't be afraid to ask them.

Chicken Bus - Via Guatemala City

Shuttle - Via El Pardon

Boat - Via Panajachel

Boat - Via San Pedro La Laguna

Panajachel


"Pana" is what the locals call It. This town has the best view for sunsets and the view of the volcanos on the lake. The population of the lake is around 15,000 which is the largest community around the lake. The main road has a market that follow on both sides of it, there is local restaurants, cafes, travel agencies and crafts. There is plenty of wall paintings and murals, the fruit tress add a special touch to it and makes it instagram worthy.

I had spend only a few hours here, but I did personally find that It can be very crowded and busy. I found that the towns were more enjoyable around the lake.


Recommended things to do:

How to get here & away


Note* there is two docks; one that goes to Santiago and one that heads around the lake to San Pedro, San Marcos, Santa Cruz, and San Juan.


Boat via Santiago

This boat goes direct and costs 25Q.

It is located at the public beach and leaves every half hour.

Boat Via San Pedro, San Marcos, San Juan, and Others

Chicken Bus - To & From

Shuttles - To & From


Check out my photos below

Thanks for checking out my blog and my experiences in Lake Atitlan.

Cheers,

Alliey





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