On our recent trip to Guatemala we spent 3 full days on Lake Atitlan and I feel that was enough time to get a good sense of it. I’m not going to share exactly what we did, but rather what I might do if I had to do it all over again. And I’ll give you some extra information in case your idea of a good time isn’t exactly the same as mine.
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What is Lake Atitlan
Here’s more information about how to get to Lake Atitlan, getting around Lake Atitlan, what to bring with you, where to stay, and more information about the different villages.
Panajachel (or Pana for short) is the largest town on the lake offering plenty of options for accommodations, restaurants, bars, travel agencies, and banks. It’s well connected to the rest of the villages on the lake as well as the rest of Guatemala. For that reason, it’s a good base from which to explore the rest of the lake, and is where each day in this itinerary begins and ends. However, if you choose to stay somewhere else, the itinerary could be adapted.
Catch a lancha to San Marcos for a yoga class to get a good start to your day. Follow that up with a smoothie or acai bowl at one of the many vegetarian cafes around town. Spend some time exploring the village and If you’re up for a little adventure, head to Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve and jump off a 40 foot platform into Lake Atitlan.
When you’re done with chilling in San Marcos, catch a lancha to San Pedro. Spend your afternoon exploring this village. Make note of the street art and amazing views, all making for great photo opportunities. Don’t forget to venture further up the hill, away from the touristy spots to find more traditional parts of the village. Enjoy lunch or an afternoon snack in any of the restaurants, cafes, or bars overlooking the lake.
When you’re done exploring San Pedro, catch a lancha back to Pana find a restaurant along the lake from which to enjoy the sunset.
Get up early to see the sunrise from Indian Nose.
After your hike, head to La Casa del Mundo to continue enjoying amazing views of the lake and surrounding volcanos while eating a breakfast burrito and fresh fruit juice. Spend the day seeking tranquility in Santa Cruz, one of the lake’s most idyllic, untouched villages.
If you feel like a short hike is not enough adventure, you could instead do this combination tour that combines the sunrise hike up Indian Nose with a kayak tour of the lake.
Either way, finish up your day watching sunset over the water in Panajachel.
Traveling by lancha or road east from Panajachel, you’ll first encounter Santa Caterina Polopo and then San Antonio Polopo. These are smaller, less touristy villages where you’ll have the opportunity to see even men dressed in traditional Maya clothing. They’re also great places to see local craftspeople at work and purchase some great souvenirs such as pottery, woven textiles and clothing, and chocolate.
Many people will hike the short distance to Santa Caterina Polopo and explore that village, then catch a tuktuk to San Antonio Polopo to visit the church and artisans there. Because these are less touristy villages it is helpful to know a little Spanish to be able to ask locals for directions. We actually hired a private lancha to get to San Antonio, got an amazing tour from a local Maya woman that was a friend of a friend of a friend, and then rode back to Pana in the back of a pickup. Alternatively, there are a number of tours offered.
- Several people in our hostel did this ATV tour to Santa Caterina and San Antonio and highly recommended it. Like they would not stop talking about how awesome it was.
- This bus tour claims to be stroller and wheelchair accessible so might be a good option even for those with mobility challenges.
- And this is a bike tour taking you through San Antonio and Santa Caterina.
What If You Have More Days?
Head to Santiago where you could hire a tuktuk at the dock to show you around town for a couple hours. In Santiago, you’ll see evidence of a strong Maya identity and canoes lined up along the shore as a result of their boat-building industry. The highlight will be a visit to the Maya spirit Maximón, who moves house yearly. He apparently likes gifts of rum, cigarettes, and cash.
If you’re looking for a tour, this Lake Atitlan Village Tour takes you to Santiago as well as San Juan and Panajachel.
If you can spare a Thursday or Sunday, take a day trip to Chichicastenango, known for what is possibly the largest outdoor market in Latin America and is certainly the most colourful market in the Americas.
This tour offers transport from Pana as well as a guide to explain the market, church, cemetery, shaman rituals, and parts of Maya culture.
If you want to make your own way, a roundtrip shuttle mini bus from Pana should cost about 150 Queztales. You’ll be greeted by tour guides as soon as you arrive in Chichi, and you can hire one of them for about 2 hours, or explore the market on your own. You will likely also encounter more guides at the church that will offer you a condensed tour, which I found to be an ideal option.
Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito
Taking a lancha west from Panajachel, you’ll first encounter Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito. We did not visit either of these, but they’re known to be the lake’s most idyllic, untouched villages. They’re the destinations for solitude, tranquility, and serenity.
Where Else to Go in Guatemala
Fun fact: While writing this post, I stumbled on a new feature that allows you to use AI to write blog posts. It quickly generated a three day itinerary for Lake Atitlan and while the first two days seemed reasonable, their plan for the third day was a day trip to Tikal followed by a swim in Lake Atitlan to round out the trip. Sounds nice, but the drive to Tikal is just short of 24 hours round trip if there are no accidents or construction. Ha!