Lake Atitlan – Inspiring Vistas That Have Left An Undeniable Impression On Travellers Over The Centuries!
Few of us can claim to have investigated Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, the place Lonely Planet travel guides describe as “The closest thing to Eden on Earth.” However, in the absence of a spin around the lake, this article can give you an idea of the wonders of one of the most beautiful parts of the planet. Use it to assist you when choosing your next vacation, or at least to fake some good travel stories when chatting with your friends!
AKE ATITLÁN is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and the most important natural wonder in Guatemala. People living in nearby villages makes their life around the lake. Tourism is the main and almost the only economic activity for locals. Therefore, their vocation of service to the visitor is remarkable.
Just like a scene from “Indiana Jones”, Atitlan is full of color and adventure, ancient artifacts like arrow heads and stone tools litter the ground beneath your feet. A great place for writers historians and artists. The local people have preserved much of their heritage and customs and have many stories to tell about the area and their ancestors. Exploring the trails around the lake is not for the novice so be sure to take a guide who knows the terrain and the local villagers. The Lake is frequented by many travelers from all over the world providing a diverse international influence which can be seen in the quality of night life, restaurants, bars and hotels around the lake. Bartering is still practiced as a trade method. The most valuable treasure you may find is being in the cradle of one of the worlds’ most ancient civilizations.
There are many swimming spots, some not so secret hot springs and a few secret ones too where you and your sweetheart can enjoy natures beauty on a full moon. You will enjoy views of spectacular waterfalls during the rainy season surrounded by a land quilted with springtime flowering coffee plantations.
Agriculture is present with beans, tomatoes, garlic, strawberries and avocados, among others. Its main target is supplying the local population as a means of subsistence and domestic market.
Despite being a busy destination, one of the most interesting aspects is the tranquility and peace that can be found in the 50 square miles area.
At a historical level, Lake Atitlan was the scene of an epic battle between the Spanish conquistadors, at that time aided by the Cakchiquel Indians against local resistance (created by other tribes).
Easy to access, the lake is about a two and a half hour drive from Guatemala City or Antigua. Most arrive at the lake in the main town, Panajachel and stay in a hotel there or take a boat to other hotels on the lake. Getting to Panajachel is easy, and can be organised through a tour operator offering a door-to-door services between Panajachel and Antigua or Guatemala City.
Showered In Rainbows
Held in place 1560 meters (5100 ft.) above sea level by a natural dam of volcanoes makes for an ideal climate. It’s never uncomfortably cold or hot. The rainy season lasts from May to October, but the sun does shine some almost every day. The word “atitlan” is a Mayan word that translates as “the place where the rainbow gets its colors” and in the wet season you are sure to see a few colourful arches rising gracefully above the lake.
Visit Lakeside Towns By Boat
There is no road that encircles the lake, so visitors will have to settle for the next best option; taking a boat across the smooth waters to any one of the towns that sit on its banks. There are 11 communities around Lake Atitlan (including Panajachel) and visitors will have a variety of locations and experiences to choose from. Munching on hummus in Moonfish cafe in the hippy retreat of San Marcos or partying until the early hours in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan will have something to keep you entertained. If you want to get to grips with the language, numerous Spanish schools are based in San Pedro for you to choose from.
Other small towns nearby Lake Atitlan are Santa Catarina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo, San Lucas Toliman, Santiago Atitlan, San Juan La Laguna, San Pablo La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna, Santa Cruz La Laguna.
Each of these towns have interesting things to enjoy. One of the most popular is San Pedro La Laguna, with a cozy and welcoming aspect for any visitor.
Another good place is Santiago Atitlan. It is home for the pagan god of the local Indians, Maximon, represented by a grotesque doll with a huge cigar in his mouth.
Visiting The Volcanoes
Lake Atitlan is the result of land collapse following volcanic activity 84,000 years ago, and since then volcanic activity in the region has build three impressive volcanoes that dominate the skyline around the lake. All can be visited from the towns surrounding the lake.
The tallest of the three volcanoes, Atitlan, dominates the stunning lake with which it shares its name. Atitlan’s summit takes about 8 hours to reach; the reward is a breathtaking view of the world’s most beautiful lake and Guatemala’s Pacific coast. Perhaps the most frequently photographed of all Guatemala’s volcanoes, San Pedro’s beautiful cone seems to rise from the waters of Lake Atitlan. The hike to the top takes about 4 hours, and while visitors will not get great views due to heavy vegetation on the summit, the crater serves as a refuge for rarely encountered species of plants and animals. Along with Atitlan and San Pedro that form the natural dam holding in Lake Atitlan, Toliman, the third volcano, has its own delights to offer. A small group of rare Horned Guans survives in the forest near the summit and hikers should plan on camping out for a good chance of sighting the birds.
Getting To Know The Locals Of Lake Atitlan
The Lake Atitlan basin supports a wide range of agricultural products, including coffee, that provide well for the largely indigenous population living around the area. Mayan cultural tradition is still strong, and many locals will be seen in traditional dress. Numerous humanitarian organisations, based out of the main centres of Panajachel and San Pedro, allow visitors who want to commit a couple of weeks to visiting communities and assisting in various projects.
Still Have Time & Want To Maximize Your Holidays In Guatemala?
Here are the top 9 places we recommend to check out once you are done exploring Lake Atitlan:
Climbing Volcano Pacaya is an absolute must do. After a stiff steep hike, one is rewarded with the close up view of the flowing river of bubbling red hot lava sliding down the grassed sides of the volcano. It truly takes your breath away and you can get so close to the lava that your face also glows red with the heat, but just watch out you don’t melt your shoes.
Isolated Livingston is with its mix of Garifuna culture is a world away from the rest of Guatemala. The colourful Rastas and laid back lifestyle with impromptu musical performances drummed out on tortoise shells. Cocounts grow in abundance here and are evident in local dishes. A mouth watering specialty is the creamy Topado soup with seafood and spices, which can be washed down with a potent Coco loco – local rum inside a coconut.
Relaxing in wooden huts on stilts with the river lapping below in Rio Dulce amongst tropical vegetation is a real retreat. Out on the river itself offers the opportunity not only to see many birds and iguanas sunning themselves but also unique jungle flowers and giant fruits. The river is dotted with lily pads and local children eager to show you the latest crab they’ve caught.
Wandering the colourful colonial grid like cobbled streets of Antigua surrounded by three massive volcanoes deserves it’s world Unesco heritage site status. It’s wrought iron grills on the windows of the uniformly painted buildings with indigenous locals gathered around the churches and markets.
Shop until you drop at the intensely colourful Chichicastenango market where locals from all around the highland villages around descend every Thursday and Sunday to sell their crafts. It is also a locals produce market. On the steps of the central catholic church built on top of the original Mayan place of worship modern day Mayans perform rituals that date back centuries.
A cute colonial settlement on the tiny island of Flores with a real Spanish feel. Sunsets with cocktails overlooking lake Peten is the order of the day. They only got electricity 15 years ago since the influx of tourism following the discovery of nearby Tikal.
Tikal is the mecca of Mayan ruins and pyramids, located deep in the steamy tropical jungle of the Peten district. Star Wars was filmed here and they just keep unearthing new buildings daily. The steep pyramids you’ll see on a Tikal tour are well worth the effort for commanding views. Can also find monkeys, toucans and many tropical birds in abundance here. And the termites taste great; just like carrots.
Santiago de Atitlan on the Lake of the same name is one of its many interesting villages, all with different qualities and all worth visiting in their own right. What makes Santiago special is the interesting effigy of a catholic saint fused with an indigenous chief called Maximon who is honoured and housed in a different family home each year and visited by hundreds to be healed. The wooded figure surrounded by twinkling musical fairly lights, smokes, drinks, and heals people.
Quetzeltanango meaning “place of the Quetzal”, Guatemala’s national bird, is a bit of a mouthful so it’s called Xela for short. It’s a very popular alternative to Antigua for people wanting to learn Spanish with lots of language schools with less touristy businesses and a more local flavour.
Explore jungle temples and waterfalls. Mayans, markets and mountain villages. See pelicans along the Rio Dulce and relax on Belize barefoot island. We’ll help you build your own Mexico, Guatemala and Belize adventure.
Overall, Guatemala is one of the hot holiday destinations in the world……however you want to get to explore the country or know about Lake Atitlan, you will be surrounded by the awe inspiring vistas that have left an undeniable impression on travellers over the centuries. With the ease of transport access from the big centres of Guatemala City and Antigua to help you get to one of the most beautiful places in the world, what are you waiting for?
Visit the Central America destinations category to learn more about best places to visit in Central America!