Lake Atitlán is one of the largest lakes in Guatemala and certainly the most famous. Around the lake you will find 3 inactive volcanoes, Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro. From the villages of Panajachel and San Marcos, among others, you have a beautiful view of the volcanoes and it is therefore highly recommended to view the lake from different sides and thus from the different surrounding villages. If you want to visit more villages then at least 3 to 4 days are recommended.
If you arrive at Lake Atitlán from Antigua or Mexico, chances are you will get off at Panajachel. This largest village around the lake is a great place to be for a while. Panajachel is the village with, among other things, an ATM (just like San Pedro), a large market and the village is practically located for further travel to Chichicastenango and Semuc Champey, for example. But if you want more character then it is advisable to visit some of the other villages as well.
San Marcos is also known as the hippie village given the guests who stay there. Also, many people stay longer in San Marcos because of its laid-back atmosphere. In this small village, you can walk from one end to the other in 20 minutes, through narrow alleys lined with hip cafeterias, restaurants, and stores. In San Marcos you will find many opportunities for yoga sessions or retreats with views of the volcanoes, because from San Marcos you have one of the most beautiful views of the lake. San Marcos also lends itself well to a dip in the water; there is a rock and tarzan rope that you can make use of. Keep in mind that San Marcos does not have an ATM, so bring plenty of cash.
San Pedro de la Laguna
The second largest village, on the side of the volcano San Pedro and the other side relative to Panajachel, is San Pedro de la Laguna. This backpacker village attracts mostly backpackers due to its relaxed atmosphere and many opportunities for activities. The village is centrally located, has many opportunities for Spanish lessons (highly recommended), tours and good food. You will also find several ATMs in San Pedro de la Laguna.
If you would like to learn to speak Spanish, we recommend you attend the Community Language School. This school offers one-on-one instruction and also the option to stay with a host family to make your experience even more unique.
‘La Nariz del Indio’ hike
From San Pedro de la Laguna, among others, you can go to the “La Nariz del Indio,” or the nose of the Indian. It is a mountain with a lookout point around the lake that, viewed horizontally, is shaped like the face of an Indian. From the lookout point you have a nice view of the lake. Most tours go with the sunrise and leave around 4am and you are back around 8am. With a van you drive in less than an hour to a village as close to the mountain as possible and from there the hike starts. It is a, relatively easy, hike of about 45 minutes. Once at the lookout point, get coffee or tea and a sandwich and wait for the sun to rise. It can be chilly on top of the mountain, so take that into account with your clothing.
In San Pedro de la Laguna, among other places, there are several travel agencies that offer tours. It is recommended to visit and negotiate several. The average cost is between €10 – €12 per person. Comparatively a bit expensive, but the view is very nice. Going to the lookout point without a tour is not recommended as there have been reports, even recently, of robberies.
San Juan is located next to San Pedro de la Laguna and a small, colorful village. If you want a viewpoint over the lake but not as early as the ‘La Nariz del Indio’ then you can choose to go to San Juan. This small village next to San Pedro de la Laguna has a colorful viewpoint called “Mirador Kaqasiiwaan. Admission costs 10 Quetzal/€1.25 and you get to San Juan by lancha from one of the other villages. Or by mototaxi/tuctuc from San Pedro de la Laguna, which takes about 15 minutes. Discuss in advance what you will pay. Then it’s a short walk of about 10 minutes to the viewpoint.
Other villages and Chichicastenango
If you want to go to other, more distant villages such as Santiago Atitlán, keep in mind that the lancha leaves from a different port in San Pedro de la Laguna. This is located to the east of the village. For the more distant villages, mort inquire from where and when the lanchas depart. This may vary by village.
About 40 kilometers north is the village of Chichicastenango. This village is known for its large market held 2x a week, on Thursday and Sunday. The market is indeed big, with lots of stalls and people. There is a lot of food sold, you see how the corn tortillas are made and you are surrounded by local culture and lots of colors. There are souvenirs for sale but this offer is more limited than in, for example, the villages around with Lake Atitlán.
Several tours are offered that take you back and forth from Lake Atitlán to Chichicastenango. However, you can go there yourself very well with your own transport, for example, rent a motorcycle or go with public transport. Then take the bus from Panajachel to Sololá (20 minutes) then to Los Encuentros (about 40 minutes) and then to Chichicastenango (about 45 minutes). Every time you get off, the next bus is already waiting to take you, very easy. With a tour you spend almost as long on the road and pay between €20 – €25 (round trip). With the chicken buses, you’re half way there.
How do you get there and back?
You get to Lake Atitlán by shuttle bus from Mexico, Antigua or Semuc Champey/Flores. Regular “chicken buses” run only from the small surrounding villages and towns around the lake on the short distances.
Once at the lake, you travel by a small boat called a lancha and can travel to the different villages. The best thing is to take a collectivo lancha, which are the shared boats. You will also be offered private lanchas, but they are more expensive. Depending on the distance, it takes you an average of 15 – 30 minutes to reach another village and you pay between Q20 – Q50/€2.50 – €6.00 per person. Officially there is a sailing schedule, but in practice it often comes down to the lancha going only when the boat is full. So keep in mind that sometimes you will have to wait a while. There are also fewer lanchas going in the evening and they tend to be a bit more expensive because there are fewer people. No time to wait? Then you can take a private lancha.