Laguna de Atitlán, (English: Lake Atitlán), is a beautiful volcanic lake in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is ringed by small towns, many of which are favourites among backpackers. The region encompasses the lake and the towns around them. Panajachel is best known, and a good entry point, but more off the beaten track are San Pedro la Laguna or the "less party, more meditation" village of San Marcos. Due to the region's popularity, other towns along the lake, such as Santa Cruz la Laguna and San Juan, are now starting to see growing tourism.
Lake Atitlán and its villages are a winning combination of scenic beauty, a relaxed atmosphere, easily accessible Mayan culture, and a good tourist infrastructure. You can have an enjoyable weekend visit, a week away from it all, or several weeks to learn Spanish. The Atitlan Lake located at 1560 m of altitude, and the Tolimán volcano at the bottom (3158 m). If the depth being reproduced on the charts is 320 m, investigations carried out in the years 1970 evaluate to 600 m the depth on the San Lucas Tolimán side.
Panajachel- Lake Atitlan's most visited town
San Pedro la Laguna - a laid-back small town with established backpacker reputation
San Marcos La Laguna - "less party, more meditation" than San Pedro
Santiago Atitlán, small town on south side of Lake Atitlán, famous for a shrine to Maximón
Santa Cruz la Laguna small village on north side of Lake Atitlán. If getting away from it all in magical surroundings but still being a short boat ride away from a night club is your desire then this is the place to be.
San Juan - emerging destination
San Antonio Palopo - Laid back and simple Mayan village. Can service tourists nicely but only a couple dozen at a time
Santa Catarina Palopo - an authentic Mayan village with an abundance of traditional Kaqchikel culture
San Lucas Toliman
Most travellers arrive in Panajachel. Bus and other transportation instructions are in that town's article.
Many lanchas, or small boats, provide transport from village to village around and across the lake. Some boats are scheduled like buses, other will go as soon as they accumulate enough passengers, like share-ride taxis. Generally the prices are 3Q for one harbor, 5Q for two, and max 10Q for many or across the lake. The crew are a bunch of really unpleasant scoundrels however and will extort up to 25Q out of anyone with a light complexion or limited spanish.
Some people suggest it is generally best not to mention a price until you get off the boat, that will usually get you into the extortion situation, however. You can also ask the people with little or no luggage how much they're paying (chances are they're at least a little familiar with the system.) The prices are fixed and the locals (or regionals) always pay the same.
Examples of typical prices:
Pana to/from Santa Cruz - 10-15Q
Pana to/from San Marcos - 10-20Q
San Marcos to/from Santa Cruz - 10-15Q
The Indian's Head at the top of the mountain above the cities of San Juan and San Marcos. It is accessible through various tracks and there are also organised trips with horses to the top.
There are a number of activities you can do on the water, such as kayaking (rent from Casa del Mundo below, or San Pedro la Laguna) and jet skiing. Diving is also possible in Santa Cruz la Laguna through the hostel "La Iguana Perdida". Or, if you're not the watery type, there's horseback riding, and hiking galore.
There exists a vague, and at times somewhat precarious, path that encircles pretty much the whole lake. New holiday homes and hotels have restricted some of the access to the lakeside path, but it's still possible to walk it. It's a very rewarding and enjoyable hike. Swim in the beautiful water anytime you need to cool off. Thumb down a boat from any of the countless jetties if you get tired and want to return back home.
Climb the three volcanoes. San Pedro from San Pedro, guided for 100Q. Atitlan and Toliman can be arranged from pana. However you could do it on your own: The best/easiest would be to bike/rent a motorcycle and go from pana as far as you can. Look at summitpost for detailed description. If you want to commute there, the easiest would be boat to santiago, and pickup to San Lucas, this will if you carry luggage though incur a lot of hassle (from people), so better get a cheap hotelroom somewhere and leave as much as you can there before you go. Do it as early as possible in the morning.
Many of the towns around the lake have restaurants, at a variety of price points from luxury to budget. See the individual town articles for details.
Lake Atitlán is a better place to relax than to party. Some towns, like Panajachel, have thriving bar scenes. Others go to sleep when the night falls.
Each of the towns and villages around the lake offer a wide range of hotels. you can stay with a poor man or a 5 star hotel! See the individual town articles (under Cities above) for details. The following hotels or resorts are not in a specific town.
Casa Del Mundo, . Mid range price US$ 38 per night with own room and shared bathroom or US$ 75 per night with own room and bathroom. It´s a 15 minute boat ride to this secluded villa on the lake set apart from everything. This is a small hotel with about 15 luxurious rooms and amazing food. Be prepared to pay about 75 Quetzals extra for the three course dinner they serve, its the only way to eat. Bring a swimsuit because this is the ideal place to lounge in hammocks or simply float in the water. Perhaps the best value for money hotel to be found in Atitlan. It is only accessible by boat, the food is fantastic, the rooms are clean and the grounds are amazing.
On the road around the Laguna de Atitlán, especially between the villages San Juan and San Marcos, some daytime violent crime has been reported (Nov 2004). Tourists have been robbed (although not injured), and there were also rumors of rapes against women. The road from San Lucas Toliman to Cerro de Oro, once dangerous, is now considered safe.
Although the road from San Marcos to the next northern village is now controlled by the "Tourist Police", walking this way with backpacks or large amounts of money is not recommended.
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