After almost a year of not traveling to another country, it was finally time to visit my 50th country Guatemala. Guatemala a few years ago wasn’t even on my radar, but after traveling through South America for about 2 months, every traveler I met only sung the highest praises for the Land of Eternal Springs. From trekking volcanoes to chilling lakeside at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world- Lake Atitlan- and wandering through Mayan Ruins in Tikal there are so many things to do in Guatemala. So where do you start?
Well after the stress and anxiety of planning an international trip, I decided to head to Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan may be one of the most relaxing places to begin your trip, and there is as much adventure travel you want if that is what you are looking for. However, when I think of Lake Atitlan as a wellness destination and one of the best ways to connect with the local Mayan culture and visit a lot of different smaller towns surrounding the lake.
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Lake Atitlan Things To Do: Visit All The Towns
One thing that may overwhelm someone is the sheer amount of towns surrounding Lake Atitlan, however, this is one of the things that most excited me. There are so many different towns, some are still extremely traditional and have many Mayan people where you can learn everything from weaving to cooking and find some great experiences. Others are where backpackers go to the party and people stay extended amounts of time to learn Spanish. This guide will go over some of the things to do in Lake Atitlan, what makes each town special, give you tips on visiting Lake Atitlan, and show you the best places to stay from the most luxurious, to the best hostels with laid back vibes and even yoga retreats!
How Long Should You Stay In Lake Atitlan?
Many think of Lake Atitlan as the destination, but the area of Lake Atitlan is huge, with 13 towns. However, each town has its charm, which is why you should stay longer than you think you would need. I stayed 7 days in total and there were still things I wanted to do! Yet that is the magic of Lake Atitlan that pulls people back or makes them stay way longer than they thought they would. After deciding what towns you want to visit and where you want to stay it will be easier to determine your length of stay in Lake Atitlan. So I would suggest staying a minimum of 4 days to explore the different towns, but stay 7 days if you can spare the time.
How to get around Lake Atitlan?
Lanchas are your best friends when visiting Lake Atitlan as well as TukTuks. It will take around 10 quetzales for rides between neighboring towns, 20 quetzales for longer journeys, and some may try to charge you tourist prices, but just go with the money in your hand and it should just get you on because you know what you are doing. When you are not on a boat, you should definitely take
The first place you will arrive after winding down a mountainous and scary road is Panajachel. This is the main town where tourists are dropped off by shuttle buses coming from Guatemala City Airport or Antigua. Panajachel is usually the first experience anyone has with Lake Atitlan. It is one of the larger towns around the lake, with a lot of resources, and things to start your trip. This is where I picked up my SIM card and got some shopping done. Calle Santander is the main street with shops, cafes, restaurants, and an artisan market.
One great thing about basing yourself out of Panajachel is a lot of tour agencies are based here and offer tours around the lake. Some of my favorite offerings are paragliding over Lake Atitlan, hiking Indian Nose, and renting a quad bike, or taking a tour with Simoon Tours and Rentals. If you want to be surrounded by nature check out the Atitlan Nature Reserve. A great day trip from Panajachel is the largest market in Central America- Chichicastenango.
There are also some larger hotels, as compared to other towns surrounding the lake. I stayed at Hotel Utz Jay for 2 nights and it had a lovely restaurant as well as a spa. My room was bright and spacious with a smart tv that allowed me to relax with some Netflix at the end of the night. Also, there was a beautiful garden in the central courtyard perfect for a morning cup of coffee. They also set up my transportation to Antigua, Guatemala, and had great customer service. Not to mention it is women-owned!
Santa Cruz La Laguna
This is one of the lesser-visited towns surrounding Lake Atitlan, but that is what I call a hidden gem. When I came to this city I found cool hostels, restaurants, and a nonprofit that offered cooking lessons and one of the most killer views at their cafe! This is about a 20-minute boat ride by public Lancha from Panajachel. I loved Santa Cruz because it offered a view from high above. The reason Santa Cruz was on my radar was to visit Amigos de Santa Cruz, a nonprofit that offers cooking lessons and had a cafe with a beautiful view and great local dishes to try.
Amigos de Santa Cruz teaches vocations, helps with education for local communities, and also helps empower indigenous communities and women to start businesses. I took a TukTuk up the mountain to get to the village main square for 10 Quetzales round trip.
Where to stay in Santa Cruz?
There are two hostels highly recommended by other travelers and one I met some traveling buddies at.
La Iguana Perdida Santa Cruz- This was another great experience. Here they host trivia nights, have a great restaurant, and also varying levels of accommodations for all budgets. Even if you are not staying there you can join in the activities.
FreeCerveza- While I don’t drink, I do love that this offers some of the best glamping on Lake Atitlan. They have some beautiful views and a lot of activities great to meet other solo travelers.
San Marcos Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
One of the most popular spots along the lake is the hippie commune of San Marcos, this town offers an interesting mix of hippies and a local Mayan community. San Marcos is a colorful town full of yoga-loving hippies that come from around the world for the mystical pull of Lake Atitlan. This energy vortex brings together a great mix of tourists, hippies, and local Mayans where you find yoga retreats, holistic healers, and new age workshops. When I visited they were celebrating San Marcos day and the local Mayan community had live music, dancing, and markets lining the streets.
Go cliff jumping at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve and spend an afternoon cooling off for a swim. San Marcos is one of the best places to swim around the lake.
Want to experience Yoga with a view? Check out Eagle’s Nest and Yoga Forest. It is also a great place to stay with a hostel environment surrounded by others looking for a wellness getaway.
Where to stay in San Marcos?
If you don’t want to stay at a hostel, check out Lush for a luxurious stay and great views of the three volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. Also, the restaurant here is delicious. I met a friend who lives in San Marcos here and it was divine. Lush is what it sounds like green space, full of natural light, and gardens.
San Juan La Laguna
When I spoke with locals and the front desk at the Laguna Lodge, they told me I could not miss the colorful town of San Juan La Laguna. I particularly loved the Mirador here and this town felt the most local to me. The local indigenous community in San Juan creates some of the best artisanal goods for the best price, plus the old town center is filled with colorful buildings and has a beautiful church with a great view of Indian Nose, a popular geological feature. The hike to the Mirador Kagasiiwaan was no joke, but the colorful stairs lead to one of the most beautiful lookouts on Lake Atitlan with views of the volcanoes and even Volcan Fuego in the distance. There is also a tour that goes up to Indian Nose for the sunrise (which is supposed to be one of the best hikes in Guatemala).
Cafe San Juan is a great coffee shop that grows and roasts their coffee that is right near where you get the Lancha as well. When I arrived I paid a TukTok drive 20 quetzales to go up to the beginning of the Mirador Trail and back. After going to the Mirador the TukTuk took me to a few more sightseeing spots and San Juan before I had to make it back in time for one of the last public lanchas.
San Pedro La Laguna
This is the main hub of backpackers, those looking to try their hand at learning Spanish, and usually the place where the party is. San Pedro also has thermal baths to enjoy called Los Termales. Once I arrived in San Pedro, I got a TukTuk to take me around 100 Quetzales for a tour to learn how to make chocolate, how the women weave intricate clothing, and also to a mirador in San Pedro. This was a nice way to get around the hills. We also went to the main square and church. The adventure ended with lunch at La Terraza a great cafe and restaurant overlooking Lake Atitlan.
My suggestion is to get the TukTuk to learn more about the artisanal products, buy some chocolate and maybe even get lucky to get some home weaved clothes from local Mayans. I fell in love with the dress they made me!
Visit Santiago and Santa Catarina Palopo By 4×4 with Simoon Tours
When I found out there were two towns you could get to by quad bike I hopped on that adventure. I had never driven my quad bike, so I decided to see Santiago and Santa Catarina Palopo by 4×4. The tour winded along steep roads in the hilly shoreline of Lake Atitlan providing some stunning views along the way. As we came to Santiago there was a spot to pull off to swim and do some cliff jumping, but as we went through the town I noticed it was much larger. Santiago is the largest town surrounding Lake Atitlan surprisingly.
We did not stay long, but Santiago was more local than most of the other towns I visited. The most popular thing to do in Santiago is to visit the Colonial Church. After we went to Santiago and enjoyed the views, we headed to Santa Catarina Palopo with the tour. This town was quite colorful, and another festival seemed to be going on.
Hotels in Lake Atitlan
Laguna Eco Lodge
There are so many places to stay along Lake Atitlan, but my favorite thing about staying in Lake Atitlan is the ability to stay away from it all. There are a few hotels and resorts that can only be reached by launch or private boat. I stayed at one of them the Laguna Eco lodge and had a beautiful 1500 square foot suite called the Kucumatz Villa. It was massive with two floors, two full-size bathrooms, one filled to the brim with marble, and local artisan goods and furniture throughout the villa. My hotel sent a private boat to get to the resort from Panajachel.
The property itself was beyond amazing. Located on its own nature reserve, the restaurant sources and grows the ingredients locally for the restaurant on site. Every evening I had a four-course vegetarian meal that always blew my mind. Also, I was introduced to the best Guatemalan Breakfast while I was there.
My favorite feature was the water activities. I ended up going kayaking in the mornings and was able to enjoy the pool in the evenings. The infinity pool had epic views of the volcanoes in the distance and felt super good to cool off in after a day of exploring. However, most of my time in the evenings was spent in my villa where I was able to unwind with a good book and watch Lake Atitlan from the 180-degree windows in the living space/bedroom area. The hotel offers a spa on the property and almost makes you never want to leave!
La Fortuna at Lake Atitlan
Another instagrammable place to stay in Lake Atitlan is La Fortuna. La Fortuna reminds me of Bali-style villas located right on Lake and only accessed by boat. The five villas have everything you need and indoor-outdoor living spaces. A few of their villas even have private pools. It is a destination in itself and most people don’t leave during their stay. My friends were staying here and I was lucky to have lunch, swim, and chill at their villa. It was a great experience and capped off my time in Lake Atitlan.
Check out my Youtube Videos for more on Lake Atitlan and Getting to Lake Atitlan From Guatemala City.
Guatemala Travel Guide Part 1: Laguna Lodge Hotel Tour and Getting There
Guatemala Travel Guide Lake Atitlan Part 2
Best Time To Visit Lake Atitlan
My number 1 tip is not to go to Lake Atitlan during the rainy season. The dry season is from November to the end of April and offers the best weather to enjoy all of the activities around Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan weather /weather Lake Atitlan
Is Lake Atitlan safe?
I felt extremely safe traveling around Lake Atitlan in the different towns. One thing I was told was to not hike alone, or on the surrounding edges of the Lake in certain areas. Also, I did not leave extremely late at places, because if you are in a different town from your accommodation it can be expensive to get back with a private versus public lancha/boat.
What to pack for Lake Atitlan Guatemala?
Lake Atitlan is quite high in elevation at 5,125 feet and can get quite cool at night. I would suggest taking a sweater or outwear for nighttime or a light jacket.
Take some light clothes for the day because it can get hot. I recommend some activewear for hiking Indian Nose. I love Wantable for my active wear looks. I don’t have to think much because their stylists always find the best sets that look good on my body. (They also make Men’s Active wear subscription boxes).
The lake can get pretty bright so don’t forget sunglasses.
Where to swim in Lake Atitlan?
The best spots to swim in Lake Atitlan are located where the least traffic of boats occurs. I had a lot of clear clean water near the Laguna Lodge. Also, Santa Cruz and San Marcos are very popular for taking a day to swim and enjoy the natural beauty of Lake Atitlan.
Hope this Ultimate Guide to Lake Atitlan will inspire you!
A Lake Atitlan things to do list could go on for ages because there are 13 towns that each have their own unique pull. Whether you want to seek adventure from paragliding and hiking adventures, or you want to have a cultural lesson in the local Guatemalan and Mayan traditions of cooking, weaving, and other artisanal experiences. Hopefully these videos and the Ultimate Lake Atitlan Guide will provide some inspiration as well as concrete tips to traveling to this region of Guatemala.