A popular destination in Guatemala, just 80 km from Antigua, is the breathtaking Lake Atitlan. This beautiful lake at an altitude of 1,562 meters is surrounded by several volcanoes and mountains and dense forests. From the various villages the views of the surrounding landscape are breathtaking. Lake Atitlan is the perfect place to relax, enjoy nature and discover Mayan culture. In this article you will read all about the different villages around Lake Atitlan and I will give you tips for the best activities. From paddleboarding to hiking, there is something for everyone in this beautiful place in Guatemala.
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Must do’s at Lake Atitlan
Take Spanish classes
If you’re in Guatemala, why not learn some Spanish? There are plenty of language schools around Lake Atitlan that offer Spanish lessons. It’s a great way to better understand the local culture and communicate with locals. It’s also a really fun way to meet new people and make friends.
Indian nose viewpoint
For breathtaking views of Lake Atitlan, you can climb the Indian Nose viewpoint at an altitude of over 2,000 meters! The best way is to go early in the morning and watch the sunrise. The view of the lake and surrounding mountains is truly spectacular. With clear weather, you can even see the Acatenango volcano erupting about 40 kilometers away.
It’s a hike you have to do early in the morning, but it’s absolutely worth it. A tour (from San Pedro) doesn’t have to cost more than 150Q. You’ll be picked up at your hostel by 4:00 and taken up in a shuttle for 30 minutes. Then it’s another 30 minutes of hiking/climbing up.
Wear warm clothes, because especially early in the morning it is very chilly.
If you are looking for an adrenaline rush, paragliding is the perfect activity for you. There are several operators around Lake Atitlan that offer paragliding tours. You glide over the lake and surrounding mountains while enjoying the stunning views. It’s an unforgettable experience and highly recommended for adventurous travelers!
Want to learn more about traditional Mayan culture? Then a visit to one of the weaving collectives around Lake Atitlan is definitely a great recommendation. Here you will learn all about the traditional weaving techniques that have been used for centuries by women in this region. It’s a great way to experience the local culture and buy a unique souvenir to take home.
Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
The Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve is located on the cliffs of San Marcos. The most famous activity is jumping off a meters-high wooden platform. So don’t forget your swimwear! Good to know is that the park closes at 4 p.m. and you will not be allowed in as early as 3:30 p.m.
Best villages to visit at Lake Atitlan
Each village around Lake Atitlan has its own charm and atmosphere, so it’s well worth exploring them all if you have enough time.
It’s easy to travel around by public boats that leave from each destination several times a day. You’ll feast your eyes on a boat ride. The views of the mountains are fantastic and you get a chance to admire the different houses around the lake. From superdeluxe modern villas to cozy wooden huts on the cliffs.
Panajachel is the largest city on Lake Atitlan and is considered the tourist center of Lake Atitlan. Here you will find many restaurants, stores and hotels, as well as a bustling market where you can buy fresh produce and clothing.
For whom? Panajachel is an ideal destination if you like lively crowds. It’s a good place if you want to enjoy the nightlife and explore the tourist center.
San Pedro can be labeled as a real backpacker’s village. It has a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of hostels, restaurants and bars. Besides, it’s also a good base for hikes in the surrounding mountains or even volcanoes.
A wonderful activity is an afternoon relaxing in the Termales. These stone hot tubs are located in a kind of lush large backyard overlooking the lake. Upon request, they are filled with warm water and you can also cool off in a cold bath in between. There are no drinks or snacks sold, so bringing your own is allowed. Good massages are also offered! Don’t forget to book a day in advance!
I stayed 3 nights in San Pedro. Initially, I wanted to spend a few nights in San Marcos, but fully booked hostels made that impossible. In retrospect, I was fine with staying in San Pedro because it’s a lot livelier at night than other small villages and it’s also easier to meet a lot of other backpackers. During the day, I visited other villages including San Marcos and Santa Cruz.
San Pedro boats leave every 15 minutes from the El Muelle jetty and, depending on the passengers’ destination, often go first past San Juan (5 minutes), San Pablo (15 minutes), San Marcos (15-20 minutes), Jaibalito (30 minutes), Santa Cruz (30-35 minutes) and Panajachel. A round-trip ticket costs between 30Q and 50Q depending on your destination.
The most famous party hostel in San Pedro is Mr. Mullets Hostel. For a night of beer pong, pub quiz and meeting other partying backpackers, this is the place to be. By the way, to join the daily outings and activities you don’t have to stay there overnight, so you can still enjoy a good night’s sleep after a night out!
For whom? If you like a cozy backpacker atmosphere and the occasional party, San Pedro is the best base for you.
The small village of San Marcos is known for its spiritual community. You can find an array of yoga and meditation classes in hostels or in ecological and spiritual retreats.
One of the most famous yoga retreats is Eagle’s nest located a little higher up the hill with an amazing view. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s still highly recommended to take a yoga class in the morning on the most beautiful yoga platform, or have a drink in the afternoon.
The village actually consists of one “main street” with twisting alleys. According to some, this “hippie village” has changed quite a bit in recent years and there is not as close a community as there used to be. Nevertheless, San Marcos is a pleasant location and open to all.
For whom? If you are looking for peace and spirituality and are not really interested in partying, but like to do yoga and meet other travelers, San Marcos is probably the perfect destination for you.
Santa Cruz is a much less touristy village and is quieter than most other villages around the lake. It’s a perfect place to relax and enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding volcanoes. From Santa Cruz you have one of the most beautiful views of Lake Atitlan.
A fun activity is paddleboarding, which you can rent for 50Q per hour at Stand Up Paddle Atitlan. You can only do this activity in the morning because of the strong incoming winds in the afternoon. The wind makes the water a lot more choppy, making paddleboarding more difficult. But if you go in the morning, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the lake as you float around on your paddleboard.
A great place to relax as well as grab a good lunch is at Hotel Isla Verde located about 5 minutes from the public dock.
For whom? Santa Cruz is much less touristy and therefore a good choice if you are looking for peace and quiet.
Best time to visit Lake Atitlan
The best time to visit Lake Atitlan is from November through April. This is the dry season when relatively little rain falls with pleasant temperatures. The weather during this period is usually sunny during the day and cool at night.
The rainy season runs from May through October. During this period it can be more difficult to travel around and do outdoor activities. An advantage of the rainy season is that the landscape is even greener and there are generally fewer tourists.
If you plan to travel during the peak season, in December and January, it’s definitely advisable to book your accommodation in advance, as it can fill up quickly. In short, when planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, pay attention to the weather and what activities you want to do.
How many days at Lake Atitlan?
I found Lake Atitlan one of the most pleasant destinations in Guatemala and would have loved to spend more time there. Should you have enough time, I can definitely recommend staying there for at least 5 nights. You can choose to pick one village as your base and make trips to the other villages during the day. Or you can divide your nights over 2 or 3 villages to get a taste of the different atmospheres.
I have met travelers who have stayed there for weeks or even bought an apartment now calling it their home. In short, Lake Atitlan is a super versatile destination with something for everyone.
How to get to Lake Atitlan?
From Antigua to Lake Atitlan: On average, a shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel costs around 100Q and takes about 2.5 hours. You can then take a boat from Panajachel to your chosen destination. Good to know: boats from Panajachel do not leave after 5 p.m., so if you would like to travel on the same day, make sure you arrive before late afternoon.
Direct to San Pedro, the shuttle costs 150Q and will take you at least 3.5 hours. You can book all this at your accommodation or at a travel agency in Antigua.
Usually it’s recommended to travel from Panajachel by boat to the other surrounding villages. This is often cheaper and the roads around the lake to the other villages are sometimes a bit sketchy. And by sketchy I mainly mean that these roads through the mountains are full of sharp turns and the drivers sometimes drive rather recklessly. It’s doable, but the boat is a bit more fun!
From Flores to Lake Atitlan: From Flores, you must first travel back to Antigua or to Guatemala City, and from there you can take another bus to Panajachel. This trip takes about 8 to 10 hours and is the cheapest option. This trip can be arranged at your accommodation or a travel agency in Flores.
If you want to travel from Atitlan to Flores, your route will also go through Antigua and Guatemala City. The entire trip costs about 550 – 600Q for a luxury seat on the night bus. Booking can be done at a hostel, but I can also recommend Atitlan Travel Agency.