Lake Atitlan: My Breathtaking Last Stop in Guatemala
I’m not sure how describe exactly how stunning Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is. A lake of unknown depths, deep clear sapphire blue, surrounded by volcanoes so steep that is seems impossible that anyone lives there. PERFECT summer days and cool nights at 5000 feet. The warm air from the Pacific rises up from the west forming fairy tale clouds.
World renowned Lake Atitlan is as beautiful as they say. Even more so. I really didn’t picture it correctly at all.
And a poor segue but here’s a bit more oversharing…I picked up a stomach bug somewhere on my trip and wasn’t feeling all that great for some of my time on the lake. So I only saw 2 of the 10-15 villages around the lake. But what I saw was absolutely gorgeous and here it is.
If you are coming in from Guatemala City or Antigua, you are going to be dropped off at the hub of the lake, Panajchel or “Pana”.
Many describe the town as touristy – and, well…1. I am a tourist and 2. That usually means lots of restaurants, hotel options and shopping. It was my home base and I spent all four nights at a fantastic bed and breakfast. But I’ll get to that later.
Here’s a look at Pana. It is the only town that has supermarkets, ATM machines (none worked for me) and nightlife. You can certainly choose a smaller village – some don’t even have a guest house – but I liked Pana for the convenience. It’s the hub of transport to the other villages.
The main road, Calle Santander, is LINED with stalls. They have many of the beautiful handmade crafts, fabrics and embroidery found at the other markets – and the prices here are great too. There is also a younger selection of mass produced…modernized things. Geared towards the traveling crowd.
Many of the restaurants were marketed for the international, granola crowd. Lots of vegan, chia, soy, organic items listed. I was surprised…but hey…why not?
Even a large well stocked health food store.
The view down by the docks was just stunning. Back towards the shore line at sunset.
And out to the mountains.
I couldn’t get enough of these ducks that are EVERYWHERE on the lake.
Pana also happened to have the very best cup of coffee that I had in Guatemala. A place called Cafe Loco – owned by 2 young uber hip Korean barristas – almost like mad coffee scientists. So good – and served in glass measuring cups to continue the laboratory feel.
The very first village I visited was San Antonio. A tiny TINY town on the side of a volcano where almost all the residents wear gorgeous blue. And the way to get there is to hop on the back of the pick up trucks that run back and forth. Q5 or less than $1US for the 20 minute steep, twisting ride.
San Antonio is best known for the gorgeous hand painted stoneware.
The view from the church.
I walked down to the water. Leg muscles in this area must be STRONG. The way is insanely steep.
And bought two mugs for just about $5US for the pair.
Young ladies painting.
And those up by the market.
The very next day I headed out on one of the transit boats to the town of San Marcos. I had heard that this village is ‘mystical’ and wanted to find out exactly what that means. The boat ride was breathtaking. The view is really hard to believe.
And the walkway into the lower village area is beautiful…
There are tons of signs for yoga, ashrams, workshops and meditation .I walked into the first cafe and someone was in the lotus pose mediating just inside the door. I had to make my way around him to order a cup of coffee. No one thought that was odd.
Everywhere I looked there were shirtless, barefooted Europeans guys wearing harem pants and beads…or American women with dread locks, glazed eyes and multiple piercings…people that seemed to be there for weeks, months or probably even years trying to find themselves.
There were signs up EVERYWHERE for activities like these…
Investment $900!?!?! How does one get a scholarship to the International School for Magicians of Love?
RootFlute.com? I think I may be in the wrong spot.
I hopped a boat back and settled into my yurt for a nap. That’s right…MY YURT!
I found Jenna’s River Bed and Breakfast and fell in love with the yurt.
A deep deep bathtub and a loft space…a tv and a huge bed with tons of blankets and a big down comforter. I was snug as a bug while sleeping but when the temperatures dipped into the low 40s at night…I decided to move inside the B&B to a warmer room.
She served gorgeous breakfasts in the morning – fresh bread and homemade jams.
4 nights on the lake and I was ready to make my way back to Belize. I took a shuttle back from Panajchel to Guatemala City (about 4 hours) and instead of taking the overnight bus back to Flores ($55US), I dug deep into my pocket book and took a flight. For $110US, and 40 minutes instead of 10 hours, it was well worth it.
While distances don’t look terribly long in Guatemala, the winding roads through the mountains are very slow going.
Hasta la Vista Guatemala…I had a great time. And I will most certainly be back. The crafts, the prices and the landscape are too beautiful and too close to Belize to stay away for this long again.
For a more comprehensive look at the villages around Lake Atitlan, check out this guide by uber-travel blogger Adventurous Kate.