Here is a brief intro to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala to whet your appetite for more…
Lake Atitlan is on the top of Tolimán volcano which is part of the Sierra Madre mountain range. The lake is at an altitude of 1,560 metres and has a depth is 340 metres. It is 157.6 km from Guatemala City and 136.0 km from Antigua.
The lake has 3 volcanoes to the south, Volcán San Pedro, Volcan Atitlan and Volcán Tolimán. San Pedro is the oldest and stopped erupting about 40,000 years ago. Tolimán probably remains active, although it has not erupted in historic times. Atitlan remains active, with its most recent eruption in 1853; in fact it got a bit frisky a week ago so I got to see some fire come out of it!
German explorer Alexander von Humboldt famously called Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan “the most beautiful lake in the world” and English novelist Aldous Huxley wrote, ‘it borders on too much of a good thing.’ I don’t know about that but it sure as hell is up with the best of them. The air is clean, the skies are clear and the light is lovely and you have a built-in stair master anywhere you want to go.
The lake is ringed with small towns and thanks to both the gringos and the Mayans, some have very distinct personalities. San Marcos, where I am this time, is the woo woo capital of the world. Ok, that might me an exaggeration but after 2 weeks here I do believe it is a contender for that title. It is dense with yoga, meditation, cacao rituals, holistic therapies, massage, reiki…it goes on and on. I have been spiritually elevated merely by breathing the air… which is good since I haven’t been able to get my ass to even a yoga class yet. The crowd is eclectic on steroids, expressed in a fashion ethos I have never seen elsewhere. It is a cross between Avatar and Mad Max. The most are twenty-somethings but the older crowd is well represented as the 60’s hippies who moved here decades ago and now own most of the businesses.
San Juan is the creative epi-centre of the lake and that is the Mayan’s doing. There’s a post coming up about my visit so I shan’t say more about it now.
Santa Cruz is the only town left on the lake with no road access and it was where I stayed last time. It was serene until a drunk got hold of the PA system and played Black Sabbath in the middle of the night! But not a major party town, not like San Pedro. I stopped by on my way to Pana for breakfast… nothing seems to have changed, still pretty and quiet. You can go scuba diving, do yoga, get a massage or learn how to weave here.
San Pedro is the party town and even at 4pm it is clear I had walked into a different universe from the rest of the lake. The average age is maybe 21 and there’s music and noise and a wild frenetic energy that hits you before you even get off the water taxi. Even during a power outage, it was electric. I would bet there were more generators per square footage than anywhere else on the lake, adding to the din. A plethora of restaurants and bars are jammed in along the narrow strip of real estate just up from the water before the street shots straight up at a 60 degree angle to the rest of the town. I shudder to imagine trying to navigate those streets drunk, I had trouble sober!
Panajachel is the largest of the towns and is where most of the tourists are dumped to take water taxis to around the lake. After having been in the sticks for a few weeks, Pana seems like a city! This is obviously where shoppers go to get their rush. There are soooooo many venders selling so much beauty and hard work. The colours blast my eyeballs, it is no wonder that this lovely soft beauty caught my eye and followed me home. LOL Now I have to throw the old one out which will be very hard… this might require some sort of ritual! Busy little centre!
I got to meet Ali, a refugee from the West End of Vancouver. A gentle amicable retired steel worker, he has been in Pana for around 20 years. He was sitting on his stool in front of his property feeding the birds and chatting with passer-by. Can you believe he raised his 2 daughters in that bus and drove it here?! A happy content man who has obviously found the secret to life, for him anyway.
Even though only Santa Cruz is not linked by a road most people use the endless supply of water taxis that ply the waters from sunrise to sunset to get around since the roads are so beastly. It is fun and cheap to spend some time on the lake exploring the different towns… ok, fun when there aren’t white caps on the water!
For being such an isolated place Lake Atitlan has a well-developed tourist support structure and the Mayans are well used to our foibles. Whether you want to crawl on to a hammock or throw yourself off a mountain or into the lake, this place has something for everyone and I highly recommend it. There is nothing that crawls, swims or flies that can hurt you and the weather is steady all year at mid 20 c and the evenings are mid teens. Rainy season is May – Oct. but even then it is not so bad. A glance at the Airbnb site or the plethora of Eco-lodges will have you dreaming of your next vacation here. It is easy to arrange a tourist mini-bus transfer from the airport or Antigua, they go several times a day. The fastest flights are with Aeroméxico with only a short layover in Mexico City.
I have dealt with both of these companies and was happy with them, especially Adrenalina Tours and both can set you up with any activities you might want to try
Transfers from Guatemala City Airport/city to Antigua and Lake Atitlan:
Have you been here? What did you think?