Lago Atitlán: A highlight in Guatemala is written by Amanda Rico.
Why go to Lake Atitlán?
West of Guatemala City is Lake Atitlán. The lake is surrounded by amazing mountains and a beautiful landscape. It is definitely worth a visit when one is in Guatemala.
The lake is in the middle of the country and about 2 hours drive from the city of Antigua. Lake Atitlán is surrounded by several small villages and the volcanoes Atitlán, Tolimán and San Pedro. The lake extends over 18 kilometers and has an area of 130km2. And then it has some impressive meters with its location at 1562 meters above sea level and 360 meters at the deepest point.
Lago Atitlán with the huge beautiful mountains is an experience in itself. It is the boat trip as well as the visits to the local villages certainly as well.
The influence of the Maya on Atitlán
The name Atitlán means "between waters" in the language nahuatl and dates from the 5th century when the Maya Indians lived there. In addition, the language is spoken in several places Mexico.
It is said that there was once an island where the lake is today, and was the center of the Maya for hundreds of years. They were called the Pajaibal Mayans and were grouped into regions. Since then, the regions have become villages bordering the lake. Today, there are still many of the locals who speak Mayan language, rather than Spanish, and each village has its own Mayan dialect.
Many visitors choose to take a few nights at Lake Atitlán to have plenty of time to explore and experience the area and the cities. I myself have been on a full day trip to the lake, which was a great experience.
Here was a good time to feel the atmosphere, have a cheap local lunch, experience four small villages and enjoy the amazing views.
From Antigua to Lago Atitlán
The full day trip that I was on only included transportation. That is, the trip by minibus from Antigua to Lago Atitlán and back again, as well as the boat around the lake to 3 different villages. It cost me a total of 300 quetzal, which corresponds to approximately 250 kroner.
Had I wanted a more informative tour with a guide, it would have cost a little more. The travel agencies have very different prices, so do not book a trip at the first agency you meet. I was past six different places and this was the cheapest offer departing from Antigua.
The first stop on the trip is the village of Panajachel. The city is the main city where all sailing traffic is based. From Panajachel, small boats depart for the other towns by the lake.
In addition to the town of Panajachel, I visited the three other duck towns on the lake: San Juan La Laguna, San Pedro La Laguna and Santiago Atitlan.
San Juan La Laguna
San Juan is a small town where it is possible to buy a lot of textiles and handmade things. The locals are happy to tell and show how they make their beautiful shawls, etc. You can even be allowed to try weaving yourself, and for the sake of kindness you can give a little tip as a thank you.
If you listen carefully, you can sense their very different way of speaking because they communicate in their own Mayan dialect. A very special experience is to visit the local market, which is about 100 meters up the mountain on the right when you arrive by boat to the city. Here it abounds with local shoppers and it is a fun experience to see how it is sold, packaged and delivered.
San Pedro La Laguna
San Pedro is a slightly larger city, which is characterized by many tourists. The city has several hostels, bars and smart shops. There are also hotels here, and it is probably the city where most tourists stay if they choose to stay at Lago Atitlán for a few days.
Here you can get good coffee and delicious smoothies, and there are bars, which are located directly next to the lake, which have an eminent view of the magnificent mountains. The city is full of small taxi scooters, tuk-tuks, so it's easy to get around despite the city being on a hillside next to the lake.
Santiago Atitilán is the largest city on the lake, where they speak the Mayan dialect Kaqchikel. In the middle of the city you will find the large cathedral Iglesia de Apóstol. Tuk-tuks also abound here, and there is a special energy in this city. The pace is higher, there is a lot of traffic and a lot of people on the streets.
From the port itself you can take a tuk-tuk directly up to the central square of the city for only 5 quetzal. That is, for around 4 kroner. The city is located on a mountainside, so there are many levels when moving around. It is easy to get lost as all the streets are similar to each other. So pay attention to what direction the lake is.
On every street corner, there are women shaping and patting the popular corn tortillas, while children walk around with a basket under their arm, trying to sell their homemade keychains.
Most local women dress in the original colorful Mayan robes, which include large pieces of fabric that are woven. The cloth is wrapped around the waist for a skirt, but has many other functions. Like shawls, scarves, to wear things in, like tablecloth etc.
To hold the fabric tight around the waist, a tied or woven piece of ribbon is used as a belt, and their blouses are very beautiful with fine embroidered patterns on. I was genuinely happy to walk around and look at so many brilliant colors.
Lago Atitlán is worth a visit
There is much to explore on Lake Atitlán. You can easily spend several days sailing around and seeing more villages, visiting some of the modern bars in San Pedro or sailing over and seeing the village of San Marcos. As I said, there are many options for accommodation at Lago Atitlán.
The tour gave many impressions. There were four very different towns around Lago Atitlán, and on such a full day trip you have got a good sense of the area and village life by the lake. It is very authentic and a really good cultural experience.
If you have limited time and need to see as much as possible, then a full day trip is at least a must to Lago Atitlán while you are in Guatemala.
Have a good trip to Lago Atitlán, Guatemala!
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