Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
This incredible freshwater lake in southwestern Guatemala is becoming world famous for postcard good looks. Surrounded by picturesque volcanos and dotted with Mayan villages, this place serves up heaping portions of relaxation, adventure, and culture, all in one affordable package. Let’s visit Lake Atitlan!
Visiting Lake Atitlan? Here’s What To Do
There’s really so much to do, this place could keep you busy for days. Here’s a list of our must-see’s when visiting Lake Atitlan.
Explore The Villages of Atitlan
Eleven villages are spread around the shorelines and hillsides of Lake Atitlan, each with their own distinct personalities. They are primarily inhabited by indigenous Mayans, many whom speak different dialects from one village to the next. This said you’ll find plenty of Spanish-speaking locals and English-speaking expats that will help guide you on your way. So, pack your camera and sunscreen and let’s get exploring!
Known by the locals simply as “Pana”, this is the main port town of Lake Atitlan. Your visit to Lake Atitlan is likely to begin and end here, and there are a few things worth noting.
- There are two ferries in Pana. The ferry towards Santa Cruz, San Marcos, San Juan, and San Pedro is on the north end of town, and the ferry (known as “Publico”) to Lake Atitlan’s largest village of Santiago is on the south end of town. It’s about a 15-minute walk from one to the other, or you can hop on a tuk-tuk for about 5-10Q
- Pana is one of the only villages that have an ATM, good to know since the majority of establishments around the lake only deal in Guatemalan Quetzales.
- Since everyone ends up in Pana at least twice on their trip, this is the main tourist town and every street is lined with souvenirs. Although for best quality, you might visit San Juan or Santiago for your souvenir shopping.
- Xocomil Tours is one of the main transport services to/from Guatemala City and is located just steps from the north ferry
San Marcos is a beautiful and relaxed village that has become an especially popular destination for those looking for all things related to a more “hippie” lifestyle. You’ll have no problems finding yoga, meditation, or vegan food in San Marcos, and for many, this is considered a favored home base for exploring the Lake. DON’T MISS: Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. Pay 15Q/person and hike the Nature Reserve’s trails for some fantastic view of Lake Atitlan and surrounding volcanos. For a rush, find the wooden platform known as the “trampoline” and jump into the Lake from 30 feet above!
San Juan is known best for its concentration of artisan cooperatives. Whether looking for handmade textiles, chocolate, or coffee, you can find some of the world’s best, and this is one place that high quality doesn’t mean high price. DON’T MISS: Nearly every coop offers free demos. Oblige and be amazed.
San Pedro is a large village that stretches up from the shoreline into the hillsides beyond. This village is noticeably more high energy than the others and seems to be the Lake’s epicenter for expats. DON’T MISS: Jungle hikes, ATV’s, and more, San Pedro is the place to book your adventure tours. It’s also cheap to stay here, with beds going for around $7 and even the nicest rooms topping out at $30/night.
With around 40,000 residents, Santiago is easily Lake Atitlan’s most densely populated village. In Santiago, learn about the Church of Saint James the Apostle’s turbulent past, get lost in the sprawling weekly Friday market and find this year’s location of the Maximón shrine. DON’T MISS: Several guides will be offering their services upon arrival at the port. For about 50Q, be led through the winding streets of Santiago, find the Maximón shrine, and learn a bit of history.
Splurge at La Fortuna
This solar-powered masterpiece of bamboo, glass, and concrete is set within a coffee plantation, boasts an all-organic menu, and offers incredible lake and volcano views. Recently named “Trip Advisors Top 25 Small Hotels In The World” La Fortuna is definitely the place to splurge and relax when visiting Lake Atitlan.
Take A Side Trip To Antigua
Located between Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City is the incredibly well-restored and maintained colonial city of Antigua. Brightly-painted Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, bustling parks and piazzas,
and countless churches will make you think of Andalucia in southern Spain. You won’t regret a day or three exploring the streets of Antigua.
Visiting Lake Atitlan? Summon Your Inner-Explorer
Getting to Lake Atitlan
Getting to Lake Atitlan: FLY
Lake Atitlan’s nearest major airport is Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport, about 3.5 hours away. If planned in advance, you can find reasonable direct flights to Guatemala City from most major hubs in North America including Houston from $217, Mexico City for $176, or Miami for $240 with our favorite flight search site, Skyscanner.
Lake Atitlan Flight Deals
Airport to Lake Atitlan
You can fly into Guatemala City, which is located about 85 miles from Lake Atitlan. How will you get to Lake Atitlan?
From La Aurora International Airport:
A private shuttle from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan takes about 3.5 hours and should cost about $90 and can be arranged by your hotel or by contacting Xocomil Tours in Panajachel.
Shared shuttles leave from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan three times a day. Including a stop in Antigua, the trip should take about 4.5 hours and should cost about $25. Reservations can be arranged by your hotel or by contacting Xocomil Tours in Panajachel.
Getting around Lake Atitlan
All of Lake Atitlan’s villages are very walkable, but you’ll likely need a ferry to get from place to place. You’ll get the swing of things when arriving in Pana. Don’t get freaked out if someone grabs your bags and starts walking down to the ferry, there is competition from boat to boat and this is common practice. Follow them, and tell the captain which town you’re going to. Your fare to Santa Cruz or La Fortuna should be 10Q. To San Marcos, San Pablo, San Juan, San Pedro should be 25Q. Iv heading to Santiago, you’ll need to make your way to the “Publico” ferry on the south end of town, which should also cost 25Q. Either way, bring correct change if possible.
You’ll see very few vehicles within the villages of Lake Atitlan, but there are countless red tuk-tuks zipping up and down the streets. Expect to pay about 5Q/person during the day and 10Q/person at night.
Where To Stay in Lake Atitlan:
Where To Stay in Lake Atitlan: HOTELS
With prices ranging from $10-$295/night, from budget to luxury, you’re sure to find the right hotel in Tulum. We’ve found some great hotel deals using Priceline’s sister site, Agoda.com.
Lake Atitlan Hotel Deals
Where To Stay in Lake Atitlan: HOSTELS
With countless hostels at Lake Atitlan, you’re sure to find a hostel that fits your need, although it’s always wise to book ahead. Prices range between $7-$42/night, depending on your choice of private or ensuite room. Hostelworld always has great deals, especially in Lake Atitlan:
Lake Atitlan Hostel Deals
Where To Stay in Lake Atitlan: AIRBNB
We love using Airbnb. From private rooms to entire homes, Airbnb is represented in all parts of Lake Atitlan and the average Airbnb price is only $64/night. If you’re a first timer to Airbnb, use our coupon for $35 off your first night’s stay.
Lake Atitlan Travel Tips:
Lake Atitlan travel tips: Money
Guatemala’s national currency is the Quetzal and is currently exchanging at 7.86Q for $1USD. Credit cards are rarely accepted and ATM machines can be hard to track down. Note that USD is sometimes excepted at Lake Atitlan, but expect less than satisfactory exchange rates.
Lake Atitlan travel tips: Tipping
Only tip if a service charge(propina) hasn’t been already added to your bill. For good service, tip 15% at a restaurant, a few Quetzal per drink at a bar, and only tip your taxi driver if they provide exceptional service.
Lake Atitlan travel tips: Insurance
Traveling through Lake Atitlan is exciting and safe, but you never know when some good travel insurance could come in handy. World Nomads offers the best coverage in the business, is affordable, and is quick to act should something go wrong. For more info, check out our recent World Nomads blog post.