Guatemala doesn’t seem a top destination in Central America. Basically, there is so much to see and do. However, with our little time, we managed to set Lake Atitlan on the itinerary. The beautiful Lake Atitlan is inevitable, a must on everyone’s list. Who doesn’t want to see the clear blue water? Massive volcanoes and charming villages surround this beautiful lake.
Most people spend a couple of days to hike the volcanoes or visit the towns around the lake, which are the main attraction. To fully enjoy the trip, we spent two- nights at hotel Posada Chiminaya in Lake Atitlan, and based ourselves in Panajachel. At first, we’re skeptical about staying in one of the villages, but looking the most accessible way, it seems Panajachel is a hub for transportation.
How to get there from Antigua
Visiting Santa Cruz La Laguna
On the first day, we took the water taxi to Santa Cruz, which is a 10-minutes ride for 10 Quetzales. When arriving at Santa Cruz, you see the tuk-tuk waiting for passengers. The village of Santa Cruz La Laguna located on an altitude of 600 meters.
However, walking is likely the best option as you have some partial views of Lake Atitlan on the way to the village. There is also a walking trail to Jaibalito, the neighboring town of Santa Cruz. It is a nice walk, and it takes 30 minutes to one hour hike. Partially is climbing, if you have been to Pacaya volcano in Antigua, this trail is not so bad. If you’re not interested in hiking, go back down and take an endlessly walk by the lake where you have uninterrupted views at the volcano. Take the boat back to Panajachel.
A late afternoon walk in Panajachel
Since our arrival in Pana, we haven’t stroll around yet, but we’re not in a hurry. This village is relatively small, that doesn’t need one day to see it. So coming back from Santa Cruz La Laguna, we headed to Calle Santander – the main street of Panajachel where you find plenty of handicrafts, restaurants, and bars. Furthermore, walked through the lakeside and waited for the sunset. It is also the best time for a photograph as it looks like an abandoned place later in the afternoon. In the morning is such a busy time with all the people taking the boat to the villages.
If you were staying in Panajachel, there are (lanchas) boat every 20 minutes to the villages. The service starts at 7:00 am to 7:30 pm.
The return service to Panajachel from San Pedro starts at 6:00 am to 5:00 pm. If you miss the last boat, you can always charter. But that would be more expensive.
Visit the three villages
Basically, one of our primary purpose in Lake Atitlan, visiting the villages. Some people come to Lake Atitlan to climb the volcanoes, but we already climbed Pacaya. I wish we had the time; it would be great to climb another volcano in Guatemala. Unfortunately, we have a cramp itinerary on this trip. Moreover, we still have three locations to visit after Lake Atitlan. I don’t want to spend my time hiking while there are so much to see in Guatemala.
San Pedro la laguna
We start in San Pedro just 20 minutes from Panajachel. The boat in the morning swamped with tourist press each other on a bench. Why is everyone going to San Pedro and why it is so popular? Have you ever heard of a party town in Lake Atitlan? This village is very known, especially for backpackers.
Food, drinks and the accommodations are cheaper than the other villages — also, a favorite place to live for expatriate. We’ve met an American man around his 50’s something. He’s been living in San Pedro for 15 years. We’re grateful to him because he is the one suggesting us to visit San Juan, as we didn’t plan of doing it. But what can you see here? Actually, San Pedro is a pretty village, if not overrun by the tourist. However, it’s against my will visiting a touristic place. I set aside my pride and enjoy the beauty of the site.
San Juan la laguna
From San Pedro, we took a tuk-tuk to San Juan. I remember the guy said to us if we’d like to explore a quiet village we should go to San Juan. So after spending two hours in San Pedro, we took a tuk-tuk for 10 Quetzales. The short ride took us to San Juan in 10 minutes. From the moment we arrived in San Juan, my first impression; it looks like an abandoned place because we haven’t met any tourist around and very quiet compared to San Pedro.
San Juan is compelling and well-kept a little village. You can aimlessly walk without bumping many tourists. Here and there you’ll see a vast collection of murals. And it is not just a regular mural; some of the art has a definition which makes an impressive view. But frankly, after one hour we’ve seen it all. So our next stop is Santiago.
Santiago la laguna
One of my favorite villages from the three we have visited in Lake Atitlan. The Indian village of Santiago lies between the two volcanoes with a most beautiful harbor on the lake. It is less touristic than San Pedro, which makes us spend the whole afternoon.
We visited Santiago on a Tuesday, and I didn’t expect a market that day as I heard the markets held on Friday. Fortunately, we’re able to visit a local market and see Indigenous women wearing the traditional colorful dress. And not far from the market, you came to a white colonial church. Take a look inside — the altarpiece original dating from the 16th century.
Walk to the other side of the harbor for a fascinating view over the lake and surrounding. If you are coming from the pier, take the small alley to your left, this leads you to the other side of the port passing through residential houses. From there, it has an astonishing view of the lake with wooden fishing boats and the volcano in the background. And you also see the colorful mural of a Mayan woman gave’s a birth — one of my favorite spot in Santiago.