Guatemala doesn’t seem to be a top destination in Central America. Basically, there is so much to see and do. However, with little time, we manage 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? The massive volcanoes and charming villages surround this beautiful lake.
Most people spend a couple of days hiking the volcanoes or visiting the towns around the lake, which are the main attraction. To fully enjoy the trip, we spent two- nights in Panajachel and made our base here. We were staying in one of the hotels that we booked on Booking.com.
At first, we were skeptical about staying in one of the villages, but looking at the most accessible way, it seems Panajachel is a hub for transportation.
How to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
There are different ways to reach Lake Atitlan; by bus, shuttle, or going on an organized tour.
We took the shuttle for 20 US dollars from Antigua to Panajachel. Any hotel in Antigua can book the shuttle for you. Prices are all the same.
There is also a bus (chicken bus), the best way to mingle with the locals and cheaper too. But we were in a hurry and wanted to get to Panajachel quickly.
Visiting Santa Cruz La Laguna
On the first day, we took the water taxi to Santa Cruz, a 10-minutes ride for 15 Quetzales. When arriving at Santa Cruz, you see the tuk-tuk waiting for passengers. As you know, Santa Cruz La Laguna’s village is at 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 lovely walk and takes 30 minutes to one hour hike. It’s partially hilly. But this trail is not so bad if you have been to Pacaya volcano in Antigua. If you’re not interested in hiking, go back down and walk endlessly by the lake, where you have uninterrupted views of the volcano. Take the boat back to Panajachel.
A late afternoon walk in Panajachel
Since we arrived in Panajachel, we haven’t been around yet, but we still have the time. This village is relatively small and 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. So there you find plenty of handicrafts, restaurants, and bars.
Furthermore, we walked through the lakeside and waited for the sunset. It is also the best time to have good shots of the lake because it looks like an abandoned place later in the afternoon. The morning is such a busy time with everyone taking the boat to the villages.
Tip: If you were staying in Panajachel, there are (lanchas) boats every 20 minutes to the villages. The service is from 7:00 am to 7:30 pm.
The return service to Panajachel from San Pedro starts from 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 in Lake Atitlan
Basically, one of our primary purposes in Lake Atitlan is to visit the villages. Some people come to Lake Atitlan to climb the volcanoes, but we have already climbed Pacaya. I wish we had the time; climbing another volcano in Guatemala would be great.
We have little time and try to fit everything we can, so we have to choose between the volcano and the villages. Moreover, we still have three locations to visit after Lake Atitlan. So I don’t want to spend my time hiking while there is so much to see in Guatemala.
San Pedro la laguna, Lake Atitlan
We start in San Pedro, just 20 minutes boat ride from Panajachel. The boat in the morning was too crowded, and we were pressing each other on a bench.
What is so prevalent in San Pedro? Why is everyone going there? Have you ever heard of a party town in Lake Atitlan? This village is very known, especially for backpackers.
The prices of food, drinks, and accommodations are lower than in the other villages — also a favorite place to live for expatriates.
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 suggested we visit San Juan, as we didn’t plan to do it.
But what can you see here? San Pedro is a pretty village, if not overrun by the tourist. So we walked around and enjoyed ourselves a bit in this colorful village.
San Juan la laguna
From San Pedro, we took a tuk-tuk to San Juan. I remember the man said that 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 15 Quetzales.
The short ride took us to San Juan in 10 minutes. From the moment we arrived in San Juan, my first impression; what? It looks like an abandoned place because we haven’t met any tourists, and it is quieter than San Pedro.
San Juan is a compelling and well-kept little village. You can aimlessly walk without bumping many tourists. So here and there, you’ll see a vast collection of murals.
And they are not just regular murals; some of the art has a definition that 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 of the three we have visited, the Indian village of Santiago, lies between two volcanoes with the most beautiful harbor on the lake.
It is quieter than San Pedro, making us spend the whole afternoon here. We visited Santiago on a Tuesday, and it was a market day. It was my lucky day as I love markets.
It was, in fact, a unique market for Indigenous people. You can see women and men wearing their traditional dresses. And if you walk through the marketplace, you come to a white colonial church.
My favorite spot in Santiago is the lake area, where you have an astonishing view of the lake with wooden fishing boats and the volcano in the background.
They have some remarkable murals here, such as the one in the photo. These were staircases painted in unique designs—a Mayan woman who gave birth. Lake Atitlan is a very special place in Guatemala, so it should be on your list.