“The closest thing to Eden on Earth” Lonely Planet Guide
Known as Eden on Earth, according to Lonely Planet Guide, Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) is truly a special place.
Welcome to our 3 day tour of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.
Why Travel To Lake Atitlán, Guatemala?
Lake Atitlán is a large lake in a massive volcanic crater in the country’s Southwest region. With several unique villages to visit and a host of potential activities, it seems that one could easily spend weeks enjoying what Lake Atitlán has to offer. Many of the fellow travelers we met in Lake Atitlán had been to the lake several times before and we also noted it was common for travelers to volunteer for months on end for free room and board. This gives further credence to Lake Atitlán being a lovely and not to be missed destination.
We had budgeted only 12 days in Guatemala and we knew we had to make it to Lake Atitlán. We had already spent 4 days in Flores and 4 days in Antigua. From Guatemala, our next stop was going to be El Salvador. Unfortunately, the Lake was a 4 to 5 hour bus ride in the opposite direction. This was in addition to a lancha (boat) ride from the main transportation hub of Panajachel to our little corner of lakeside paradise – Tzununá.
Because of this we were only able to spend three days at the Lake and had to spend an extra night in Antigua on the way back to El Salvador for the travel to work smoothly.
How long To Stay in Atitlán, Guatemala?
How much time do you have? Getting to and from Lake Atitlán is not a short endeavor (four to five hours from Antigua) so we would not recommend a short two-day trip. On the flip side, you could build an entire vacation of relaxation and activities and not get bored. We spent three days in Lake Atitlán and definitely would have added a few extra days to explore the other villages and fit in more activities if we had more time. Take a look at what we did and what we would do next time to see what appeals to you. Personally, five to seven days would have been excellent.
Top Things To Do in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
1) Relax and enjoy the views (make sure to catch the sunsets)
There is a beautiful tranquility to being on the Lake. We stayed at the Maya Moon Lodge in Tzununá which was more isolated than the other villages.
The Lodge itself had it’s own private dock (though the public boats do stop here on request). This certainly encouraged that relaxation was a top focus. And check out these beautiful views from the lakeside bar/lounge deck.
Not to mention our stunning views from our furnished private cabana with a deck and obligatory hammock.
We also spent one night in the shared accommodation and the views were excellent from there too.
It seems anywhere you go around the Lake you can take a breath and enjoy gorgeous views.
Lake Atitlán 101: Make sure to catch the sunset in Lake Atitlán, one of the best you’ll see as you can enjoy the sky turning different shades or orange, red, and pink with the colors reflecting off the lake and illuminating the volcanoes.
2) Take a swim
No matter where you stay around the lake, you must take a dip in the “brisk” crater, as it revitalizes you. You’re swimming in a crater for Pete’s sake, with volcanoes just looming around you.
3) Meet people
This is a great place to meet and mingle with fellow travelers. People generally come here to relax and explore the nearby villages. You’re bound to meet several people with similar interests that you can go on an adventure with for a day, your entire stay, or who knows maybe even destinations after the Lake. We met a fun group of people during our stay, with whom we are still in contact to this day.
We highly valued the time we spent with our newfound friends in Lake Atitlán. Together, we enjoyed swimming in the lake, an impromptu group workout class on our lodgings dock, drinking wine/beer, playing games, and several Tuk-Tuk rides to and from San Marcos for food and strolls through the streets. We took a trip to the famous Yoga forest and also tried (unsuccessfully) to hunt for the fabled Tzununá waterfall.
4) Walk through San Marcos
San Marcos is a must-see village while in Lake Atitlán. You get all the lake and volcano views, but here you will also find meditation and yoga classes, artistic graffiti covered alleys, and an abundance of vegan friendly restaurants and cafes. The town is full of hippies and expats so it is more of a tourist enclave than a Guatemalan town, though the locals are intertwined throughout the village.
Enjoying the alleyways of San Marcos
We didn’t take many pictures here, so our pictures above don’t do the village justice. To give an idea of how many classes they have available take a look at this schedule:
5) Take a Tuk Tuk ride
These are like personal chicken buses in that the drivers like to blare awesome music. It’s on one of these rides that we first heard one of our favorite Spanish songs of the trip. There are an abundance of Tuk Tuks throughout the villages.
One of the friends we met at Maya Moon Lodge was going to be finishing his stay at the famous Yoga Forest yoga retreat and invited us to come to visit. As soon as we got the invite we got our Chakra together and were ready for the class of a lifetime. Participate in a yoga class at the cream of the crop, the Yoga Forest? YES PLEASE. Getting there was another story. A Tuk Tuk dropped us off way before the entrance as it physically couldn’t get up the steep incline of the road. We kept walking up and up until eventually, we saw the sign…YOGA FOREST.
Walking to the entrance of the Yoga forest was steep and the hike didn’t stop there. Oh no. As we kept climbing what seemed to be 1,000 steps through a lush forest, we finally got to the top. And boy was it magnificent.
This is an inclusive retreat, and we were able to experience such a special occasion all because of a friend we met.
We primarily cooked our own meals with produce we bought from San Marcos, but the couple meals we did have in San Marcos were very tasty, which included several vegan/vegetarian options. We have heard there are many good options in other villages too.
Lake Atitlán Tip 101: 1) Research the public water taxi boat costs prior to arrival. They range from $10Q to $25Q (from 2018) depending on starting point and destinations, however, they will charge a lot more after a certain time of day. 2) The public water taxi (Lancha) travels from Panajechel to Santa Cruz la Laguna, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos la Laguna, and then San Pedro and then turns around with the same route in reverse. 3)Some of the towns have paths between them and you can either walk or hire a Tuk Tuk (beware though-they will most likely try and rip you off, bargain with them! To the best of your ability try and get a general idea of the distance of where you are going and know how much is TOO much to pay). We met a couple that paid a Tuk Tuk driver $20 for the same trip we paid $5 for. (It is best to ask someone from your hostel or hotel a general fare price and use that as a guideline). Trust us, you WILL get ripped off at least once, then you will learn, eventually. 4) Some of the grocery stores in the village will charge you extra, shop around and see if you can find the best deal. We were lucky, we met a local friend that did the talking for us at these shops and you would be AMAZED at the price difference we both were given!
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Watch the sunrise from Indian’s nose: We’ve seen pictures, and the view looks magnificent.
- Visit the different villages: San Pedro (backpacker/nightlife), Panajachel (shopping/restaurants), San Marcos (yoga/bohemian vibes), Santa Cruz, Jabalito, etc. We recommend looking at other detailed blog posts to get a better feel for each village, as you can see each village has something unique to offer.
- Learn Spanish in San Pedro: San Pedro is known to have several great language schools.
- Volcano hikes: There are several options for hiking near the lake.
- Water activities: paragliding, kayaking, etc.
- Traditional Mayan weaving: There are several stalls where you can purchase homemade textiles to help sustain the local economy. Not only can you buy, but you can also learn firsthand how to weave and create the textiles.
Questions for you
- What was your Lake Atitlán itinerary?
- Which hike would you recommend?
- Which town was your favorite around the Lake?