Lake Atitlan or can be called as Lago Atitlán in Spanish was the first place I landed when I arrived in Guatemala back in 2017. I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I’d never left Europe alone before, and I had no idea just how hard I was going to fall in love with Guatemala.
Before going further into Lago Atitlan, I planned to be in Guatemala for 3-4 weeks to learn Spanish… 9 months later I finally moved to Colombia, there were a lot of tears. I split my time in Guatemala between Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
In this guide, I’m going to share everything I learned from my time there. I’ll answer your question about “is Lake Atitlan safe?”, the best time to visit Lake Atitlan, the best things to do in Lake Atitlan, what to eat and where to stay
If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything!
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Read my full travel insurance post here where I go into detail about all 4 companies.
The first thing to do in Lago Atitlán is to hike the Indian Nose.
I did this back in 2016, and it is still an experience I remember fondly. It was and still is one of my all-time best sunrises. I wrote an entire blog post about the hike to Indian Nose that you can read here
If you want to hike, the best time to visit Lake Atitlan would be in the morning, the weather tends to be cooler and more comfortable in the morning hours.
It’s always useful to learn Spanish when visiting Lake Atitlan.
There are different options if you want to take Spanish lessons in Guatemala. When I decided I wanted to live in Latin America some while ago, I immediately knew I needed to learn Spanish to survive, so I chose to take Spanish classes at San Pedro La Laguna. You can read the article I’ve written about Learning Spanish in San Pedro.
Looking for something relaxing in Lago Atitlán? When I arrived in Guatemala, I wasn’t expecting to find such a thriving Yoga community, but I did, and it is great. I even joined a Yoga retreat in San Marcos and yes, I also wrote an article about The Best Yoga Retreats in Guatemala you can read here.
If you look at the Lake Atitlan map, it is a village located on the shores of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.
Take a few hours to walk around the streets of Santa Catarina Palopo. You will be filled with energy there. It’s full of artists and has such a cool vibe. It’s also not a place many people get to explore.
As I mentioned before, every town around Lago Atitlan is very unique and beautiful. I highly recommend you not miss this in your Lake Atitlan itinerary. San Juan is a town of fellowship and entrepreneurship.
There are different cooperatives of artisans that include painters, and artisan weavers. The woman’s cooperatives weave their beautiful and colorful textiles into so many beautiful products you can take home. It’s only by walking around town that you can really experience just how much work goes into their art. You can also book a tour with one of the cooperatives.
They will assign a tour guide that will show you the town. Or you can simply go to the workshop of one of the weavers and ask to learn the process of dying the threads or learn how to weave like a Maya. Most of them offer paid tours on an ad-hoc basis.
Cafe Loco is a well-known coffee shop at Panajachel and a must-visit coffee shop when you’re exploring different kinds of coffee during your trip to Lake Atitlan.
It was founded by a young Korean man/ coffee guru. He sources the best coffee beans in Guatemala to roast them and serve them at the cafe. It has a super fun atmosphere and it’s a great place to meet new friends.
The best time to visit Lake Atitlan if you want to go here would be in the afternoon when the sunset comes, add this to your Lake Atitlan itinerary. Lake Atitlán is famous for its breathtaking sunsets, and enjoying a cup of coffee at Café Loco during sunset can be a memorable experience.
What is the fuss about this Market that you should add this to your Lake Atitlan Itinerary? Well, Chichicastenango was one of the main trade centers since before the colonial times. Today, it is still one of the biggest outdoor markets in all Latin America. It comes to life only on Thursdays and Sundays.
If you are an adventurer in Guatemala, Lake Atitlan will offer many exciting activities. One of my favorites is doing a Kayak Hike. On this tour, you paddle next to the shores of the beautiful lake in the early morning as a fisherman would do from Santa Cruz La Laguna to San Marcos La Laguna. After that, you will gear up to begin your hike back to Santa Cruz La Laguna. You can find more information with these guys from Kayak Guatemala.
Is Lake Atitlan safe for you to hike? Yes as long as you take precautions and prepare for your hike welll.
Santiago Atitlan is full of Guatemalan history. You can choose if you want to hire a local guide to walk you through all the historical places, or you can choose to go on your own. Santiago is also well known for Maximon. Maximon translates as “the grandfather” as the legend goes that this figure is the protector of the ones who worship and respect him.
If you are staying at Lago Atitlan for a while and you want to have the full experience of getting to know Lake Atitlan. So pick a town and stay there for a few weeks. My personal favorites are San Pedro, San Marcos, and Tzununa.
Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress.
Best Lake Atitlan Tours: Click here to check out the top Lake Atitlan tours
Best Lake Atitlan Accommodation: Click here to check out the best accommodation in Lake Atitlan
Best Lake Atitlan Transport: Click here to book a bus, ferry, or train in Lake Atitlan
I’ll try to add places from different towns you can refer to in the Lake Atitlan map. If you are looking for local food, I don’t really have an option for that, especially after the major lockdown Guatemala had in 2020 many restaurants didn’t survive. If you are looking for local food you can always try street food, though it is under your complete discretion to choose a place where you feel it is safe in terms of not catching corona.
Pin this in your Lake Atitlan map, Cafe El Artesano is located in San Juan La Laguna town which is at the southwestern side of Lake Atitlán.
This is a great place if you are looking for some cheese, wine, and cured meats. At the moment, they are not accepting guests without a prior reservation, so make sure to give them a call to make your reservation.
The best time to visit Lake Atitlan to visit this pub is during a sports match. This is a place chosen by locals and travelers if you want to watch a sports match and have a nice time with your friends with an incredible view of the lake.
Next food you can taste in Atitlan is Pizza. This is not a fancy place at all, and even when the name has the word “taco” in it, I will encourage you to try the pizza.
This restaurant should be pinned by digital nomads on your Lake Atitlan map and noted in your Lake Atitlan itinerary. Sababa Restaurant is a very nice place with nice food, and most importantly, the wifi. Digital nomads will enjoy this place very much.
This is a small spot at the end of Santander Street with great pasta, I found this as a hidden gem in the Lake Atitlan area.
Like I mentioned, unfortunately, many places have shut down due to the lockdown so this list is pretty short:
Circles Cafe & Bakery is located in San Marcos town, a town on the shores of Lago Atitlán in Guatemala. It has a beautiful place with nice food and coffee. Circles Cafe & Bakery is often visited by locals and tourists and is famous for its vegetarian and vegan options.
Craving for vegetarian Hamburger during your trip in Lago Atitlán? This is a hamburger place with options for meat-eaters, vegans, and vegetarians. They know how to spoil everybody!
This place is located in San Pedro, a town located at the western shore of Lake Atitlan. This is a vegan and vegetarian-friendly place to hang out with friends. I should warn you though, that these guys only accept cash!
Every town around the Lago Atitlan is unique, but one thing they all have in common is that you can easily walk around in every town. If you are staying for a few days in the same town, there is no need to hire any type of transportation unless you are carrying a very heavy suitcase. In that case, you can pay for a tuk-tuk. Always ask your accommodation place for advice on how much you should pay for a tuk-tuk and a public boat ride. Commonly, the tuk-tuk or boat drivers will want to give you “the gringo price.”
Also, please keep in mind that most of the towns are located on mountains, which means that you will be mostly walking uphill from the docks to everywhere else.
Another very important thing when you’re visiting Lake Atitlan is that it is not easy to find ATMs. I know for sure that there is one in Panajachel. If you Google ‘ATM at Panajachel’, Google can show you the way. This being said, make this as reminder in your Lake Atitlan itinerary to take some cash with you, or if you are going through Panajachel, make sure to take your time to redraw some cash there.
If you want to save money during your Lake Atitlan trip, then one sure-fire way to do so is to take some Spanish classes. It’s amazing how things magically become cheaper when you speak to the person selling those things in their language. From getting the right fare from the taxi driver to haggling at the market, think of the money spent on learning Spanish as an investment.
Read this to learn more about my experience of learning Spanish in Guatemala. You can also now take a basic travel Spanish course completely online with Heart of Travel. This way you will already have a decent foundation before you arrive. Click here to learn more.
At Lago Atitlan, during the dry season, you will be hot all day long and cold at night. This is because of the strong winds and the lake tides. Pack some comfortable shoes because you will be walking a lot, comfortable and fresh clothes for the day and maybe a nice dress if you are going out at night. I’ll be getting all momsy when I say DON’T FORGET YOUR JACKET!
The rainy season in Guatemala is from May to mid-September, which might be not the best time to visit Lake Atitlan. But, it still beautiful and fun anyway. If you come between May to Mid September, keep this in mind Pack a raincoat if you have space in your suitcase.
You can swim in the lake at San Marcos la Laguna, which is a town located on the western shore of Lago Atitlán. So, pack one or a few swimsuits to enjoy the nice freshwaters.
In terms of shoes, you will need very basic things. A pair of sandals, sneakers to walk around, or in case you want to do a hike, bring some hiking boots. The sneakers are fine too if you are doing a hike.
Since the weather is relatively warm, bring some mosquito repellent. Also, don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and maybe a hat. For more advise, I have written an entire Guatemala Packing List for this Lake Atitlan itinerary.
When you check out the Lake Atitlan map, there are seven towns at the shore of Lake Atitlan. Most of the people here are descendants of the Kak’chikel and Tz’utujil Mayan descendant groups. Some towns are more touristy than others so, in terms of accommodation, you are going to have to adapt to what is available in each town.
You don’t need to worry, though. Even if you don’t find a five-star all-inclusive resort, the people are very nice and welcoming.
Considering these seven towns at the shore of Lake Atitlan for you to stay, you might ask is Lake Atitlan safe? These locations generally considered safe for tourists. However, it’s important to keep in mind that safety conditions can change over time, and it’s always a good practice to stay informed about the current situation.
I will try to add different options for each town on this part.
If you have a flight arriving at Guatemala City Airport, my best advice is to always book a transportation service in advance, which is important to note in your Lake Atitlan itinerary. The company I trust the most to do that is GuateGo. You can book a seat in a collective shuttle that will first stop at Antigua for a few hours or a private shuttle that will take you all the way to your destination.
If you are not in a hurry for Lake Atitlan, the closest place to Guatemala City Airport that’s tourist-friendly is Antigua Guatemala. If you are planning to explore Guatemala, Lake Antigua is the perfect place to start your adventure.
That said, if you have an early or late flight and are nervous about traveling in the night then it is often best to stay at a hotel close to the airport. Ask for transportation service since most of these places have free transportation service due to the closeness to the airport.
At Lake Atitlan, the best way to move from town to town is on a boat. The best way I can describe how they work is this: take the Lake Atitlan map, find Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna. Panajachel is the starting point. Some boats go to the right until they reach San Pedro La Laguna stopping on each town, and others go to the left and do the same thing. When they reach San Pedro, they head back to Panajachel using the same route.
Some roads connect the towns surrounding Lago Atitlan, but most of them are in very bad condition, so I don’t recommend them unless you are a badass motocross or have a 4×4 vehicle.
In each town, you can walk or use a tuk-tuk.
Now, this is a tricky one. There is only one coworking space around the Lago Atitlan, which is Selina Atitlan in Panajachel. If you are a DN like me, you will find this frustrating because there are so many nice towns around Lake Atitlan you would like to visit. My advice is that you look for the most touristy places as a home base like San Marcos la Laguna, San Pedro la Laguna, and Panajachel where you can easily find cafes, restaurants, hotels, and hostels. If you have some free time, you can move around and explore other towns.
This is a big theme in the emails I receive, and I can understand why based on the news you see everywhere about Guatemala. I remember the first time I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect. The truth is that I ended up staying in Guatemala for nine months and felt really safe during the entire time. There was only the time I thought I was going to die from a scorpion sting, you can read all about that story here The Night I Thought I was Going to Die from a Scorpion Sting in Guatemala.
Other than that, nothing ever happened to me in terms of having my belongings stolen or being in a dangerous situation. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that you should not be precautious, here is my Safety Advice For Solo Female Travelers In Guatemala. You’re welcome!
So, is Lake Atitlan Guatemala safe from pick pockets? Well, pick pockets are everywhere. But I will answer generally, yes. As long we wisely keep our belongings safely and know the location we’re heading to.
🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Lake Atitlan?
🚗 Where can I book bus or private transportation while I’m in Lake Atitlan?
I strongly recommend using GottoGo. You can book almost all transport in the major tourist destinations through them online. They don’t just cover buses they also cover shuttles, ferries, and private drivers.
🎫 Where can I buy tickets for museums, attractions, and tours in Lake Atitlan?
👩⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?
I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here
✈️ Any flight recommendations?
📱What do you use for internet connection while traveling?
I’m a big fan of personal WiFi devices and they have saved my ass so many times when traveling. I wrote a full review of the top travel WiFi devices you can read here. I personally use GlocalMe as I can either pop in a physical sim card or use their local carrier.
With regards to my phone connection, I use e-sims while traveling, so rather than having to swap out my regular sim card I can download the app and buy a virtual sim card. I recommend using eitherAirhub or Alosim. Both have great coverage of multiple countries and are very easy to use.
🛏️ What is the best platform to use for booking accommodation?
🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?
Guatemala has only two seasons, rainy and dry.
That is why it is called the land of the eternal spring. The rainy season is from May to mid-September, so my best recommendation is to visit the lake during the dry season between September to April.
I couldn’t not include this Lonely Planet Guide to Guatemala in the reading list.
I’m not always a fan of these kind of travel guides as they are oftern out of date. I learned this more than once the hard way! But they do serve a purpose and it’s always nice to have one actual book that you can use to plan before your trip as well as having something to read when the battery dies on your kindle!
Although you can also get most of these Lonely Planet Guidebooks free as part of a kindle unlimited subscription.
Rigoberta Menchú is quite possibly the most internationally well known Guatemalan. She is a indigenous feminist and human rights activist who won a Nobel Peace Prize.
Her book I, Rigoberta Menchú is now a global bestseller and she has dedicated her life to fighting for the rights of the Indigenous people in Guatemala both during and after the civil war.
This book is a reflection on her personal experiences during the civil war in Guatemala when her mother, father, and brother were murdered by the Guatemalan military.
If you have an interest in the history of Guatemala then read this book. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures.
I was given this book to read while I was dog sitting in Lake Atitlan and I can’t even tell you how much I loved it. I knew the Lake well by then so reading this book really brought those places to life for me.
The book is based on the life of the author Martin Prechtel who somehow found himself on an incredible journey from New Mexico in the USA to a small Mayan Village in Guatemala where he became a shaman.
Read this book. You won’t regret it!
Ok so maybe A Short History of Guatemala isn’t the most riveting read. But it really is interesting, especially for all of you history buffs out there.
It’s easy to read and gives you a good overview on the good, the bad, and the ugly of Guatemalas history.
The book mostly focuses on the ninetieth and twentieth centuries. It is a little dates now, but it still does the job!