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Lake Atitlan Guide

In this Lake Atitlan guide, you will get the Lake Atitlan itinerary that will enable you to find and plan everything you need to know about the beautiful part of Guatemala.

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

Did You Get Insurance Yet?

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that you need to be prepared for anything!

The Insurance companies I personally recommend are Hey Mondo and Safety Wing

Hey Mondo is great if you are looking for a great value flexible policy. They offer single trip cover, annual multi trip cover, and long term travel cover.

Safety Wing is great value with monthly cover starting at $39. It’s super easy to use and it just renews each month. I currently use them as they offer me free cover for my son as part of my policy.

Read my full travel insurance post here where I go into detail about the companies. 

Click for other Guatemala guides

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Top 10 Things to do In Lake Atitlan

Guatemalan Textiles at Lake Atitlan

1. Hike Indian Nose

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.

2. Learn Spanish

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.

3. Join a Yoga Retreat

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. 

4. Find Inspiration in the Streets of Santa Catarina Palopo

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.

5. Support a Cooperative of Artisans and naturalists in San Juan la Laguna and Join them for a Tour

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.

6. Go to Panajachel for a Cup of Coffee and a Chat at Cafe Loco

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.

7. Go to the Chichicastenango Market

Ok, so the Chichicastenango Market is not in Lake Atitlan but it is very close if you’re checking from Lake Atitlan map. It is an experience you just can’t miss out on if you are already so close.

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.

Here is my Guide on How to Get From Lake Atitlan to Chichicastenango Market.

8. Do a Small Hike Overlooking the Stunning Lake and Paddle your way Back to San Marcos La Laguna on a Kayak

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.

9. Walk Around Santiago Atitlan and Visit Maximon

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.

10. Stay put in one Town and Explore it!

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.

Yarn dyeing in Guatemala with natural dyes

Quick Tip: Book accommodation, tours and transport ahead of time online to save money and stress. 

Best Lake Atitlan ToursClick 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

Food 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.

Cafe el Artesano – San Juan la Laguna

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 Alegre Pub – San Pedro la Laguna

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.

Happy Tacos – San Marcos

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.

Sababa Restaurant – San Pedro

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.

Tuscani – Panajachel

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.

Vegan and Vegetarian food At San Marcos la Laguna

Vegetarian and Vegan friendly Restaurants in Lago Atitlan

Like I mentioned, unfortunately, many places have shut down due to the lockdown so this list is pretty short:

Circles Cafe & Bakery – San Marcos

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.

Hamburg Restaurant – San Pedro

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!

The Fifth Dimension – San Pedro

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!

Lake Atitlan Money Saving Tips

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.

Take Some Spanish Classes 

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.

Tuk-Tuk ride at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan Packing Advice

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.

Quick Tip: View my full Central America packing guide here including a downloadable checklist. And check out my Central America Essentials shopping list here.

Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan

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.

Santiago Atitlan

Casa González

Pescador Hotel PH

Hotel Los Olivos Santiago Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro Suite

Sababa Resort

AmiGos

Zoola San Pedro Atitlan

San Marcos La Laguna

Anzan Atitlan

Lush Atitlan

Hotel & Restaurant Jinava Bay

Hostel Ahau

Panajachel

Porta Hotel del Lago

Hotel Villas Balam Ya

Selina Atitlan

Hospedaje el Viajero

Santa Catarina Palopo

Hotel Casa Palopo

Tzampoc Resort

San Antonio Palopo

Hotel Terrazas Del Lago

San Lucas Toliman

Hotel Toliman

Pink House

How to Get to Lake Atitaln (and how to get around)

Lake Atitlan Landscape in the morning

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.

Coworking in Lake Atitlan

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.

Is Lake Atitlan Safe? Lake Atitlan Safety Advice

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.

 

Lake Atitlan Travel Guide planning

🧳 Any recommendations on what I should pack for Lake Atitlan?

Yes! I have created a whole packing guide to Lake Atitlan which you can read here and you can also check out my packing list for Lake Atitlan on Amazon here.

🚗 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?

I recommend either Viator or GetYour Guide. They have a lot of options!

👩‍⚕️ What is the best insurance to have while traveling?

I recommend using Heymondo for a great value policy. The app also offers you 24/7 Dr Chat. For Digital Nomads check out SafetyWing digital nomad insurance.

I have also written a blog post covering all my recommended travel insurance here

✈️ Any flight recommendations?

WayAWay offers you cheap flights with cashback. You can use this code CLAIRE22 to get 10% off. Otherwise Skyscanner or Expedia are my go-to flight searching platforms.

📱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?

The 3 best platforms that I normally use are Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Expedia They offer great deals and multiple options. I always check all three to be sure of the best deals.

🛅 Do you have any luggage recommendations for traveling?

I do have a complete list of the best packing and luggage products that I recommend, you can check the list here. I’m currently traveling with this suitcase and this backpack

The Best Time To Visit Lake Atitlan

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.

What to Read in Guatemala

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. 

Memoirs from the Living Heart of a Mayan Village

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!

Check out My travel books

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