Western Highlands : Lake Atitlán
Laguna de Atitlán, (English: Lake Atitlán), is a beautiful volcanic lake in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. It is ringed by small towns, many of which are favourites among backpackers. The region encompasses the lake and the towns around them. Panajachel is best known, and a good entry point, but more off the beaten track are San Pedro La Laguna or the "less party, more meditation" village of San Marcos. Due to the region's popularity, other towns along the lake, such as Santa Cruz la Laguna and San Juan, are now starting to see growing tourism.
Lake Atitlán and its villages are a winning combination of scenic beauty, a relaxed atmosphere, easily accessible Mayan culture, and a good tourist infrastructure. You can have an enjoyable weekend visit, a week away from it all, or several weeks to learn Spanish. The Atitlan Lake located at 1560 m of altitude, and the Tolimán volcano at the bottom (3158 m). If the depth being reproduced on the charts is 320 m, investigations carried out in the years 1970 evaluate to 600 m the depth on the San Lucas Tolimán side.
Most travellers arrive in Panajachel. Bus and other transportation instructions are in that town's article.
Many lanchas, or small boats, provide transport from village to village around and across the lake. Some boats are scheduled like buses, other will go as soon as they accumulate enough passengers, like share-ride taxis. Generally the prices are Q3 for one harbor, Q5 for two, and up to Q10 for many or across the lake. The crew are a bunch of really unpleasant scoundrels however and will extort up to Q25 out of anyone with a light complexion or limited spanish.
Some people suggest it is generally best not to mention a price until you get off the boat, that will usually get you into the extortion situation, however. You can also ask the people with little or no luggage how much they're paying (chances are they're at least a little familiar with the system.) The prices are fixed and the locals (or regionals) always pay the same.
The Indian's Head at the top of the mountain above the cities of San Juan and San Marcos. It is accessible through various tracks and there are also organised trips with horses to the top.Lying in the countries most western highlands, the countries prettiest looking place is the pure and blue lake Atitlan. This place mirrors the three Fuji like volcanoes.A large collapsed volcanic cone can be found right at the lake Atitlan. The descendants of the ancient placed called Maya, even today live off the land which is rich in ash and other minerals. The maize farming methods through the years have still been the same, this is because the local people have made an effort so that they don’t change their old ways of living.
Around Lake Atitlan can have many activities such as hiking, volcano tour, bike tour, tour in the villages, coffee tour,birdwatching tour,trek around the lake, kayak adventure, cultural tour by village around the lake.
There are a number of activities you can do on the water, such as kayaking (rent from Casa del Mundo below, or San Pedro la Laguna) and jet skiing. Diving is also possible in Santa Cruz la Laguna through the hostel "La Iguana Perdida". Or, if you're not the watery type, there's horseback riding, and hiking galore.
There exists a vague, and at times somewhat precarious, path that encircles pretty much the whole lake. New holiday homes and hotels have restricted some of the access to the lakeside path, but it's still possible to walk it. It's a very rewarding and enjoyable hike. Swim in the beautiful water anytime you need to cool off. Wave down a boat from any of the countless jetties if you get tired and want to return back home.
Another option is a bike tour spending a night in different village around the lake, you can rent bicycles in the Kukulkan Adventure Center, located in the street rancho grande in Panajachel it included helmet and gloves.
Climb the three volcanoes. San Pedro from San Pedro, guided for 100Q. Atitlan and Toliman can be arranged from Pana. It is not recommended to book tours for climbing the volcanoes in Pana. Most of the prices for climbing the volcanoes will be very similar at most agencies (around USD40 for San Pedro) and they probably collude to keep the price there. However the Pana tour agencies will outsource the work to another tour agency in San Pedro. Agencies in Pana will act as middlemen and take a cut of Q100 to Q200 (Quetzales). It is better to approach the agencies in San Pedro directly and cut out the middleman. It is also possible to do the hikes completely on your own for under Q200 (approx USD24. bulk of it if the entrance fee to the park for foreigners and the boat fare). Most of the people you will meet on the mountains are indigenous people who will be very nice. It seems safe to hike the mountain by yourself (without a guide, but if you hire one you will be helping the local Quiche people). Please bring a plastic bag with you on the hike and pick up any plastic bottles or plastic packaging on your way down. You will be a good citizen of the world. Climbing Atitlan can be done in one to two days.
However you could do it on your own: The best/easiest would be to bike/rent a motorcycle and go from Pana as far as you can. Look at summitpost for detailed description. If you want to commute there, the easiest would be boat to Santiago, and pickup to San Lucas, this will if you carry luggage though incur a lot of hassle (from people), so better get a cheap hotel room somewhere and leave as much as you can there before you go. Do it as early as possible in the morning.
Volunteering opportunities! Many of the schools around Lake Atitlán offer built-in volunteering opportunities. For medical students wanting to offer service and gain experience, Hospitalito Atitlán in Santiago Atitlán (another pueblo on the lake) accepts medical students and clinicians. The new Hospitalito Atitlán, scheduled to be completed in November 2010, can mold any volunteer work to fit the skills available (carpenters, MBA students, computer work, group volunteering for construction, etc.).
Many of the towns around the lake have restaurants, at a variety of price points from luxury to budget. See the individual town articles for details.
Lake Atitlán is a better place to relax than to party. Some towns, like Panajachel, have thriving bar scenes. Others go to sleep when the night falls.
Each of the towns and villages around the lake offer a wide range of hotels. you can stay with a poor man or a 5 star hotel! See the individual town articles (under Cities above) for details. The following hotels or resorts are not in a specific town.
On the road around the Laguna de Atitlán, especially between the villages San Juan and San Marcos, some daytime violent crime has been reported (Nov 2004). Tourists have been robbed (although not injured), and there were also rapes against women. The road from San Lucas Toliman to Cerro de Oro, once dangerous, is now considered safe.
Although the road from San Marcos to the next northern village is now controlled by the "Tourist Police", walking this way with backpacks or large amounts of money is not recommended.
Hiking in the mountainous areas around San Marcos is not recommended- there are several known thieves in the area and police and community members, while helpful after an assault, have very little control of the situation. If you feel you must explore these regions definitely go in a group of three or more, or if you're alone take nothing of value with you.