Exploring Lake Atitlan, aka “The Most Beautiful Lake in the World”

There are few places in the world that I have travelled to where the actual sight looks as good as it does in pictures. Lake Atitlan in Guatemala is a rare exception to this norm. Nestled between picturesque mountains and three volcanoes, there is no shortage of ‘scenic moments’. My girlfriend and I recently travelled to the lake with her family, who live in Guatemala City. Here is some of what we got up to, and some travel tips for anyone interested in going!

Getting There

The first glimpse we had of the lake, from the scenic viewpoint between Solola and Panajachel.

The lake is a good 3-4 hour drive from Guatemala City, which is where most people fly into the country. While one can drive themselves (as we did), there are also numerous shuttle and bus services from the city to and from the lake. Many hotels in the city offer this service. If you’re looking to splurge, you can even take a helicopter flight from Guatemala City to the lake! Regardless of how you get to the lake, you’re most likely going to end up in the town of Panajachel, which is on the northeastern side of the lake. If you come by car, you will likely pass through the town of Solola. After this town, there’s a road that heads down to Panajachel with a gorgeous scenic overlook on it that is a perfect place to take pictures of the lake.

Exploring Panajachel

Beautiful views to be had from the many docks in Panajachel!

Panajachel is a bustling town with numerous markets, restaurants, and hotels. One could spend several hours browsing the main streets for souvenirs or locally made textiles. We enjoyed dinner in the town at ‘Tuscani‘, an Italian restaurant on one of the main roads in the town. Due to the size and geography of the lake, the main way of getting from one town to the next is via boat. We did just this, and hired a boat to take us across the lake to the town of Santiago. Be ready to negotiate (potentially with small children) to get the best price. We were able to get the price down to 400GTQ (about 55USD) for a private boat to take all of us to the other side, wait for about an hour, and then take us back. There are also taxi boats that can take you to various points on the lake for between 40-50GTQ per person, but bear in mind these are one-way fares and the boats often stop at several locations before the one you want to go to. As we were traveling in a group of 5, it made sense to rent a private boat. Its also worth noting that it can be difficult to find these taxi boats – you may get convinced to go private before you get to the right dock!

Exploring Santiago

Santiago Atitlan is a town on the southern side of the lake, tucked away between two Volcanoes (Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Toliman). The town resembles a slightly smaller, quieter version of Panajachel. We enjoyed walking around the town and looking in various shops and stands. After walking for a while, we decided to take a Tuk Tuk to a scenic viewpoint that provided views of Volcán San Pedro across a small bay. Tuk Tuks are small moped-like taxis that can fit a couple of passengers in them. They are easy to hail and generally will negotiate on price. We were even able to have them wait at the viewpoint so we could ride them back in to town!

Time for Bed!

Gorgeous view from the Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan.

After a busy day exploring and taking in the beautiful scenery, it was time to head to the hotel. We were booked in at the Hotel San Buenaventura de Atitlan. This hotel is very close to the Hotel Atitlan, which is run by the same group. It provides cabin-style accommodations, which was great for our group. A free breakfast was included, as well as access to a pool/jaccuzi, private beach, and kayaking. Its a beautiful place to walk around, and we enjoyed stopping by the private beach on the first night to enjoy the sunset and evening light on the lake. The grounds are just outside of Panajachel, so one would need to take a Tuk Tuk or boat to get there.

Kayaking

Monica and Me kayaking on the lake!

The next morning, we enjoyed a morning kayak excursion into the bay that the hotel overlooks. Kayaking is only offered in the morning due to the winds that can pick up on the lake in the afternoon. It was a gorgeous paddle into the lake, and we even saw a helicopter land at the Hotel Atitlan while we waited to get started. There is no limit on the time you can spend on the kayaks, but we found about an hour to be a good amount of time.

Conclusions

Lake Atitlan really lives up to the claim of being ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring it, and can’t wait to go back. Here are my

Elbie Pro Tips:

  • If possible, travel with someone who speaks Spanish. This helps greatly in getting the best deals when negotiating, as well as being able to find your way around. That being said, a surprising number of locals had good english skills, and all were helpful and happy to chat.
  • Take a boat ride in the morning vs. the afternoon. The waves and currents on the lake get stronger in the afternoon, leading to quite a bumpy ride! The town is also quieter in the morning, so you may get a better deal when finding a boat.
  • Bring cash for Tuk Tuks. Coming from a culture where Uber and Lyft let you pay automatically, I realized I wasn’t used to paying in cash for rides around town. Bring some local currency to be prepared!