Life is better at the lake! And with it being Labor Day, this can’t be more true. However, I’m sadly not at the lake today. So I might as well flashback and blog about when I was at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and perhaps the most well known lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan!
This is going to be a quick blog post since my last one was pretty long, but I do want to talk about Lake Atitlan, which is one of the main tourist destinations in Guatemala.
I only spent 2 full days in Lake Atitlan, specifically in Panajachel, and I personally think that this is enough time if you don’t want to hike any of the surrounding mountains or volcanoes. Now there are a lot of things to understand about Lake Atitlan before you plan your trip here so I’m going to try to shed some light on this. First, the lake is pretty large and there are over 20 towns that dot the perimeter of the lake. Each of these towns have their own personality and specialty, so it is best to do some research and pick the town that most aligns with what you’re looking for.
I chose Panajachel, which is one of the largest and most well known towns. It is the easiest one to get to from Antigua and is known as the “gateway” of Lake Atitlan. Since I wasn’t staying too long I wanted to pick the town that was the easiest to get in and out of. If you’re staying for a bit longer, or want different vibes I would recommend San Marcos La Laguna or the hippie and yoga vibes, San Pedro which is the party center and most popular with backpackers, and Santiago Atitlan which is a larger city/town and has lots of artisans and crafts.
The lake is clearly beautiful, as you can see from the photos above, and it really is a breathtaking sight to see. When you’re here you have to take a lake cruise, I did one during the day that took you to 5 of the different towns around the lake. I think this is a great option if you’re staying in Pana (AKA Panajachel) so that you can see different parts of the Lake since you aren’t staying very long.
However, I did this lake cruise on my second full day at Lake Atitlan. On my first full day I actually had a better time staying in Pana and going to Hotel Atitlan and enjoying the pool, restaurant, and botanic gardens there.
So not only is this probably the most posh hotel in all of Guatemala, very happy that I got to stay here, but it also has one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever seen! It is situated on its own private area of land directly on the lake, which allows for wonderful access and secluded views of this natural wonder.
The botanic gardens are a huge draw and I think every tourist staying in Pana should check it out, but here’s why. The entrance fee to view the gardens is something like $8 or $10, not expensive but to a backpacker a little pricey. However, you are able to get your entire value you paid for the ticket back by eating at the VERY good restaurant that is on property. That basically means you’re paying for food and a whole day’s worth of fun, hence totally worth it. This also gives you access to the pool just so you know.
After I looked around the gardens, which are expensive and truly gorgeous, I had lunch at the restaurant, enjoyed some coffee with amazing lake views, and made my way to the actual town of Pana. While there you have tons of opportunities to view the lake and shop the many street vendors. I also went to this area so I could book my shuttle to my next location, as well as sample some of the street foods!
I enjoyed this town quite a lot and was truly impressed by the natural beauty of the lake! Things you read online say that it is fairly polluted, however, it is actually quite clean and totally fine to swim. Tourists are silly and don’t understand that the water jugs and plastic bottles they see floating in the lake actually serve as buoys for nets, etc. I will say that I didn’t love the tour of the different lake towns because our guide was completely un-involved and basically dropped us in the town and just told us when to be back at the boat. I also didn’t love the feel of the towns in general. All of them just felt like such tourist traps. I didn’t get this feeling at all in Antigua, but it is understandable since the majority of the economy here is based around tourism. It is still certainly worth a visit! My next blog post will be an interesting one. It is all about a very remote location of Guatemala that is supposedly beautiful and totally worth going to, but I will evaluate if it is actually worth it.