LAKE ATITLAN – THE PEARL OF GUATEMALA?
LEGENDS AND FACTS
Lake Atitlan – the pearl of Guatemala. This is how it is advertised in all the travel guides. It’s supposed to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, which has inspired many writers in the past. It is said that the lake was inspiration even to the one and only Mr. Saint – Exupery, who wrote The Little Prince.
Why? Because at the lake there is a hill called Cerro de Oro, which is supposed to resemble the all known picture in the book. You know, the one for which adults say they see a hat and the children see an elephant being eaten by boa constrictor. There even may be some truth in that assumption, since writer really stayed by the Lake Atitlan for recovery after having been involved in an airplane crash near the Guatemala City. A coincidence or truth? I’ll let you decide for yourself. 😉
IS LAKE REALLY THE PEARL OF GUATEMALA?
But, is Lake Atitlan truly the most beautiful lake in the world? In my humble opinion…it is not. Perhaps I was even more fascinated by the Titicaca Lake in South America, or the lakes I saw (until now) only on friends’ photos – those in Canada and the Dolomites (Italy). But that does not mean that the lake is not beautiful. In fact, it is extremely beautiful and already the view from our apartment was fantastic. And when you are driving along the curvy roads (from the villages above) to the lake, the views are literally jaw-dropping (I’m talking “Johny Bravo from Cartoon Network jaw-dropping” here 🙂 ).
The lake is said to have magical properties as well. Thus, in one of the villages that are scattered around the lake (San Marcos La Laguna), gringos from around the world are gathering to attend various spiritual rituals and discussing lucid dreams (i.e. dreams in which you realize that you dream and lead the course of events). There are also some yoga resorts, where you can go on a short (and pretty expensive) retreat and disconnect from the crazy world, or you tuck yourself in for months and become a yoga instructor. The latter was quite appealing to me, but I have no idea what Bojan would do in a “hippie-plant-based community” for so long. 😛
Anyhow, maybe it really is something in this deep water, since I dreamed all week at Atitlan so much that I woke up quite exhausted every morning. 😀 But even if the lake does not have supernatural properties, view at the sunrise, when the mists roll over the water, is quite magical itself.
If you add to this view the peace that is only disturbed now and then by the motor boats that rush between the villages, the sounds of tuk-tuks and by the occasional party, the lake is indeed a place worth visiting. 🙂
AND THE BEST THINGS TO DO AT LAKE ATITLAN?
ENJOY THE MOMENT😊
We’ve been on the road already for 2 months and a half, so our goal was only one – that we go to Atitlan lake to rest. I know, it sounds funny that you have to rest while you are practically on a vacation. 😀 But believe it or not when you move to a new place every couple of days and spend (what it seems like) endless hours on buses, visit numerous attractions, you eventually arrive at the point when you need … to press a pause button. 😊 Anyone who has traveled for a longer period of time will be able to tell you that there are moments when you couldn’t care less whether you will ever visit those famous ruins or go on another coffee plantations tour. Let’s be hones here folks, coffee looks exactly identical either in Cuba, Guatemala or Bali after all (but, if we are talking about the taste, this is another thing 😉).
We have already known in advance that the Atitlan lake is a point where we want to “stop” a bit, to breathe it all in, write down a blog post or two, and make some travel plans for the future (because planning is something that definitely doesn’t come natural to us and especially I am terrible at it :D). So, we booked an apartment through AirBnB for the whole week. We were utterly happy when we found out that in addition to a terrace, a washing machine and a coffee mill, the accommodation comes in a package with two cute dogs. Every time when we went from or arrived at the house, we were obliged to “pay a tax” in a form of cuddles. 😀 Needles to say, we enjoyed paying such taxes very much (unlike those when crossing borders – you can read more about this here).
So, Atitlan lake is the best place for relaxation in Guatemala and a combination of beautiful views and freshly grounded coffee is already enough to completely disconnect. 🙂
RENT A KAYAK OR SUP
SUP is lately quite “a thing” apparently in Central America and Atitlan is not an exception. However, although it can be fine, I can not help but laugh when the young hipsters (sorry guys! :D) describe it as an adventurous experience. Hihi, the next time I hear that, I’ll perhaps invite them to Bovec (in Slovenia) and introduce them to the adventure sports. 😉
So we rather chose a kayak and went for paddling around the lake. Kayak rides are offered by various agencies in the village of San Pedro La Laguna at a fixed price of 15Q/person/hour (less than 2 €), regardless of the number of hours. Therefore, it is better to take a walk along the coast to one of the owners, and then arrange for a discount directly there.
It goes like this: 1 hour … 15Q (per person), 2h … 25Q, 3h..30Q
We hired kayak for two hours, and it turned out that it was enough. Because around 12 o’clock the lake suddenly becomes more wavy, so we almost felt like pirates who fought with huge ocean waves 😛 Kidding, not that bad, but you’ll need to workout a bit. 🙂
Opposite of the village of San Pedro (across the lake), there is also a sandy beach where some people were swimming. I must say that the water that is really full of sludge did not convince us to jump in. Perhaps we would if the weather would be really hot. 😉
VISIT LOCAL MARKET OR CHICHICASTENANGO
Going to the shopping center on Saturday morning or even at the local farmer’s market (with usually pretty steep prices) is not the same as visiting markets in foreign countries. Not really, believe me. 😊 It’s best when you get up together with a sunshine, take a knitted basket and go for shopping.
The market in San Pedro was not as big as in Antigua, but it iseven more genuine. And the best thing about it is that nobody will try to scam you – you will buy an avocado and watermelon for the same price as the little granny in a colored dress standing beside you.
Talking about prices? 🙂
1 avocado…1-2Q ; 1 watermelon…10Q
The agencies in villages also offers a trip to the nearby town of Chichicastenango, where a market is twice a week. Colors, colors and colors is its motto. We did not visit it though – we came to rest to lake Atitlan after all. 😛
CLIMB THE SAN PEDRO VOLCANO OR INDIAN NOSE
Two of the most famous hiking trails around the lake. 😊
VOLCANO SAN PEDRO
The inactive volcano San Pedro rises above the village of San Pedro, and at a first glance it doesn’t look high at all. However, may not the looks deceive you, as in reality, the ascent is almost 1500 m and it takes about 6 hours for the whole trip (including an hour of rest at the top). The best way to get to the volcano is early in the morning, as clouds accumulate around the top around in the afternoon (my guess is that “women” clouds gather and chit-chat :P).
How to go there? You can climb the volcano by yourself. With tuk-tuk (for 5Q/person) go to the starting point of the ascent, where you pay 100Q/person for entrance free. In the fee local guide is included if you’d like to have one (but they can only show you the way as well if you prefer so). I do not know about you, but Bojan gets super cranky every time he learns he has to pay the entrance fee “to climb the hill” (something unheard of in our part of Europe 🙂 ). But hey, at least you can hike this volcano by yourself and not in a group.
What do you need with you? Water and food (it’s a whole day hike after all), hiking shoes, a warm jacket and a wind jacket.
Much shorter (but no less steep) is the way to the “Indian Nose” – a hill that has the shape of – you guessed it – a nose from an Indian. From the summit there is a beautiful view at the sunrise. Unfortunately, it is advised to not go there by yourself as there is a danger of robbery (especially if you walk in the dark on your own). I don’t know, the danger may be real but on the other hand – it may be just a good way to get people to pay for a tour in the agency. But I guess better safe than sorry, they say. 🙂
Price: around 100Q
How to get there? At 4 in the morning, they pick you up with a van and take you to the neighboring village (about 30min), where the ascent begins. The latter lasts from half an hour to an hour (depending on your pace) and you get to the top just before the sunrise.
TREAT YOURSELF WITH A DELICIOUS ICE CREAM!
Yeah, that’s the result of tourism. 🙂 If something you would not expect to encounter by the lake, it’s ice cream shop with broad selection of regular and vegan ice creams. On arrival, they explain how many scoops and flavors you can get for certain amount of money, and you can also tastes as many of flavors as you want before choosing your own.
Price: a bit pricey. The middle cup (with two flavors) costs 20Q, the large cornet 25Q (both in the picture). But it’s really good, so it’s worth the splurge. 🙂
GET WARM IN HOT TUBS
After hiking the volcano, the idea of the hot tubs is pretty appealing. But if you are like me, already dreaming of sauna at the first autumn rain, hot tubs are always a great idea. 😊 In San Pedro La Laguna, you can find two such “spas”, one next to each other. Los Thermales are kind of really rustic hot tubs (round stone kind-of-pools), but they have a nice view over the lake. A little bit more modern are their neighbors (Solar Pools), where, unfortunately, there is no view over the lake. We opted for latter anyway.
HOW DOES EXPERIENCE LOOK LIKE? 🙂
Actually, this works in a way that hot water is poured into the pool (that is why you have to tell an hour in advance that you are coming – water needs to be heated!). Then you can soak in your hot tub as long as water doesn’t cool down (as it is heated only once). But when I say hot, I mean hot! 🙂 For the first time in my life, I needed a few minutes to get in at all, then I needed a “pause” every 10 min, because it was so hot. Water has around (or slightly over?) 40 ° and it cools down quite slowly. Bojan was making a fool of me … that is until he tried to go in. 😀
Price: 50Q/person (if you want to have eucalyptus leaves in your pool – 40Q more) + 30Q for two Coronas 🙂
TAKE A WEAVING CLASS!
No, I’m not kidding. In the village of San Juan there is an association of women weavers. You can join and take a class – this just might be a great opportunity to be a part of the community. 😊
Price: from 20 € up
Duration: 2 – 5 hours
SOME USEFUL INFORMATION:
HOW TO GET TO THE LAKE ATITLAN?
The easiest way to get to the lake is from the capital (Guatemala City) or from Antigua. Many agencies offer a shuttle (old rusty van) which costs about 10 €/person. However, if you are more adventurous, you can take a “chicken bus” (local buses – old american school buses) instead – they cost only a few euros.
AROUND LAKE ATITLAN
To more around the village and between the nearby villages, you can take a tuk-tuk. This should not exceed price 5Q/person. However, the best mode of transport between the villages is a boat, that cost somewhere from 10-25Q/person in one direction (depending on how far away you go).
WHICH VILLAGE TO STAY IN?
Around the lake there are a number of villages, but tourists usually choose one of the following:
Panajachel – the largest place with the most tourist infrastructure and a larger market. Here you usually end up when you come from Guatemala City or Antigua and then you take a boat to other villages (in San Juan and San Pedro, you can also come directly).
Our hint for cheap accommodation: PanaHouse
Most backpackers choose to stay in San Pedro La Laguna. Many also comment that it is too touristic, but we did not have this feeling – this is because our apartment was 10-15 min away from the downtown (gringo area) so we were among the locals (and it was quiet there as well). San Pedro is also a starting point for renting kayaks and climbing to the San Pedro volcano or Indian nose.
Our hint for cheap accommodation: Mikaso Hotel y Restaurante
Our accomodation: Mynor’s Apartment
San Marcos la Laguna – if your main goal is relaxation, yoga or meditation, this will be the place for you. 😊
Our hint for cheap accommodation: Casa Madera Atitlan
San Juan La Laguna ali Santa Cruz La Laguna – two of the smaller, more peaceful villages, where there is also less infrastructure. In Santa Cruz there is also a diving center – it is possible to dive in the lake (but how much do you see due to the sludge, is another story 😊)
Our hint for cheap accommodation: (Santa Cruz): Casa Kaktus
Our hint for cheap accommodation: (San Juan): Eco-Hotel Mayachik
THE PEARL OF GUATEMALA ? THE PEARL OF GUATEMALA! 😊
Sunrises and sunsets, fresh Guatemalan coffee, yoga and meditation, hot springs, weaving and hiking – it’s perhaps not surprising that this place is visited by so many travelers from “developed countries (and many stay far longer than they originally planned). Lake Atitlan is definitely a must-stop if you ever visit Guatemala. 😊 We enjoyed our stay there immensely and are definitely planning to return again. 🙂