If you’re visiting Guatemala for any length of time, you’re almost guaranteed to be spending some of it in both Antigua and at Lake Atitlan. Many visitors come to Guatemala specifically for these two incredible destinations! And once you arrive, you’ll understand why. Regardless of your budget or travel style, here are some of our favourite ways to get from Antigua to Panajachel, the gateway to Lake Atitlan.
As a major backpacker and tourist hub, getting to Antigua is easy from almost anywhere in the region. Whether you’re flying into Guatemala City or arriving overland from a neighbouring country, you’ll easily find your way here.
To get to the wonderful villages of Lake Atitlan from Antigua, you have several options.
All prices in Guatemalan Quetzales. Q10 = $1.30(US) / $1.71(Can) / 1.17€
Direct Bus from Antigua to Panajachel
- 3 hours
- Q30/36 per person
This is our personal favourite. It’s almost the cheapest, and not quite the quickest; but so worth it for the experience. If you’ve never had the excitement of riding a chicken bus before, this might be one of the best places to try.
For the longest time, we couldn’t find any information regarding a direct bus to Lake Atitlan. However, as we’ve taken a direct bus from Panajachel back to Antigua in the past, we knew it must exist. And it does. Though much like with the other direction, there is only one each day.
The bus leaves at 7 am, from near the main bus terminal, but not the same congested area. Instead, you’ll find it on the next road over, to the south, directly across from the Dispensa Familiar. We found it parked in front of Barberia Tommy, however, there is no guarantee it will always be there.
- Note: If you do try this option, make sure to show up early to make sure the bus isn’t leaving early, is parked in a different location. We were also told by many locals this bus doesn’t even exist (because it is run by a different company). Those who could confirm its existence, recommended arriving no later than 6:15 am.
If you get to the unnamed road early enough, and it isn’t there, you can probably wander around until you find it. Listen for someone calling out “Pana, Pana!”
To make things a little easier, your best bet is to head to Panificadoria Colombia. This bakery, across from McDonald’s, is also home to a small tour office called Pacaya Expeditions. Come here a day or more in advance to purchase your ticket. Then you meet at 6:45 at the same shop on the day of your journey, and someone will bring you directly to the bus. Don’t panic if they seem to be running late. When we did this option, they didn’t meet us at the shop until 7:05, and we made the bus just fine.
This method costs Q6 more than the Q30 bus ticket, but you’re paying for the service. And for under a dollar, you can save some headaches.
That said, as we learned on our most recent journey, headaches still happen.
Breakdown on the Direct Bus
The last time we took this trip, we opted for the direct bus. Although we wanted to save some cash, we still enjoy the frantic excitement of the chicken bus.
We opted for the ‘buy ahead’ option because 6:45 is early enough for us!
Everything went smooth until a few kilometres outside of Los Encuentros. The bus pulled over to the side of the road and was billowing steam from the engine. It seemed clear that something related to the cooling system had failed.
The bus sat there for around 40 minutes while the crew worked to get it running again. Eventually, after removing several important-looking components, and patching the system together in ways I can’t imagine, we were off. Unfortunately, the temporary fix only allowed the bus to limp to the side of the bus terminal in Los Encuentros.
Here we began the first of two more transfers to our final destination of Panajachel.
So in this specific case, although we initially boarded the direct bus, we ended up taking one-half of the multi-bus trip. And as a result, we not only paid more overall, but took longer to arrive.
So while the direct bus is still our favourite option when it works out, the multi-bus trip below isn’t much more complicated.
Antigua to Lake Atitlan using Multiple Chicken Buses
- 3.5-4 hours
- Q25-Q30 per person
If you’re not pressed for time or don’t want to get up so early, you can take multiple buses between Antigua and Pana. This is the more common chicken bus route for backpackers heading to Lake Atitlan.
Antigua to Chimaltenango
First, head through the busy market, on the west side of town, to the main bus terminal. Ask around for the bus to Chimaltenango (locals often call it Chimal), or look in bus windows. Nearly every chicken bus will have the route posted in the front.
Buses leave at fairly regular intervals throughout the day and costs Q5 per person, taking around one hour.
Chimaltenango to Los Encuentros
From Chimaltenango, you’ll transfer onto another bus that will take you to Los Encuentros. This should be Q15 and take a little over an hour.
Los Encuentros to Solola
Now don’t let the chaos of this highway bus station scare you, there will be plenty of bus attendants here calling out “Pana!” Just follow them to your next bus, this time to Solola. This leg costs Q2.5, and should only take around 15-20 minutes. But traffic in Solola can get very congested and sometimes this part can take a lot longer.
Solola to Panajachel
This is the last and shortest bit of the journey. For Q3, The bus will take you down a steep and windy road, with outstanding views of the lake and its two stunning volcanoes. The bus will drop you off near the Texaco station on the edge of Pana.
If you’re heading to the ferry docks from here, take your first right onto Calle del Embarcadero. If you’re staying in Pana, or want to explore it a little before moving on, after turning right, take your first left down Calle El Chalí to get to the centre of town.
- Note: This route has been known to have pickpockets, so keep an eye on your belongings. The chicken bus is also a wild ride – very fast on really winding roads. If you’re prone to motion sickness, take necessary precautions.
Shuttle from Antigua to Panajachel
- 2.5-3 hours
- Q80 per person
If you aren’t in the mood for a hectic, early morning chicken bus ride, don’t worry; many companies have direct shuttles between Lake Atitlan and Antigua.
Ask around at different hostels and tour agencies for the best value, and be sure to ask details. Typically, the going rate is Q80. You’ll likely be able to find cheaper, but I’d question the quality of the ride, let alone how many people they’d cram inside. That said, Q90 and up is not uncommon either.
For a nice, comfortable and likely air-conditioned shuttle, expect to pay close to Q80. They also leave about 4 times during the day, so it leaves you some time to sleep off that hangover or buy that last trinket you find in the market before heading out.
Though it isn’t typically the way we travel (because we’re cheap), this is the most reasonable way to get to Lake Atitlan. And if you’ve got the cash, and not a lot of time, it’s the way to go.
There, you’ve made it to one of the most spectacular places in all of Guatemala. It’s time to get planning, because there are so many incredible things to do at Lake Atitlan! We have all that information right here. Consider staying on our favourite village, San Pedro La Laguna.