The Best Things to do at Lake Atitlan

Mark Stewart Travel Tips 10 Comments

Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular destinations in all of Guatemala, for good reason. Between the seemingly endless activities and laid-back vibes, visitors usually end up staying much longer than planned! To help you make the most of your time, we’ve put together a list of some of the best things to do at Lake Atitlan and around! Although you’ll likely stumble upon many more on your visit, these are a few that you shouldn’t miss!

Trek to Lake Atitlan

Hit up Quetzaltrekkers for their three-day hike from Xela (Quetzaltenango) to Lake Atitlan. Rather than taking the bus/boat option into San Pedro, you hike through some tiny villages over dense mountain jungles. Although we didn’t get around to this one ourselves, we’ve been told by many visitors that it’s an incredible hike! Great to do if you are coming from Mexico! Q750 at the time of writing.

Take some Spanish Lessons

Guatemala is the best country in Central America to study Spanish. Guatemalans tend to speak slower than other countries in the region, making it much easier to pick up. Not only that, but it’s also incredibly affordable! There are many options around the lake where for language study, from family stays to schools to private lessons. San Pedro is one of the most popular destinations for lessons but you’ll find them all around the lake.

Shopping in San Juan

Traditional hand-woven Mayan fabrics, hanging on a wall display.

Traditionally Woven Mayan Fabric

While you’ll have no problem finding plenty of typical Guatemalan souvenirs around the lake, clothing and textiles are the local specialty. Each of the villages have their own unique style and pattern to their weaving passed down from generations. It’s very interesting to see how these ancient Mayan groups have kept their individual culture over the years. Our favourite and best-made products come from San Juan la Laguna, their weaving is outstanding and the shoes are supposedly very long-lasting.

There is also the Handicrafts Market in Chichicastenango, or “Chichi Market” on Thursdays and Sundays. Locals from villages all around the region converge and sell everything from food and livestock, to traditional handicrafts. This is about a two to two and a half hour drive if you take a shuttle.  

Traditionally Made Chocolate

A man grinds cacao while teaching how to make chocolate at lake atitlan

Crushing Cacao Pods by Hand

Head to San Juan and check out Licor Marron for their free chocolate making demonstration.

It’s a brief but in-depth lesson of the entire process, from cacao pod to finished product. Following the demonstration, treat yourself to some of the many traditionally made chocolates in the attached shop. The orange chocolate is our recommendation.

Aside from the fantastic chocolates, the shop also sells organic honey, cocao husk tea and flavoured liquors.
 
 
 

Align your Chakras

With its serene views and relaxed energy, it’s no surprise that Lake Atitlan is a great spot for all things spiritual.

With the majority of the activity centred around San Marcos, you can sign up for all types of retreats to suit your holistic desires. From yoga and meditation to traditional healing methods and even lucid dream studies.

As well as having some amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants, San Marcos is also one of the best towns in the lake for cliff jumping and swimming!
 
 

Watch the Sunset

Sunsets over the lake are absolutely stunning. Santa Cruz offers some of the best views of all, but seeing as you’ll be passing through Panajachel at some point, it’s a prime location. Grab a cold beer and head down to the lakeside and watch the sky catch fire around the volcanos. It’s one of those simple pleasures that can’t be missed.

Sunset over Lake Atitlan with boat in foreground, volcano in the back.

A Stunning Sunset as Viewed from Panajachel

Hiking Lake Atitlan

There are many different hikes to do around the lake if this is your thing you will be in hikers paradise. The most popular hike for visitors is Indian Nose, primarily for the epic sunrise views. 

Another beautiful hike with views of the entire lake is Volcán San Pedro. While considerably longer, it’s roughly the same difficulty level and most hikers should be able to handle it without issue.

Both hikes are accessible from San Pedro. It’s worth noting that while both can be done without a guide, it’s recommended to hire one. This is especially important for Indian Nose, where banditos are very common.

Tour a Coffee Plantation

Take a coffee plantation tour around La Voz Coffee Cooperative in San Juan la Laguna. You’ll be walked through their organic coffee plantation and shown the entire process from plant to bean to cup. Be sure to sample the fine product at the end of the tour!

Read more about the fantastic coffee tour we did!

A cup of locally grown coffee

Fantastic Guatemalan Coffee

Get Your Feast On!

Every Sunday from noon to 4 pm, there is a proper Southern-style BBQ held at Smokin’ Joes. This was one of the highlights of our stay in San Pedro la Laguna. It is not necessarily a budget option but is definitely worth the cost. The meals range from 50Q to 120Q and include all-you-can-eat sides. Anything leftover from the side dish buffet is given to the local Mayan community and churches to help families and people in need.

There is also a smaller version in Panajachel at La Palapa Bar on Saturdays, also 12 – 4. Get there early, as some of the meat options will sell out!

Take a Boat Tour

If you don’t have much time to spend time in all of the villages, take a boat tour of the lake from Panajachel. They leave early in the morning and stop at several towns around. It is a great way to get a taste of just how different each town really is.

The pre-planned tours are a little pricey but can easily be done on your own. Simply pick which towns you’d like to visit and take the ferries between them yourself.

Boats on Lake Atitlan

Tour the Lake by Boat

Relax at one of the Lakefront Bars

Grab a locally made coffee, beer or smoothie and watch the locals as their easy-going way of life slowly moves around you. It’s a perfect way to slow down and be in the moment or relax your legs after a day of hiking.

Additional Info

Don’t walk between villages, even ones that seem close together like San Pedro and San Juan. Muggings happen more than they should, avoid the risk altogether. Take a boat or tuk-tuk instead. Depending on distance, boats will be 10Q – 30Q per person, while tuk-tuks are around 5Q.

An important note regarding the boats: go earlier in the day if possible. The choppy water later in the day can make for a rather uncomfortable ride. Also, don’t sit in the front, unless you don’t mind walking away with a bruised ass.

If staying outside of Panajachel, bring cash with you. While we were able to take money out in San Pedro, occasionally the ATM’s will run out of cash – especially on weekends.

A tuk-tuk on a street in San Pedro

Tuk-Tuks are the way to go

 

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

Comments 10

    1. Post
      Author

      Yeah, the quality of many goods there is great! And yes, very different from Europe, although Europe is beautiful in its own way!

  1. I’d love to visit Guatemala – it looks like such a beautiful country, that I sadly don’t know enough about. I once was in school in Switzerland with the daughter of an opposition leader (many years ago) – What’s the political situation like nowadays? The handmade chocolate, so cool and the sunset views beautiful. Thanks for an informative post.

    1. Post
      Author

      Thanks! We didn’t know a whole lot before going either, just what we’d seen online. As far as the politics are concerned, there’s not much I can say in regards to that unfortunately. We didn’t ask too many questions in when it came to politics; although like many countries in the area, corruption isn’t uncommon.

    1. Post
      Author
  2. “banditos are very common.”
    The people of Guatemala are among the nastiest I’ve come across in Europe, Asia, Africa or America.

    1. Post
      Author

      Wow, I’m sorry you feel that way. There are certainly some bad people in Guatemala, but we didn’t find it any worse than anywhere else in the world. The vast majority of locals we met were amazing and friendly!

  3. I enjoyed Panajechel and the entire area. I was in Guatemala several years ago for about 3 or 4 weeks. This article brings back memories and makes me want to get on a plane and head back.

    1. Post
      Author

      Fantastic! If you’ve got some free time ahead, you should go back! Although Pana wasn’t our favourite spot, the Atitlan as a whole is so phenomenal!

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