While 24 hours in Lake Atitlan might look like a really small amount of time, it’s not, that’s enough time to enjoy a good part of the lake.
If you don’t have that much time to explore Guatemala, a day trip to Lake Atitlan will give you enough time to explore it. Lake Atitlán is a stunning lake surrounded by volcanoes and Mayan villages, where you can experience the rich and colorful history and traditions.
Whether you want to relax, explore, or learn, Lake Atitlán has something for everyone.
In this article, we will show you how to make the most of 24 hours in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala. We will cover how to get there and when to go, what to pack and what to expect, and what to see and do. By the end of this article, you will have a clear idea of how to plan your perfect day trip to Lake Atitlán.
If you have more time I have another episode of what to do if you have 48 hours or two days in Lake Atitlan.
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24h in Lake Atitlan Itinerary
So you only have 24 hours in Lake Atitlan – what are you going to do? 24 hours might seem like a really small amount of time, but it’s not.
Start in Panajachel
Panajachel, or Pana as the locals call it, is the largest and most developed town around Lake Atitlán. It is also the main entry point and the transportation hub for the lake. It has a lively atmosphere, with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists.
It offers a variety of attractions, services, and amenities. Panajachel is a great place to start your exploration of Lake Atitlán, as you can get a glimpse of the history, culture, and nature of the region.
What to see and do in Panajachel
Here are some of the things you can see and do in Panajachel:
- Visit the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the oldest and most prominent building in town. It was built by the Spanish conquistadors and later restored by the Franciscans. It has a simple and elegant architecture, with a white facade, a red roof, and a bell tower. Inside, you can admire the wooden altar, the paintings, and the statues of saints. The church is located on the main street and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Stroll along the Calle Santander, the main street, and the commercial center of Panajachel. It is lined with shops, stalls, and vendors selling all kinds of goods, like souvenirs, handicrafts, textiles, and more. You can find some unique and colorful items, like traditional clothes made by the local Mayan women. The Calle Santander is also a good place to grab a bite or a drink, as there are many restaurants, cafes, and bars offering a range of cuisines, from local to international.
- Explore the Reserva Natural Atitlán, a former coffee plantation that has been transformed into a nature reserve and an ecological park. It is located about 200 meters past the Hotel Atitlán on the northern outskirts of town. It covers a huge area and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. You can hike along the trails, cross the hanging bridges, visit the butterfly farm, the orchid nursery, and the medicinal plant garden, or zip-line through the canopy.
- Enjoy the views of the lake and the volcanoes from the lakeshore or the miradores (lookout points). Panajachel has a long and
Hire a private boat and do a boat tour
After exploring Panajachel, it is time to hop on a boat and discover the beauty and diversity of Lake Atitlán.
I would definitely recommend you take a local boat if you only go to one village, but because you only have one day, I recommend hiring a private boat.
They’re usually about $100, maybe $125, and they’re with you the entire day. This way you’ll be able to go and see maybe two or three other villages around Lake Atitlan rather than just one with a local boat.
It could take you hours to get to one village, then get off because you’re also working on their time.
I recommend visiting the most popular villages, San Marcos, Santiago, and San Pedro.
Taking a boat tour of the lake is the best way to experience the different facets of Lake Atitlán, as you can see the stunning scenery, visit the charming villages, and interact with the local people.
Visit one of the many Mayan villages
After taking a boat tour of the lake, you can choose to return to Panajachel or stay overnight in one of the towns. They are really tiny. So when I say go and visit a town, you can literally visit a town and just walk around, which will probably take you an hour.
Here are some of the villages you can visit around the lake:
San Marcos La Laguna, the hippie and spiritual village of the lake
San Marcos La Laguna is a small and peaceful village that attracts many travelers who are looking for a place to relax, meditate, and heal.
The village has a bohemian and alternative vibe, with many yoga studios, meditation centers, massage parlors, holistic therapies, and vegetarian restaurants.
You can also find some art galleries, bookstores, and cafes, where you can enjoy the views and the atmosphere.
San Marcos La Laguna is also known for its natural beauty, as it has a lush and verdant landscape, with many gardens, flowers, and trees.
You can hike to the nature reserve of Cerro Tzankujil, where you can swim, kayak, or jump from a platform into the lake.
San Juan La Laguna, the artistic and cultural village of the lake
San Juan La Laguna is a charming and colorful village that showcases the rich and diverse culture of the Mayan people.
The village is famous for its textile cooperatives, where you can see how the local women weave and dye their fabrics using natural and organic materials.
You can also buy some of their products, such as scarves, bags, tablecloths, and more, which are of high quality and fair trade.
Around the village, you’ll find murals, paintings, and sculptures that depict the history, legends, and traditions of the Mayan people.
Make sure to visit some of the cultural centers and galleries where you can learn more about the Mayan culture and its art.
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San Pedro La Laguna, the lively and fun village of the lake.
San Pedro La Laguna is another popular and well-developed village on the lake, with a lot of things to see and do. The village has a vibrant and energetic atmosphere, with many bars, clubs, and restaurants that offer live music.
The village also has a lot of activities and attractions, such as hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, coffee tours, chocolate workshops, and Spanish lessons.
You can also climb the San Pedro volcano, which is one of the most challenging and rewarding hikes on the lake. The volcano offers stunning and breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding mountains and the hike takes about 4 to 6 hours round trip.
Santiago Atitlán, the largest and the most traditional village of the lake.
Santiago Atitlán is a bustling and busy village that has a strong and authentic Mayan identity. The village is the capital of the Tz’utujil people, one of the 21 Mayan ethnic groups in Guatemala. It has a lot of history and culture, as it was the site of the Spanish conquest, the Mayan resistance, and the civil war.
You can visit the colonial church of St. James, the patron saint of the village. You can also visit the shrine of Maximón, a folk saint that is revered by the Mayan people.
Not only that, you can also see the local people wearing their traditional costumes, such as the purple and white striped skirts for the women and the embroidered shirts and pants for the men
Must-Do in Lake Atitlan
Visit a Local Market
In the surrounding area of the lake, there is a bustling market where you can find a variety of local Guatemalan goods.
From ceramics and jewelry to clothing and textiles, you name it, they have it.
Spending a couple of hours wandering around any of those vibrant markets is a delightful way to start your journey.
Admire the views of the lake and the volcanoes from the boat
Lake Atitlán is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and for a good reason. The lake has a deep blue color that contrasts with the green hills and the white clouds.
The volcanoes, Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro, rise majestically from the water, creating a dramatic and impressive backdrop.
The lake also changes its mood and appearance depending on the time of the day, the weather, and the season.
You can see the lake in different shades of blue, purple, pink, or orange, depending on the light and the reflection. It’s also home to a variety of birds, such as egrets, herons, kingfishers, and cormorants, which you can spot along the way.
Eat at a Local Restaurant
There’s a wide range of restaurants and bars that cater to different tastes, and budgets. You can find some local specialties like pepián, kak’ik, and tamales or tortillas.
You can also find some international cuisines, like Italian, or Mexican, and more.
I really recommend spending some time, maybe getting a drink in one of the local restaurants along the lake, or even having lunch in one of the villages.
Watch the sunset from the lakeshore or from a rooftop bar
Many of the villages around the lake offer some of the best views of the lake and the volcanoes, especially at sunset. You can watch the sky change colors and the water sparkle from the lakeshore, where you can also find some benches, hammocks, and swings.
You can also watch the sunset from a rooftop bar where you can also enjoy a drink, a snack, and some music.
Stay at one of the many hotels
You should definitely consider staying in a village around the lake, there are a lot of options for accommodation, from cheap and cheerful hostels to cozy and comfortable hotels.
How to get to Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlán is located in the Sololá Department of southwestern Guatemala, about 50 kilometers west-northwest of Antigua. The easiest way to get to Lake Atitlán is by taking a shuttle bus from Antigua, Guatemala City, or Quetzaltenango (also known as Xela).
The shuttle bus will take you to Panajachel, the main town and gateway to the lake. The journey takes about 3 to 4 hours, depending on the traffic and road conditions.
You can book your shuttle bus online or through your hotel or hostel.
Another good way to get there is by car, rent a car and drive yourself.
Best time to visit the Lake
The best time to visit Lake Atitlán is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. During this time, the weather is nicer and sunnier, with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius (59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit).
The rainy season, which runs from May to October, will be a lot more wet and cloudy.
However, the rain usually falls in the afternoon or evening, so you can still enjoy some clear and sunny mornings. The rainy season also has the advantage of fewer tourists and lower prices.
What to pack for a day trip to Lake Atitlan?
Your packing will depend a lot on the activities you want to do. But you should consider the following items:
- A backpack or a small suitcase that you can easily carry on the shuttle bus and the boat.
- A daypack or a purse that you can use for your daily essentials, such as water, snacks, sunscreen, camera, phone, wallet, etc.
- Comfortable and sturdy shoes that you can walk in for long distances and on uneven terrain.
- Layers of clothing that you can adjust according to the temperature and the altitude. The lake is at an elevation of 1,562 meters (5,125 feet) above sea level, so it can get chilly in the morning and at night. A jacket, a sweater, and a scarf are recommended.
- Don’t forget your swimsuit and a towel if you plan to swim or kayak in the lake.
- A hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun, which can be strong at high altitudes.
- A flashlight or a headlamp if you plan to stay out after dark, as some streets and paths may not be well-lit.
- A reusable water bottle and a water filter or purification tablets, as the tap water is not safe to drink. You can also buy bottled water at local shops and restaurants, but be mindful of the plastic waste.
- Some cash in quetzals (Guatemalan money), as most places do not accept credit cards or foreign currency. There are ATMs in Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna, but they may not always work or have enough cash.
Exploring Lake Atitlan in 24 hours: FAQ
What are some other places to visit around Lake Atitlán?
Some other places to visit around Lake Atitlán are Santa Cruz La Laguna, a quiet and scenic village that has some of the best views of the lake and the volcanoes; Jaibalito, a small and secluded village that is only accessible by boat or by foot.
Santa Catarina Palopó, a colorful and traditional village that is known for its pottery and its mural project; and San Antonio Palopó, a picturesque and authentic village that is famous for its ceramics and its church.
How safe is Lake Atitlán for travelers?
Lake Atitlán is generally safe for travelers, as long as you use common sense and follow some basic precautions. You should avoid walking alone at night, especially in dark and isolated areas.
Keep an eye on your belongings and avoid flashing expensive items or large amounts of cash. You should also be respectful of the local culture and customs, and avoid any political or religious discussions.
If you have any problems or emergencies, you can contact the local police, or your embassy or consulate.
How much does it cost to visit Lake Atitlán?
The cost of visiting Lake Atitlán depends on your travel style, preferences, and budget. However, you can expect to spend around 300 to 500 quetzales (about 40 to 65 USD) per day or more if you choose to rent a private boat, including transportation, accommodation, food, and activities.
You can save money by traveling in the low season, staying in hostels or guesthouses, eating at small local restaurants or markets, and joining group tours or using public boats.
What are some cultural issues to be aware of when visiting Lake Atitlán?
Lake Atitlán is a sacred and spiritual place for the Mayan people, who have lived around the lake for centuries. You should respect their culture, beliefs, and traditions, and avoid any actions that may offend or disturb them.
For example, you should dress modestly, especially when visiting churches or ceremonies; you should ask for permission before taking photos or videos of people; don’t touch or interfere with any sacred objects or sites; and don’t participate in any rituals or ceremonies without proper guidance or invitation.
How can I support the local communities and businesses around Lake Atitlán?
One of the best ways to support the local communities and businesses around Lake Atitlán is to buy local and fair trade products and services, like handicrafts, textiles, food, and tours.
You can also tip generously and fairly, as many people depend on tourism for their income and livelihood. You can also volunteer or donate to some of the local projects or organizations that work to improve the social and economic conditions of the people around the lake.
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Last Updated on November 28, 2023