If you are traveling to Guatemala you probably know that this country has one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The Atitlan Lake of Guatemala is sitting in the middle of three volcanoes and in the crater of what used to be a massive volcano. Around all of this beauty, you will find small villages where the Mayan culture is still alive. This is quite a touristic area of the country, so you can expect some things to be overpriced, but there are ways to experience the best of the Atitlan area without spending tons of money.
Visiting Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala brings wonder to my family and I every time we visit. There seems to be an endless amount of things to do and see.
Normally, the basic route to travel Lake Atitlan is either staying in Panajachel – which is the main town with funky markets and a large selection of restaurants or visiting one of the more accessible villages. Santiago was our other choice simply because you can drive there.
However, we never thought about staying in a more remote area until I got in touch with Lee and Elaine from Kayak Guatemala for an adventure, and family trip while visiting Lake Atitlan.
How To Get Around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
- The villa is located in Santa Cruz, so the only way to get there is by boat. My suggestion – best to arrive early in the day to avoid rain and the wavy conditions of the lake in the afternoon hours, the Lake Atitlan weather is usually really comfortable all year long.
- There are pathways around this area, but the more remote villages are usually foot only traffic.
What to do At Lake Atitlan?
Traveling with Kids can be a challenge, especially when you have a baby. I was so impressed with the Family Day Special that is offered to entertain everyone’s tastes – including toddlers! Take a look a some of the best Lake Atitlan Activities:
The reason I am mentioning Alex as a separate point was that Lee and Elaine called him their ‘treasure’. They even went as far as to say you won’t even see your kids they will be so entertained. Well, I know my two year old who is going through serious separation anxiety, and I can now vouch for Alex – he is a true find! I couldn’t believe how much fun my baby was having with him. I was able to get a whole hour of freedom to eat lunch while the ran after chickens, hopped on trampolines and rolled around with the puppies.
what a great way to really see the lake. They have kayaks for all ages. My eight year old did his first solo kayak adventure with one that fit his size perfectly.
ok this is a surprise, but I had to share it here since this was my oldest’s highlight of the kayak tour. Alex takes you to a secret area where you can hike up some rocks and jump into the lake. So if you are asking yourself if you can swim in Lake Atitlan? Then, yes, you can swim in the lake!. I literally lost my husband and son there for over one hour while they did what boys do – go nuts!
if climbing stones during kayaking isn’t enough. Then get ready for some rock climbing. Take a short hike to a wall that is perfect for kids and beginner climbers.
This was my treat. Elaine is one of the only TRUE and trained massage therapists that I have met in Guatemala. And I have been here long enough and visited enough spas to know the good from the bad from the ugly (yes I’ve had that kind of an experience too). Elaine is amazing. Her 25 years of experience does wonders for you and also gives you a great escape from daily stress!
Taking a tour along the lake is a must
This is the only way you have to truly appreciate the beauty of this place. It’s not expensive and you have a great time. But do this during the morning; winds tend to be too strong during the afternoon, making it a bit dangerous. A private boat tour can get expensive, plus some drivers tend to want to take advantage of foreigners, but going on a public one that serves as transportation to locals is much cheaper, ask other locals about the price to avoid being ripped off.
The most popular of the towns around the lake is Panajachel, this is where you will find most of the facilities, but don’t forget to take a look at what the less popular villages have to offer. You might find bargains. However, if you want to party, Panajachel is the place for you. The lake is also flooded with luxury hotels but if you look deeper there are other hotels that are good and for much less like El Comal Hotel in San Juan La Laguna. It is much cheaper and it’s not a Hostel.
Restaurants and Eating
This is pretty similar to what I said about restaurants. There are a lot of trendy and gourmet restaurants in the main towns. However, if you open your eyes and walk away from the most touristic streets, you will find smaller and cheaper restaurants that offer traditional, homemade meals for as low as $3 including the beverage.
If you land a cheap airbnb with a kitchen, exploring the local fruits and vegetable market will be your cheapest option.
You can’t leave this area without visiting Maximon
This is a crazy mix between a Mayan god and a catholic saint that resulted of the conquest. They have a chaotic and unique ritual with many rules. But they’ll allow you to see it if you pay a fee but they tend to take advantage of foreigners and want to charge ridiculous amounts of money like $10 for the right to take 1 photo. But don’t despair, if you chat with the locals you might learn that there are a few reproductions where locals don’t charge as much.
Walk as much as you can
Try to avoid tuk-tuks and pickups that work as transportation. Sadly the trend of wanting to charge a ton to foreigners continues with them. Instead, walk as much as you can and take collective boats or chicken buses if you want to move from one town to the other.
As you can see these are all fun ways to get to know the area, learn about Mayan rituals, and have a good time without spending a small fortune.
The Family Day Package is one of the most innovative ideas for the area. It includes the boat ride from Pana to Santa Cruz and a full day of fun, with lunch. The Massage is extra but sooo worth every penny! Plus they offer a lot more Atitlan tours and adventures.
Personally, I wish all places in Guatemala offered a family tour. It can get a bit complicated to please everyone, but it’s so great when someone has it all worked out for you.
Hint, Hint – Lee and Elaine 🙂
Lake Atitlan in Guatemala – Family Adventures