“Pana,” as it’s known to locals, is the biggest hippie town south of Guatemala. It is located on the banks of Lake Atitlan in central Guatemala. Panajachel is all about de-stressing and chilling out. Many of the full-time residents are Americans and Europeans who moved to Panajachel years or decades ago, seeking a simpler life. Being an ex-pat living in Guatemala for the past years, I have visited Panajachel countless times and can tell you exactly the best things to do in Panajachel, here’s a list of 10 of the best activities in this town.
Don’t forget to check out more info about which places to go when you visit Guatemala.
It’s not a very large town, and if you were to remove restaurants, cafes, bars, and curio shops, you’d be left with some churches, a few dusty streets, and the municipal building. It is a great home place for exploring the region.
How to Get There
Panajachel is located 115 kilometers from the capital, Guatemala City, and the easiest way to get to the town is by road. There are many ways to get there, using the “chicken” local buses, by renting a car or using private transfers, in order to get there you will be taken through the Panamericana Highway to Panajachel.
The time it takes to get to Panajachel is about 4 hours by bus and 3 hours by car or private transfer, depending on the traffic.
Things To Do In Panajachel
Go on a boat tour
Lake Atitlan is huge and has tons of smaller villages around, each of them has something unique to offer. If you want to experience the culture in deep you should visit as many towns near the lake as you can. Since all of them are accessible by boat, I highly recommend you do a boat tour, in a day you can explore at least two different towns. Among those towns, a must-visit are San Pedro La Laguna, San Marcos, Santiago, and Santa Cruz.
Take a chilly dip in the lake
In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s safe to swim in lake atitlan, but some parts are kinda dirty, the best place to swim in Lake Atitlan is in the area of San Marcos and around. Keep in mind you must find a clean place to swim, most of them are far from the villages and towns, another good spot to take a swim at is at the dock of Pasajcap Rentals, since it’s private it tends to be cleaner.
Visit the Hot Spring
Located on the shore of Lake Atitlan, almost 8 km away from Panajachel is located a small but stunning swimming pool in Santa Catarina Palopó, where you can find Aguas Termales Natural, a place to take a dip in some hot waters. On your way there, make sure to make a stop at Mirador de Santa Catarina and enjoy the stunning views of the lake.
There are other places like Regis Hotel Spa which offer a sauna in case you want to pamper yourself even more.
Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding
One of the best things about Lake Atitlan is the number of water activities it has to offer, in Panajachel you can find a ton of agencies offering tours and water activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoeing for adventurous people.
If you want to experience the best of Panajachel and Lake Atitlan you must do a water activity, a great way to explore and enjoy the stunning scenery. You won’t have a problem finding rentals, since many hotels offer activities too.
See the local art galleries
Another great way to immerse in the culture of a place is by looking at the local galleries, by taking a look at some arts you will notice the Maya culture is still abundant. A good place to start is at the Casa Cakchiquel, Pana’s cultural center. Otherwise, you can head La Galería, which has to offer a huge amount of art by local painters and sculptors, this place often hosts films, lectures, and from time to time even a concert.
Experience its nightlife
Definitely, Panajachel offers the most diverse and interesting nightlife of all the towns around. From bars to discotecas (clubs) and restaurants, the town is packed with a lively vibe, especially on the weekends. You can find live music, and a nice ambient to enjoy a drink. One of the best bars to try is La Palapa on the main street and it’s neighbor Atlantis, if you want to party a bit harder you can head to a club called Aleph or Element both on the Calle de Los Arboles.
Rent a motorcycle or a bike
If you enjoy riding a motorcycle or a bike, I totally recommend you to rent one and do a tour of the town, is one of the best ways to explore and immerse yourself in the culture. You’ll be able to enjoy the stunning views of the lake from different points. If you’re more adventurous, you’ll love doing a mountain bike tour or a motorcycle tour around the lake. There are many agencies around the town for you to choose from.
Learn Spanish in one of its many Spanish schools
It is not a secret that the main language in Guatemala is Spanish, also is one of the cheapest places to learn the idiom. Around Panajachel you’ll find tons of Spanish schools if you have enough time you’ll learn the necessary to understand the locals and make your stay in the town more comfortable. You’ll be surprised by the prices
Yes, you can dive in Lake Atitlan, in fact, it’s one of the most popular spots for diving in Guatemala. You’ll be able to check the underwater volcanic scenery, and also you’ll see Samabaj, the ruins of a flooded Mayan city that lies in the center of the lake, and many more interesting views. This’s a must, make sure you book a dive, there aren’t many agencies offering this activity around the lake, ATI Divers are the ones to take you on this adventure.
Atitlan Natural Reserve
This place used to be called Finca Buenaventura, and is another must-visit for tourists and locals alike. A stunning reserve full of green areas, where you’ll be able to watch the wildlife and fauna of the area, and do many outdoor activities like zipline, trails for hiking, and hanging bridges. Amazing place for nature lovers, you’ll hear the sound of water and birds all around.
If you enjoy butterflies, head to the Geodome, and you’ll be able to enjoy a thousand or even more colorful butterflies surrounded by beautiful flowers.
Some History about Panajachel
The shores of the Atitlan Lake where Panajachel is located were once the scenario for a battle between the Spaniards and their Cakchiquel against the Tzutuhils. The Spaniards won and soon after that they set up a church and monastery in Panajachel and used the town as a center for converting the Indians of the region to the Catholic faith. The original façade of the church stills stands and is one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala.