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All The Things to Do in Panajachel I Learned After Several Visits

I’m surprised by how many people know about Lake Atitlan, it’s a top tourist destination not only in Guatemala but also in the whole world, and the main stop for it is Panajachel or “Pana” as the locals call it. I have visited this town several times, and there are truly a ton of things to do in Panajachel.

Panajachel is all about de-stressing and chilling out, it is the biggest hippie town in the south of Guatemala. Many of the full-time residents are Americans and Europeans who moved there years or decades ago, seeking a simpler life. I personally lived in Antigua for more than 25 years!

Things To Do In Panajachel

Panajachel is 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 country, and nowadays is a major tourist hub and that’s why there are so many great activities to do in Panajachel:

Go on a boat tour Around Lake Atitlan

The First thing you need to do is rent a boat and sail around the lake, it’s stunning, and not only that but Lake Atitlan is huge also and has tons of smaller villages around, each of them has something unique to offer.

Something I loved was starting the tour as soon as possible after enjoying the sunrise near the lake, and its prices.

Also, you should visit as many towns as possible if you want to experience the culture in depth. Make sure too visit San Pedro La Laguna, and Santa Catarina Palopó..

mountains, trees and lake atitlan
Hands down one of my favorite things to do in Panajachel is check out the different lookouts, the views are always stunning.

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Tour the Lúcuma Atitlán Museum

Something several people miss out on is the Museums, and there are a ton of different museums around Atitlan but the one to go to is Lacuma, it’s the best one if you want to learn more about the region’s indigenous heritage.

The exhibits showcase art, textiles, and artifacts from Lake Atitlán’s diverse communities.

Shop on Calle Santander

Strolling down Calle Santander is something you can’t avoid, it’s the main street of Panajachel, and here is where you’ll find a huge amount of shops, boutiques, and market stalls.

You’ll be able to spot local items from colorful textiles to handmade crafts, this street is a shopper’s paradise. But not only that, here you will find restaurants and some bars too as well as hotels and spas.

street on a village lake atitlan
Just strolling around Panajachel is incredible, the streets are narrow and the town has a unique vibe.

Grab a Coffee at Crossroads Cafe

Crossroads Cafe opened all the way back in 2000 and has become a MAJOR spot for expats, and travelers to gather and enjoy a good cup of local coffee.

It’s located near the dock, and is a cozy spot, they have internet, and is a great place to work or visit and send some emails.

Here you’ll be able to sip your coffee while watching boats come and go on the lake.

Explore the Iximché Mayan Ruins

Another thing that most tourists miss out on a lot is the Iximche archeological site, while it’s true they are not as big or popular as Tikal, they are worth checking out.

The best, and my favorite is to actually take a day trip to the Iximché archaeological site. Book your visit with a tour company and make sure you get a way to go and come back, since once there it will be harder to find a shuttle back to Panajachel.

These ancient Mayan ruins offer a glimpse into Guatemala’s rich history and culture and how the Mayans lived in this part of the country.

iximche mayan ruins
If you’re staying in Panajachel there’s no better day trip than a visit to Iximché Mayan Ruins.

Visit the Nearby Village of Santa Catarina Palopó

Hop on a boat and head to Santa Catarina Palopó, a charming village known for its vibrant colors and traditional Mayan culture.

I love exploring and strolling around the narrow streets and interacting with friendly locals. The village has something unique about it, I recommend visiting its church, the lookout and the port.

Go for a swim in the lake

In case you’re wondering, yes, it’s safe to swim in lake atitlan, and my kids LOVE it but keep in mind that some parts are kinda of dirt.

The best place to swim in Lake Atitlan is in the area of San Marcos and around, in my case, it used to be the clearer. Make sure you find a clean place to swim, most of them are far from the villages and towns, another good spot to take a swim is at the dock of Pasajcap Rentals, since it’s private it tends to be cleaner.

swimming in lake atitlan
My kids loved swimming in the lake with my husband, but make sure you find a nice place to do it!

Visit the Hot Spring in Santa Catarina

Located on the shore of Lake Atitlan, almost 8 km away from Panajachel, is 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.

There are other places like Regis Hotel Spa which offer a sauna in case you want to pamper yourself even more.

Try Canoeing or 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.

A wooden boat on the atitlan lake in panajachel
Seeing the locals on their canoes is such a pleasure, it truly is immersing in the culture.

See the local art in Casa Cakchiquel

Another great way to immerse in the culture of a place is by looking at the local galleries, by taking a look at some art 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 to La Galería, which offers a huge amount of art by local painters and sculptors, this place often hosts films, lectures, and from time to time even a concert.

Rent a motorcycle or a bike and visit the Mirador de la Torre

If you enjoy riding a motorcycle or a bike, I totally recommend you rent one and do a tour of the town, after that you can do a popular trail Panajachel to Mirador de la Torre, it 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. On the other hand, if you’re more adventurous, you’ll love to try a mountain bike tour, which my kids and husband love and there are many agencies around the town for you to choose from.

peple watching the stunning lake atitlan in panajachel

Experience its nightlife in Pana Rock

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 Pana Rock if you want to party a bit harder you can head to a bar called Exotic Drinks or to a club called Aleph or Element both on the Calle de Los Arboles.

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.

I actually arrived in Guatemala more than 30 years ago to study Spanish!

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Check out a Flooded Mayan City while Scuba diving in the Lake

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.

panajachel lake atitlan guatemala
The best way to enjoy Panajachel is by sitting in one of the lake-view restaurants, if you get the chance to have breakfast near the lake, do it!

Check out the Butterflies Inside the Atitlán Nature Reserve

This place used to be called Finca Buenaventura, and is another must-visit for tourists and locals alike. It’s one of my personal favorite places to visit in Lake Atitlan.

It’s 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.

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.

Try Paragliding Over Lake Atitlán

For an adrenaline rush and unparalleled views, take a paragliding adventure over Lake Atitlán. Fly above the water and enjoy the volcanic peaks from a unique point of view.

It’s another popular activity for the most adventurous, you can find several tour operators around town that are willing to teach you and rent you equipment.

Kayak or SUP at Sunrise

Kayaking is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Atitlan, and SUP too, it is one of the most recurrent activities in my family by far. But if you are visiting the Lake make sure to try it at sunrise, it will change the activity completely.

Start your day with a peaceful kayak or SUP session on the calm waters of Lake Atitlán, the sunrise reflections on the lake are simply magical.

a man kayaking with a kid in lake atitlan guatemala
My family and my friends agree that kayaking is one of the best activities in Panajachel, you need to try it at least one time!

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 (which I don’t recommend), by renting a car or using private transfers/shuttles, in order to get there you will be taken through the Panamericana Highway!.

The time it takes to get to Panajachel is about 4 hours by bus and 3 hours by car, depending on the traffic.

I recommend that you drive there yourself, or book a shuttle it will make your life a lot easier.

Where to Stay

I have stayed all around Lake Atitlan, from a glass house to a villa in the mountains and Panajachel has for sure the best ones.

It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for luxury accommodations or a cozy house, Panajachel has something for you.

But, by far, my favorites are:

Porta Hotel del Lago

For most of my visit to Panajachel, I stayed at Porta Hotel del Lago, which is by far one of the most complete places to stay in town.

It is a 5-star gem overlooking Lake Atitlán. It’s perfect for a luxurious stay with elegant rooms, lakeside dining, and breathtaking views.

Woman near a pool taking a photo of Lake Atitlan in Panajachel
One of the most photogenic places I have been to, I wouldn’t stop shaping pics!c

La Casa Rosa

La Casa Rosa has gained a lot of attraction in the last few years, especially among expats and digital nomads. It offers personalized service and a homey ambiance.

Its colorful rooms and garden courtyard create a welcoming retreat.

Posada de Don Rodrigo Panajachel

Hands down one of the best hostels in the town, I love the Mayan-inspired decor at Posada de Don Rodrigo. Its vibes are laid back, perfect for people looking to relax.

Also, due to its centric location, you can explore the nearby markets and art galleries, after relaxing by the pool.

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 still stands and is one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala.

FAQs

Is Panajachel safe for tourists?

Yes, Panajachel is generally safe for tourists, and after SEVERAL visits I haven’t had ANY issues. However, like any travel destination, it’s essential to stay aware of your surroundings and take necessary precautions.

How do I get to Panajachel from Guatemala City?

You can take a bus ride on a “chicken bus” or hire a private shuttle from Guatemala City to Panajachel. The journey takes approximately three hours, I highly recommend you take the shuttle and avoid buses, as most of the time they are crowded and noisy.

What’s the best time to visit Panajachel?

The dry season (November to April) is ideal for pleasant weather and clear views of the lake and volcanoes.

Can I swim in Lake Atitlán?

Yes, you can swim in the lake, but be cautious of currents and follow safety guidelines.

Are there any cultural festivals in Panajachel?

Yes, Panajachel hosts various festivals throughout the year, celebrating Mayan traditions, music, and art. Check the local calendar for upcoming events.

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Last Updated on July 2, 2024

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