Located some 40 miles west of Guatemala City, Lake Atitlan is widely considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The lake, its shores and the surrounding region are a wonderful mix of natural beauty, outdoor activities, Mayan culture, and small towns known for their relaxed atmosphere. It’s the kind of place you come for two days and end up staying a week or more.
Where exactly you decide to stay depends on what you’re looking for. Most visitors at least pass through Panajachel, a small town on the lake’s northern shores. The tourism infrastructure here is good, with plenty of agencies, souvenir shops and restaurants, but Panajachel will be too touristy for some tastes. On the other hand, it’s the best place to arrange outdoor activities such as kayaking, biking, bird watching, coffee tours and climbing the nearby volcanoes.
San Pedro La Laguna, on the western shore, used to be the classic laid-back option, but is now home to more touts and tourist-focused stores. San Marcos La Laguna, north of San Pedro, is more of a spiritual hangout, while Santiago Atitlán on the southern shore is a traditional Mayan village with Catholic influences.
Plenty of other small Mayan towns and villages are scattered around the lake, all ripe for exploration. It’s easy enough to get from one lakeside village to the next, with plenty of boats ferrying people across the water.
Two notable destinations away from the lake but still within easy reach are the Mayan archaeological site of Iximche and the traditional town of Chichicastenango. Iximche is about 10 miles east of the lake. The site features the remains of pyramid-temples and palaces, as well as two Mesoamerican ball courts. There’s also a small onsite museum.
Chichicastenango, meanwhile, is a traditional center of surviving K’iche’ Maya culture. The large indigenous town sits in the mountains about 15 miles north of the lake. It’s a well-known spot in Guatemala, famous for its traditional market selling everything from handicrafts to flowers, ceramics, medicinal plants, incense, grindstones, tools, clothes, Mayan masks, food and livestock. The market takes place every Thursday and Sunday.
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