Hidden within the Sierra Madre mountain range lies one of the most beautiful lakes on earth. Surrounded by majestic volcanoes and rich agriculture, the indigenous villages thrive here. Mayan culture is predominant and traditional clothing is still worn today. After traveling on long winding roads the lake began to make it’s presence from behind the trees. The once distant villages came to life with bustling markets and fearless tuk-tuks.
Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a traveling foodie you can find your niche here. My favorite spot on the lake was the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos. There is a trail that leads around the park with stunning views of Vulcan San Pedro and the mountains that surround the lake. The best part of the entire park is a 35 foot platform that you can jump off! It’s a great way to get your adrenaline pumping and take a refreshing dip in the cool water. Panajachel attracts the most tourists and offers great shopping and a large variety of restaurants. Being the largest of the towns, it is also the most expensive. Each night most of the locals and gringos can be found at Sublime. This artistic bar offers live music each night where you can enjoy a few beverages by the fire pit and dance with newly made friends.
Panajachel, Santa Cruz la Laguna, San Marcos la Laguna, Santa Clara la Laguna, Jaibalito, Santiago, Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo are the other towns that live along the lake’s shores. The main source of transportation between the villages is by water taxi; few roads are linked between San Marcos la Laguna to San Pedro la Laguna and Santa Catarina Palopo to Panajachel. Depending on where you go,the boat ride will be a few minutes to over a half hour. The best time to take the boat is early morning or late evening to enjoy the sunrise or sunset over the mountains.
Casa Atitlan is a family run hotel/hostel that we stayed at during our time on the lake. When we checked in, our room wasn’t ready just yet and they gave us two free beers to sip on until it was ready. From the moment we arrived until the time we left they made us feel right at home. Each of the private rooms have their own bathrooms and are clean and very spacious. There is a large patio on the roof of the building that has a beautiful view of the lake; it’s a great place to meet new people, watch the sunset and enjoy a few beverages. Cafe Atitlan is an in-house cafe that serves breakfast all day along with other fresh handmade items served throughout the day. Tall trees and beautiful flowers cover the courtyard and make it a perfect place to relax and enjoy a warm meal. Needless to say, it was my favorite place to spend down time and enjoy good company. With a great location and welcoming hosts I would highly recommend staying at Casa Atitlan in San Pedro.
Chichicastenango is a must for any traveler traveling through Guatemala. It’s a large and colorful market filled with everything from traditional handmade blankets to medicinal plants. Market days fall on every Thursday and Sunday each week and attract vendors from all around Guatemala and surrounding countries to display and sell their goods. This is the best place to shop and bargain for any trinkets or souvenirs you want to bring home. Chichicastenango is famous for it’s 400 year old church, Santo Tomas that can be found in the center of the market. K’iche’ Maya shamans still use the church for their daily rituals and light candles, incense and sage. Each of the 18 steps that lead to the church resemble one month in the Mayan calendar. You can get a tour of the church by a local Mayan and get an in depth meaning of the rituals and ceremonies that happen within the church. I enjoyed spending most of my time on the stairs of Santo Tomas watching and listening to the everyday life of this beautiful market. If you visit this market or any other market in the country, I would highly recommend purchasing a traditional handmade Guatemalan blanket.
The people of this country are some of the nicest and welcoming people I have ever encountered. Guatemala is a must see for any traveler of any age.
“The most beautiful lake in the world.” -Alexander Von Humboldt