In this moment while writing this, I sit at La Iguana Hostel, starring out at Lake Atitlan with a cold beer in my hand. The balcony I share with other travelers is quiet. The sound of water washing up the lake’s steep shores fills the afternoon’s air. The feeling is content, it’s safe and for a moment you get the chance to drift away from normal day to day life. There are many things to do in Lake Atitlan and many reasons why travelers come from all over the world. Although for me, it’s the lake’s charm that made me love my stay and hate my departure. For others, it is the nightlife, shopping or outdoor activities which make them fall in love with Lake Atitlan. But no matter what, it has something for everyone and is a “must see” for anyone heading to Guatemala.
Getting to Lake Atitlan and Away
Getting to Lake Atitlan is easy especially by shuttle, for those looking to take the local Chicken bus it can be slightly more difficult but a lot cheaper.
From Semuc Champey
Chicken Bus – This journey is long and cannot be done by Chicken Bus the whole way nor can it be done in one day. However, if you really want to take the Chicken Bus you can get a shuttle to Coban (big city nearest to Semuc Champey) and from there you can take a Chicken Bus to Guatemala City and then finally onto Panajachel. The opposite way is done the same. There may be a lot more steps to the journey, however, I did not take the Chicken Bus.
Shuttle – This is a really easy way of getting to Lake Atitlan and also the option I went with (from the Panajachel to Semuc Champey). The trip costs $35usd and even with a direct shuttle still took 12 hours. We went with Adrenalina Tours and they were great, we got picked up at 8am and made plenty of stops for bathrooms and food. The driver didn’t overtake on blind corners and drove responsibly so I even managed to get a little sleep along the way! You can contact them on their website here or by phone (502) 5308-1489.
Shuttle – there are many shuttle companies that travel to either Panajachel (3 hours) or San Pedro (4.5 hours). Unless you are going to stay in San Pedro, I recommend getting the shuttle to Panajachel. The journey is much shorter and once in Panajachel it’s easy to get a ferry taxi to the other towns. I made the mistake of going to San Pedro and the journey was not pleasant and I still needed to get a ferry to Santa Cruz (where I stayed).
Chicken bus (in 4 steps) – #1 Antigua to Chimaltenango.Take a bus to Chimaltenango from Antigua from the main terminal. Your hostel will be able to tell you where it is. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs 5Q
#2 Chimaltenango to Los Encuentros. From the terminal find the bus going to Los Encuentros, the journey takes 1 hour and costs 15Q
#3 Los Encuentros to Solola or Panajachel (if you can get a direct bus.) The journey to Solola takes 30 minutes and costs Q2.5.
#4 Solola to Panajachel (if you didn’t find a direct bus) The journey is only 15 minutes and costs 3Q.
At all the terminals it is easy to find your bus as lots of the drivers will be yelling out the names to there destination.
From Guatemala City
Chicken bus – From the main terminal in Guatemala City you can take a Chicken Bus directly to Antigua. From there take the bus route from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. The journey takes 1.5 hours (depending on traffic as it has taken me almost 1.5 hours to just get out of Guatemala City before) and costs 10Q. There may be a better way but this is all I know of at this time.
Shuttle – The shuttles leave from the airport although you can also get picked up from your hostel. The shuttles don’t run direct and always stop in Antigua, this brings the travel time to 5 hours (4 if your lucky) and costs $25usd. Although you won’t have to change buses.
Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan
There is no “best place to stay” on the Lake, so deciding what you want out of your time there is important. Below I will explain the 4 main towns most people choose from when deciding where to stay in Lake Atitlan. But don’t feel trapped with wherever you choose as getting around the lake is easy by water taxi (read below for water taxi info).
Santa Cruz – I stayed in Santa Cruz at La Iguana Perdida and loved it! This cute little town is home to a majority of locals and foreign business only occupy the lakeside. It’s a quiet place, great for relaxing and with its central location it’s a base to explore the other towns. La Iguana Perdida is also an amazing place to disconnect and unwind. They had a great family dinner every night and great facilities with GAS HOT WATER!
Panajachel – The largest of the towns and also the easiest to get to, Panajachel is a shopper’s paradise. Also Panajachel is significantly cheaper than the other towns, I didn’t stay although I made a visit to the local market and picked up a cool Mayan-style bag for cheap. The large town’s lake water is polluted and swimming is not advised and its location is far from most towns as it’s on one side of the lake.
San Pedro – San Pedro sits on the opposite side to Panajachel and is your classic backpacker party town. It boasts a beautiful church, plenty of great places to eat and drink a.nd is home to the famous Indian Nose Hike. Once again, the water around here isn’t that clean and swimming isn’t advised. But if your after a more upbeat place San Pedro is a good choice
San Marcos – The Lake wouldn’t be complete without a “Hippie Town” and San Marcos is just that. The laid back atmosphere is great for those wanting to do morning yoga sessions and eat happy pizza for dinner. The town has some great viewpoints and even better coffee. There are even healing rituals and all sorts of spiritual stuff that I know nothing about! One point I will make is I found San Marcos expensive.
Getting Around Lake Atitlan
No matter what town you stay in navigating around Lake Atitlan is easy with water taxis (almost like buses but on the water)! These taxis are cheap (the most expensive one costing 25Q) and cut your travel time by more than half as opposed to a tuk-tuk. Just be sure to have the right change or know what the taxi should cost or they will try charge extra. Below is the prices for Gringos. The prices are only from Panajachel and San Pedro but that is where the buses go, so you can ask your hostel after you check in.
Things to do in Lake Atitlan
Indian Nose Hike – This hike is located near San Pedro and takes up to a beautiful lookout. The hike has a 30Q entrance fee and is 45 minutes up or you can take a sunrise tour for 100Q. On TripAdvisor this is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.
Platform jumping – Located in San Marcos this platform gives you a fun way to enter the cool lake water below. I’d say it’s around 30ft at most though it’s still great fun!
Hike San Pedro Volcano – Not at all what I wanted to do after hiking two other volcanos so I skipped this. It can be done on tours for sunrise and I have heard that it isn’t that hard as they drive you most of the way. If you want to do it on your own I can’t really help you….sorry.
Relax – This is my favorite of things to do in Lake Atitlan and after hiking the Acatenango Volcano (Antigua) and Santa Ana Volcano (Santa Ana, El Salvador) it was a nice reward. Staying at the La Iguana was perfect for enjoying beautiful views and taking some much needed RnR (rest and recovery)
Kayak the lake – You can hire kayaks on the lake from all of the towns and prices varied from 20Q to 50Q per hour so shop around. Just watch out for the boat drivers as they won’t slow down when they pass you!
Party at Free Cerveza – Located in Santa Cruz the Free Cerveza Hostel offers just that. For 70Q you can enjoy a 3 course meal and free beer for 2 hours. They have nightly party games and the atmosphere is awesome.
Explore the towns – I really enjoyed exploring the towns and stopping for coffees and lunch. We met some great locals and saw some really cool places. We even took a tuk-tuk from San Marcos to San Pedro for 40Q stopping along the way to take photos. It was also a great way to see the local people in their day to day lives!
There are so many more things to do in Lake Atitlan than I have mentioned, this place really has something for everyone!
Where to go next
Semuc Champey – This place is magical and if swimming in several natural swimming pools with turquoise water doesn’t sound amazing then exploring caves with a candle, bridge jumping or tubing might! Our blog on Semuc Champey will be up soon!
Antigua – If you go to Antigua for one thing, make it the Acatenango Volcano hike! This is one of the best things I have done on my trip and you can read about it here.
Thanks for reading on the things to do in Lake Atitlan please let me know if it was helpful to you!