This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.
Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán), Guatemala is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Lake Atitlan before you visit including the 23 BEST things to do in Lake Atitlan and where to go (as there are a few different towns to explore all around the perimeter of the lake!)
When you catch that first glimpse of Lake Atitlan as you bump down the mountain in your chicken bus, all the motion-sickness from the jostling journey will feel worth it. The intense, turquoise-blue water is dazzling even on a cloudy day, and the lush mountainsides populated with avocado and coffee trees make for a skyline straight out of The Land Before Time.
There’s a reason why people go to Lake Atitlán, Guatemala and never come back – the cobalt volcanic lake framed by three lusciously-foliaged volcanoes is my, among many others, the idea of paradise. Where farmers climb mountains every day to tend to their terraced crops, women wear long colorful skirts and cook tortillas over open fires, reggaeton and the sound of marimbas seep from homes and restaurants, and a new adventure is just a short (breathtaking) boat ride away.
You’ll become intoxicated and addicted to the slower pace of life, where, when they’re not working hard, the people focus on enjoying themselves, their families and friends, and their natural environment.
The most difficult choice you’ll face is which village to visit on any given day, and how to choose from the huge number of different things to do in Lake Atitlan. But don’t worry- whatever you end up doing, even if it’s just lying in a hammock in the shade all afternoon listening to the sounds of life (and marimbas), you’ll end the day satisfied.
To help you narrow it down, I’ve prepared a list of 23 of the best things you can do around the renowned shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
About Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is a large inland lake located in Guatemala’s southwest highlands. The lake sits in a huge volcanic crater and is surrounded by not one but three volcanos. Around the lake, there are multiple towns and communities where travelers can stay, visit and explore. San Pedro, San Marcos, and Panajachel are some of the most popular.
Although there are some roads around Lake Atitlan, the bumpy ride makes getting around easier on the water. For that reason, there are water taxis that travel from town to town that both locals and visitors use. These water taxis run regularly and are very cheap.
Getting to Lake Atitlan is very easy from Guatemala City and Antigua. The route is very popular, and shuttles can be booked in advance. This specific shuttle runs from Antigua to Lake Atitlan and costs only $50 USD. The journey takes 2.5 hours. From Guatemala City, this shuttle is the best value as it can take up to 5 people for $128 USD. You can also take local chicken buses from each location.
Overall, Lake Atitlan is a top tourist destination with lots of great hotels, restaurants, and activities. A typical visit is around 3 nights, but I love to stay longer!
Where to go in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (the different towns)
Before we get into the best things to do in Lake Atitlan, I’ve included a bit of information about each town around Lake Atitlan as well as what there is to do there. This will help you decide where to go in Lake Atitlan based on the activities on offer!
If you want more detailed info on the towns, check out our guide on where to stay on Lake Atitlan.
San Pedro is a popular tourist hub on Lake Atitlan sitting opposite the city of Panajachel. It is easily accessed by both road and boat and offers a ton of exciting and interesting things to do and see. There is a large backpacker population here and as such, lots of trendy cafes and vibrant bars.
One of the most popular hostels in San Pedro is Mr. Mullets. I’ve stayed here before I loved it. For solo or small group travelers is the perfect place to meet other people.
If you’re past your hostel days, Sababa Resort is popular with couples or more luxurious travelers.
Things to do in San Pedro, Lake Atitlan:
Café Cristalinas, Language school/homestay, cooking lessons/weaving co-op, Iglesía Catolica, boat transportation to all other towns, swimming spots, niche/eclectic international restaurants.
This tiny village is only 2km from San Pedro La Laguna and can be accessed by road. It is quieter than San Pedro and offers a more relaxing atmosphere without having to travel too far. It is also the starting point for Lake Atitlan’s most famous hike, the Indian Nose.
There aren’t many places to stay in San Juan, however, a great choice is Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan. It’s perfect for a quiet getaway.
You can check out all of the hotels and hostels in San Pedro on Booking.com.
Things to do in San Juan, Lake Atitlan:
Trama Textiles Weaving Co-Op/homestay, Liccor Marron Chocolate Factory, Language school/homestay, Mayan Art Galleries, Painting lessons, Jovenarte Murals, Temazcales.
Lake Atitlan 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.
One point I will make is that I found San Marcos to be more expensive than some of the other villages and towns around Lake Atitlan.
If you love yoga, Eagle’s Nest Atitlán is the best place to stay. They have a huge yoga deck overlooking the lake and offer lots of classes. The hotel is;t cheap so if you’re on a budget, you’ll prefer Lush Atitlán which comes with similar luxury features but is almost half the price.
You can check out all of the hotels and hostels in San Pedro on Booking.com.
Things to do in San Marcos, Lake Atitlan:
Cerro Tjankujil Nature Reserve, Meditation, Yoga, Massage, Cacao Ceremony, Ecstatic Dance, Temazcales, various other zen/spiritual-type classes/experiences.
San Antonio Palopo
San Antonio Palopo sits on the eastern shores of Lake Atitlan. This tiny village is best known for its unique culture and clothing style. The people who live here are Cakchiquel Maya and you can learn all about them and their culture if you visit.
You can check out the few hotels in San Pedro on Booking.com.
Things to do in San Antonio Palopo, Lake Atitlan:
Pottery workshop, traditional Mayan life/dress.
The largest of the towns and also the easiest to get to, Panajachel is a shopper’s paradise. I visited the local market in Panajachel and picked up a cool Mayan-style bag for cheap. There is a little more hustle and bustle in Panajachel than in other towns surrounding Lake Atitlan.
Selina Atitlán is a modern and trendy hostel. Selina Atitlán has a restaurant, beach bar, garden, and pool. You can book a bed in a hostel-style room from $10 USD, or a private room with a double bed for $27. You can book on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
If you’d prefer something a little nicer, Villa Santa Catarina is a luxury hotel with beautiful lake views just outside of town.
Things to do in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan:
Paragliding, large artists’ market, international food.
I stayed in Santa Cruz at a cute lakeside hotel called La Iguana Perdida and loved it! This cute little town is home to a majority of locals, and foreign businesses only occupy a small portion of the lakeside. It’s a quiet place, great for relaxing, and with its central location, it’s a base to explore the other towns.
You can check out all of the hotels and hostels in San Pedro on Booking.com.
Things to do in Santa Cruz, Lake Atitlan:
Visit CECAP and support a local community project, swimming, lakeside sunset, partying at the hostel called Free Cerveza.
Read next: Plan your Guatemala travels with our epic Guatemala itinerary including a suggested travel route, the best places to visit, and more!
23 Things to do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
1. Sunrise hike up La Indio Nariz (Indian’s Nose)
Hike up La Indio Nariz and spend a morning watching the sunrise over the volcanic mountains to celebrate the start of another day in the most beautiful place on earth.
The mountain’s name is pretty on the nose – the locals, observing that the outline of the peak resembles the profile of a human face, named the ridge “The Indian’s Nose.”
The path up the mountainside can be found at the outskirts of San Juan La Laguna, where a local at a small booth will collect a moderate fee for use of the trail. Finding the beginning of the trail can be tricky, so you might want to ask around for directions before you go.
There are three options for undergoing this hike and exploring its phenomenal views:
The first is to hike all the way to the tip of the Nariz under your own guidance. Some travelers opt for this option but do so with the knowledge that they are likely to be confronted by banditos. The banditos are usually just local farmers whose land you are hiking through, who will demand a fee from you (usually around 20-40Q) to continue on your hike. You can choose to pay them and go all the way through or try one of the other two options.
The second is to hike just to the mirador (lookout). With a short 10-minute hike from the base of the trail, you’ll reach the first peak, which features a mirrored mosaic cross that you’ve likely seen before from below in San Juan or on the lake. While it’s not the top, the view from the mirador is breathtaking- which is good, because you’ll need to catch your breath after the quick and steep climb to get there.
Personally, I ended my ascent here, as the views were simply mesmerizing, and I made it back to my lodging in time for breakfast and lazy morning coffee. Though steep, the hike really is short, so it’s a good option for less-experienced hikers.
Your third option is to cover all your bases and book a hike with a guide who will take you all the way to the tip of the Nariz, avoiding the banditos. The tour above costs only $50 USD and includes hotel pick up in San Pedro as well as a guide the entire way. It’s not only the safest option but you’ll also learn all about the area.
Whichever way you decide to take the hike, definitely don’t miss these views- they’re the best of any lookout in the area and easily one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan!
Related read: Love hiking? Be sure to check out the Acatenango Volcano Hike.
2. Take Spanish lessons
Taking a break from adventuring to spend a few hours learning Spanish every day with a local teacher might not sound particularly fun or adventurous, but it is the highlight of many travelers’ trips!
A typical program will have you taking one-on-one lessons with a personal language teacher for 4 hours in the morning, after which they send you off to explore!
The one-on-one tutoring means you’ll learn a lot of Spanish, really quickly!
You’ll be speaking and writing with your teacher, and the chance to converse for hours on end with a local resident makes you feel more included and at home in the country. One week of courses runs on average about $150 USD, though this varies slightly from school to school. Although many people initially come for just one week, many find themselves staying for two or three, because they enjoy the experience so much!
The schools usually have fun activities for their students to do as a group, which are either included in the cost of the classes or pretty cheap. The first activity I participated in at my school was walking to the market with my teacher to buy fruit.
We even had a group evening meal one night, cooked by our teachers, followed by a Zumba-like dance party!
There are many great Spanish schools all around Lake Atitlan. Check out San Pedro Lake Atitlan Spanish School, San Pedro Spanish School, Community Spanish School, or Eco Spanish School or San Juan Spanish school right next door in San Juan.
My advice: Stay and learn in San Juan, as it has a slower, more tranquil vibe, and you feel more like a local living your life and practicing Spanish. Most of these schools offer homestay opportunities, which typically are about the same cost per week as a week’s worth of Spanish lessons.
3. Homestay with a local
If you want to really experience the Mayan life, you’ll definitely want to do a homestay at some point. Many language schools and weaving co-ops around Lake Atitlan offer homestays with local families along with their Spanish classes, and the experience is nothing short of authentic.
Homestays are an awesome way to force yourself to practice Spanish, eat Guatemalan food 24/7, slip into the routine and pace of local life, and maybe even learn some of the local Tz’utujil language. Homestays with San Juan’s Trama Textiles even offer you the opportunity to help the men in the corn and coffee fields, fish with the locals, and more in addition to weaving with the women.
During a homestay, you’ll be flipping tortillas by hand on a large pan over an open fire, washing your dishes and doing your laundry in the universal “Guatemalan sink” outside, and spending leisure time with your host family.
During my homestay, which was not with a language school, but while working in a small Mayan village called Tzibal. My homestay mom even helped dress my homestay buddy and me in her traditional everyday wear, known as traje, to wear to a 12-hour feast and dance celebration (this is Tzibal’s customary way of welcoming groups of guests into their village).
My host family only spoke the Mayan language Kek’chi, with a select few words of Spanish from our host mom (whose young husband was away serving in the military), so we had fun miming while we spoke, and playing games with her two young children.
Arranging a homestay experience is definitely one of the most authentic experiences you can have in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala!
If you’re short on time but still want to get amongst the Mayan culture, you can also do cool Mayan ceremonies. This specific tour takes you to some sacred caves to enjoy a cleansing experience with a shaman.
4. Paraglide over Lake Atitlan
Hiking to mountaintops definitely provides spectacular aerial views, but for some, it only fuels the hunger to take that experience even farther- to the skies! Luckily for these adventurous folks, they have the option to paraglide over Lake Atitlan and its surrounding volcanoes, weightless and free!
Just hop on a boat over to Panajachel (San Pedro provides regular boats there from their aptly-named Panajachel dock) and look for Real-World Paragliding. There, you can book a tandem flight with a licensed Tandem Pilot, and quite literally run off the mountainside into the air.
Flights last between 20-45 minutes, dependent on weather conditions (pilots have to utilize columns of air pressure and current to navigate and stay afloat), and will run you 700Q, or about $91 USD. It might be the most expensive thing to do in Lake Atitlan, but take it from someone who’s paraglided over the Swiss Alps- it’s the cheapest you’re going to be able to paraglide anywhere in the world!
Come prepared with sneakers and a light jacket, as you will quite literally be running off the side of a mountain into the air, which can get a bit chilly! Your hands will be free the whole time, so you can take pictures or video – just make sure you have a neck or wrist strap for your camera/phone!
5. Shop ’til you drop!
Panajachel is also famously THE market town of Lago de Atitlán. So, when your flight is over, you can grab a bite to eat at one of the many traditional and international cafes, and wander up and down the main market street.
When I went to Panajachel I was surprised at how much shopping there was to do and how cheap the prices were! This is definitely the place to visit if you want to grab a few souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home. I personally bought a colorful woven bag, but you can find lots of different things made from textiles, or other random souvenirs too!
From where the boat drops you off, you’ll have no problem finding the market stalls – they are everywhere! My best advice is to go for a little wander. Also, be sure to stop for lunch and take advantage of the cheap prices for food in Pana while you’re there!
6. Visit IglesÍa Catolica
Iglesia católica de San Pedro La Laguna is a historic Catholic church that stands blindingly white against the bright colors of the town and the clothing of the local people. This centuries-old church has been damaged through time by fire and earthquakes, but still remains, rebuilt in the center of town. It’s a great place to visit in the afternoon for a tranquil rest from your other village-trotting activities, or set as a meeting point for when you and your buddies split up.
The church sits at the back of a courtyard filled with greenery and featuring a wide stone path from the courtyard’s entrance to the steps of the church. Food carts offering fruit bouquets and ice cream are often parked on the grounds, offering you the perfect refreshing treat while you lounge in the shade of the palm trees.
The church is open and free to any member of the public from 4 am to noon, and 2 pm to 7:30 pm.
I happened to be in San Pedro at the end of June, during San Pedro’s annual festival to honor their town Saint, Peter- whom the church is also dedicated to. There happened to be a parade passing by the church in celebration at the very time I chose to visit the church. What timing!
From the raised church’s raised grounds, I had the perfect view of the explosively colorful and noisy parade, featuring traditional dances by groups in masks, firecrackers, and live music. Lake Atitlan is truly a place full of life!
7. Take a day trip to Iximché
Most people know about the famous “Mayan Ruins.” What they don’t realize, however, is that they are scattered all over Central America – not just in Mexico. Iximché happens to be one of those abandoned cities, and it’s located not too far from the Lago de Atitlán village of Panajachel.
When the previously-amicable Kaqchikel and K’iche’ began battling between themselves, the Kaqhikel were forced to flee from their settling, eventually choosing a spot near the lake whose geography was more protective. This new settling became Iximché, but it was not free from conflict. When the Spaniards arrived in 1524, they conquered Iximché and other nearby Maya cities, actually declaring Iximché as the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala. This also made it the first capital of Central America, by Colonialist standards.
The Kaqchikel left soon after, due to the increasing demands the Spaniards placed upon them, and two years later, the city was burned down. It was rediscovered in the 17th century by an explorer, and excavations began in the 1940s.
Today, you can enter the historical site for just 50Q ($6.50 USD), during its 8 am to 4 pm opening hours. While tour guides are not officially provided, often there are locals posted up outside the front entrance, offering their own tours.
While Iximché is just 11 miles from Panajachel, the mountainous geography makes the road distance 41 miles. You can hire a taxi from Pana, which will cost between $45-60 USD, or choose to book this tour of the site, which will transport you to and from the site, as well as provide a tour inside the grounds. These run for about $75 USD and typically last about 6 hours.
Travel Insurance is more important than ever right now!
If you’re traveling during these uncertain times, be sure that you have travel insurance!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance when we are going on longer trips. They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $42 USD per 4 weeks!) and even have coverage in case you get that dreaded c-word. The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!)
It’s safe to say that travel insurance has saved us thousands over the years!
8. Have a latte at Café Cristalinas
Most of the high-quality coffee in Guatemala gets exported- but not the coffee that gets roasted on-site at Café Las Cristalinas in San Pedro. This is not to be confused with Cristalinas Cafe, Hotel and Restaurant, which is also located in San Pedro.
Brewing arguably the best coffee and espresso on Lago de Atitlán, the owners are friendly, the vibe is laid-back, and they even have free bathrooms available for guests! (Trust me, this will become a luxury during your trip).
They give coffee tours of their coffee roaster as well and are one of the few places where you can get wifi besides an internet cafe, where you’ll have to pay for it. Sit at a bar overlooking the street while you sip your coffee, journal, and watch tuk-tuks and pedestrians go by. They do also serve food, so if you’re looking for a bite, they can accommodate you, as well!
For coffee lovers, this is definitely one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan!
9. Tour Trama Textiles (Women’s Weaving Co-Op in San Juan)
A day trip to San Juan la Laguna is a must for any traveler interested in the culture and history of locally-made goods. The town, which is notably less touristy and more locally-owned than San Pedro, is home to a few marvelous businesses of traditional Mayan products of the region.
Most notably is Trama Textiles, a women’s weaving co-op. The Guatemalan Civil War of 1960-1996 ravaged the male population of the region, leaving the women with few ways to earn money and support their children. So in 1988, several women banded together to form Trama Textiles, a weaving co-op where women could practice the ancient Mayan art of backboard weaving while getting paid fair prices for their work.
Today, in addition to being sold locally, their products are shipped all over the world (fair-trade style, of course).
The workshop located in San Juan is filled with beautiful, colorful, intricately-designed pieces ranging from headbands to cosmetic pouches to shawls and blankets, all made from scratch by the women of San Juan. You could spend hours perusing the unique pieces, pop in for a weaving or dyeing demonstration, or even sign up for weaving lessons and a homestay with the local weavers.
I ended up purchasing a bright, golden-yellow headband striped with forest green and coral orange. I asked one of the weavers how long it took to make it, and she told me about a week – now that is some fine handiwork!
10. Learn about artisanal chocolate at Liccor Marron Chocolate
After having your mind blown by the talent of the local weavers, you’ll probably have an appetite worked up – for chocolate. Guatemalan chocolate is some of the tastiest in the world, and at Licor Marron Chocolate, you can browse an unimaginable variety of chocolate treats, from plain chocolate to chocolate mixed with coffee beans, orange zest, almond, you name it!
While you’re there, you can watch a skilled chocolate artisan demonstrate how the chocolate is made from locally-grown cacao beans. They also offer hands-on chocolate workshops and tours for a truly interesting and unique experience in Lake Atitlan.
A tip from a fellow chocolate-lover: if you’re planning to bring chocolate home for your friends or family, buy more than you think you’ll need- because a few bars might mysteriously find their way into your stomach before you get home!
11. Sweat it out in a traditional Temazcal
Repeat after me: I will not. Leave Lake Atitlan. Without sitting. In a temazcal.
Well done! Temazcales are THE quintessential Mayan cultural experience for a foreigner and one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan!
The Temazcal is meant to symbolize the womb, so, therefore, is typically a low, rounded structure constructed of stones and clay. To enter, one usually must crouch low to squeeze in through the opening- once inside, you are surrounded by warm, moist darkness, as you once were in the womb.
In the middle of the structure burns a fire under large, smooth stones, upon which you will throw cold water from a bucket to create steam, which is then fanned with palm leaves in order to fill the space. Some Temazcales have benches along the walls, while in others, you stand.
Just think of it as a traditional-style sauna.
The Temazcal is meant to serve three purposes:
The first is bathing for health. To take a bath, there is an extra basin of hot water along with the typical cold, which you scoop out with a cup and use along with soap to wash yourself. I once bathed like this with a couple of friends upon arriving at our lodging place for the night after a long, cold, rainy day of hiking, and it was nothing short of amazing.
The secondary purpose of the Temazcal is for healing, enlightenment, and spirit-connection purposes. A Shaman from the Mayan community would sweat out their impurities in the Temazcal for sometimes up to 8 hours in order to communicate with spirits. Basically, they would hunker down in the Temazcal until they hallucinated visions.
Thirdly, herbs were often added onto the hot stones for various medicinal benefits, and healing sessions for various maladies would take place within the clay structure. Pregnant women often had healing sessions and even gave birth in the Temezcal, due to its proposed connections to the womb.
While I never entered for healing sessions or stayed long enough to experience visions, a favorite experience of mine was standing in the Temazcal in my sports bra and bathing suit bottoms until I absolutely couldn’t stand anymore, then getting out and running to jump in the lake and float aimlessly. Ahh, peace.
There are various hostels and centers around the lake that house their own Temazcales, which can either be used at your own convenience or for a 1-2 hour ceremony. Two of these tourist-advertised places are the Doron Yoga & Zen Center, located in Tzununa 5 minutes from San Marcos La Laguna, and EcoHotel MayAchik in San Juan La Laguna. It is definitely worth asking around with locals, however, to find yourself a good, authentic Temazcal- you might even be able to befriend a local who will let you use theirs!
12. Visit art galleries and take painting classes
If you want to try your hand at painting traditional Mayan art, you can even take a group or private painting class with the artist in many of the local galleries, including the two I mentioned above.
There is no official word on pricing or booking these lessons online, but word has it a group lesson runs about $50 per person, with private costing more, of course.
13. Support the local community at Cafe Sabor Cruceno
In the village of Santa Cruz, you’ll find one of the most unique cafes in all of Lake Atitlan. Cafe Sabor Cruceno is located up on the hills in the large yellow building called “CECAP” (believe me, you can’t miss it!) It looks more like a school rather than a cafe – and that’s because it is!
Cafe Sabor Cruceno is just one part of an educational non-profit run by Amigos de Santa Cruz. This program aims to educate and provide equal opportunities to the kids of the village and indigenous people. Here, kids are taught important marketable skills such as weaving and sewing, cooking, and other life essentials.
When you visit Cafe Sabor Cruceno you are supporting this cause and also eating food prepared by the students. And I have to say, the food is delicious and very reasonably priced!
You can also tour the building and learn about the efforts of this project and watch some of the students at work. Some of their handicrafts are also for sale in a small shop.
Oh, and did I mention the cafe offers some of the best views in all of Lake Atitlan! That’s right – food, a beautiful view, and supporting a good cause all in one place – definitely one of those must-do activities in Lake Atitlan if you ask me!
You can learn more about the project and the efforts of Amigos de Santa Cruz on their website.
14. Party at Free Cerveza
Also located in the village of Santa Cruz (just down the hill from Cafe Sabor Cruceno) on the lake’s edge is a very popular hostel called Free Cerveza. For those of you who don’t know, the word “cerveza” is Spanish for “beer” – and this hostel lives up to its name offering two hours of free keg beer nightly.
For 70Q, you can enjoy a three-course meal and two hours of as much beer as you can drink! As you can imagine, in a bar full of backpackers, these two hours start the nightly party off.
When we went, the meal was absolutely delicious and after the free beer ended, there were still lots of drink specials and games. I actually won a limbo contest that had me enjoying free drinks all night!
You don’t actually need to be staying at Free Cerveza to enjoy their nightly parties. However, it is a really nice hostel that’s reasonably priced, highly reviewed, and operates in an eco-conscious way (you’ll understand what I mean when you use their composting toilets.)
Free Cerveza is very popular, and as such, is often fully booked. Be sure to book your room or dorm bed in advance on Hostelworld.
15. Scout out the closest Comedor
With Lake Atitlan being such a popular backpacking destination, there are plenty of tourist-catering restaurants that can stray pretty far from authentic. While it can be fun to try out all the new vegan places or international restaurants, don’t leave Guatemala without trying out a Comedor.
Comedores are usually simple, open-faced buildings with plain tables and plastic chairs – the decor is not the point here. Here, the focus is on the food, which is made in-house and can differ every day, and usually sits at about 20-30 Q for lunch. Instead of ordering off a menu, ask the owner/chef of the Comedor what they are cooking that day and how much it costs – you’ll either have what they’re serving or move along to the next Comedor.
These Comedores are where I ate the most authentic Mayan food outside of my homestay, often consisting of freshly-made tortillas and beans and rice, avocado, a plain salad, and fruit, or occasionally a type of chicken stew poured over rice. You never know what you’re going to get until you’ve asked the chef – that’s part of the fun!
16. Get zen, enlightened, or aligned in San Marcos La Laguna
For the more alternative or cosmically-minded travelers out there, San Marcos is the village for you. Heavily populated at the lakeside by North American and European ex-pats, it’s a well-known haven for those who seek to quiet their minds and explore their souls.
San Marcos is best-known by tourists as a hippy-home. You can attend classes and events from a smorgasbord of practices including yoga, meditation, Reiki, massage, crystal therapy, breathing therapy, permaculture, ecstatic dance, tantra, cacao ceremonies, and more. Take a look at the many flyers plastered on boards upon entering the towns, ask around, or even just meander through and see what opportunities you find. There’s something for everyone!
Though it’s easy to pop in for a class or two, many plan an extended stay for tuning into and improving themselves: centers such Piramides del Ka offer weeks-long yoga and meditation programs according to the cycles of the sun and moon, starting at $800 USD for a month-long course. Yoga Forest is another well-spoken of yoga and retreat center. You can even ask around for Keith, the supposed “wizard” of San Marcos who will invite you to his renowned group Cacao Ceremonies held daily in his home.
If you need a break from unblocking your chakras, you can easily head over to Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve, the next place on the list!
17. Explore Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
Often described as “heaven on earth” or “paradise,” this nature reserve provides all the views and warm-water swimming one could hope for. It’s open 8 am to 5 pm every day of the week, and costs just 15Q to enter.
Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve features two miradors, or lookout points, that offer incredible, uninterrupted views across the beauty of the volcanic lake and its surrounding mountains and volcanoes. Once you’ve had your fill of the view, you can head down to the shore to spend a few quiet, leisurely hours swimming in the pristine waters, which are surprisingly warm! For the brave traveler, the reserve also offers an 8m high platform from which visitors can jump into the waters!
Cerro Tzankujil boasts 5-star reviews from travelers looking to spend a day relaxing in the natural environment – and is easily one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan! If you find yourself needing a break from the villages, this is a great spot to laze the day away.
18. Visit the village of San Antonio Palopó
This large village along the shores of Lake Atitlan has few hotels or restaurants, leaving the villagers to lead fairly normal, tourist-free lives. It is, however, a wonderful place to day trip if you just want to experience a bit of real, modern-day Mayan culture at Lake Atitlan.
Though you are likely to see locals wearing traditional Mayan clothing in any town on the lake (especially the women), in San Antonio Palopó, you will find that almost all of the women and men wear traditional clothing in their daily lives.
Traditional, too, is the beautiful ceramic pottery made in the town. Due to the volcanic history of the region, the potters of San Antonio are able to harvest rich clay from the ground to make their traditional, one-of-a-kind pottery pieces. You can see their one-of-a-kind creations at Ceramica Multicolor, and they may even show you the process for crafting these beautiful pieces of history. The pottery is fired in order to remove lead, so the pieces are safe to eat and drink from.
If you visit in March, you can also catch San Antonio’s annual Lago de Atitlán festival, one of the hottest cultural festivals in the country! The festival stage showcases musical talent from up-and-comers to local legends, and the city turns into a giant gallery of indigenous art. To top it all off, all the stops are pulled when it comes to the festival food. The festival’s purpose is to showcase local music and art, as well as raise money for a chosen local cause, such as The Atitlán Cultural Park, in 2016.
The village was struck by a landslide during the 2010 tropical storm Agatha, which took out 25 houses, lost close to 20 residents, and severely damaged the town’s waterways. Most surviving residents who were affected couldn’t afford to relocate, and international organizations are still working to rebuild. So, when you purchase pottery from the town, not only are you taking home a beautiful and unique piece of art, you’re putting money into the local economy which will help the town and its residents recover!
19. Shop at the market and buy local produce
Your experience of Guatemalan life is not complete without shopping at the local open-air market. Locals come here almost daily to buy fresh produce and seafood, as well as bulk grains and other raw ingredients. You might be overwhelmed with the variety of fruits and shrimp and the number of people streaming here and there, but it’s a great place to get used to the hustle and bustle!
Haggling is common practice at markets in Guatemala. Feel free to haggle, but be sure not to make an offer so low it’s insulting. Fresh produce is fairly cheap for travelers who normally use the Canadian or US dollar, euro, pound, or similarly-valued currency: a single avocado runs at 1Q, about 13 US cents – and those babies are fresh-picked from the mountains surrounding you! Often, I would stop by the market in the morning to grab a banana and a snack, getting breakfast on the go for less than $1 USD.
Most hostels or other accommodations will have some type of communal kitchen for its guests to use. So make a list- or buy ingredients on a whim- and spend an entertaining evening cooking your version of a Guatemalan meal. One of my favorite parts of staying in San Juan was cooking dinner in an open-air kitchen overlooking the lake with a few fellow travelers, singing along to our best playlists, and trying to figure out how to make different combinations of beans, rice, avocado, and tortillas.
20. Go stand up paddle boarding
One of the best ways to explore Lake Atitlan and enjoy the breathtaking views on the lake is on a SUP. Not only is it a great workout, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the water, swim where you want, and explore areas too difficult for boats to access.
GuateSUP Atitlan is located in Panajachel and offers lots of different SUP tours, including SUP yoga, sunrise tours, hourly rentals for $12 USD, and more.
Stand Up Paddle Atitlan runs tours all over the lake, including in Santa Cruz, San Marcos, and Jaibalito. Their tours start at only $45 USD but they also offer a lake crossing tour for $120 USD.
You can also find smaller shops with rentals all over the lake so just ask your hotel when you arrive. Otherwise, all destinations around the lake are easily reached by water taxi.
You can also book this SUP and ziplining tour. It includes transport from Panajachel, both tours and a local English-speaking guide.
21. Take a cooking class!
If you haven’t opted to do a homestay, you might consider taking a cooking class with a local! Maya Kitchen, located in San Pedro. They teach cooking classes on the combined Mayan traditional and Spanish Colonial food cultures that make up the cuisine in the region.
Classes start at 10 am and begin with a trip down to the local market for fresh ingredients, and last 3-5 hours as you learn how to cook three typical Guatemalan recipes. Bonus: the kitchen is located directly above a women’s weaving co-op, where the ladies of Mayan Kitchen will take you for a tour after class if you wish to stick around.
You can book the exact cooking class we did online in advance to secure your spot!
22. Eat as much food as you can
One of the best ways to enjoy Lake Atitlan is through its food! Eat like you’ll never visit Guatemala ever again!
At the lake, you can get bunches of small, red bananas, which are sweeter and better portion-sized than your average banana. Pituya, or dragon fruit, is available at any market, and of course, mangoes and aguacate (avocado) will be consumed en masse. Jamaica, or hibiscus, juice, is often offered in places that serve typical Guatemalan food, and will quickly become your favorite beverage if you have a sweet tooth.
The main drag next to the shore in San Pedro is home to some fantastic restaurants and food stalls, including the most incredible little smoothie stand, which is plastered with signs in languages from German to Arabic, detailing their different smoothie offers. Do not miss it!
A common fixture on the streets and in the markets of the villages surrounding Lago de Atitlan is food carts! Eat like a local, and grab a tostada (thick, crunchy, and circular tortilla-like chip with your choice of avocado, black beans, tomato, etc. spread on top), or refresh yourself with the ever-present cones of fruit slices – the vendor will ask if you want it with or sin spice, so decide beforehand if you want regular or spicy melon!
You’ll find ice cream and gelato shops tucked away around corners, street corn being grilled in the market, and even french fries fried right in front of you on the street!
Be ready to eat a lot of black beans and rice and tortillas. Be prepared to eat them for breakfast, because it will happen. You’ll see posters and lit-up signs everywhere featuring a pictorial rooster and the word Gallo. These are ads for the ubiquitous beer El Gallo, which is near-impossible to avoid consuming while in Guatemala! My friend, Matt, got his tattoo of the El Gallo logo, to remember it by.
In addition to the traditional comedores and street food, San Pedro is also home to some cool, niche cafes and restaurants. Just go walking and you’ll find low-ceilinged Indian restaurants with take-one-leave-one community libraries, or open-air vegan paradises. Everything is eclectic and wonderful.
23. Attend a Cacao ceremony
For most people nowadays, chocolate is seen as an everyday sweet treat, often mixed with milk, shaped into various forms, or added into other desserts. Before it became this, though, it was just raw cacao, steeped into drink form from the bean.
In Mayan culture, the cacao was primarily used as a ritual medicine, rather than a treat. It was consumed in small, potent doses, sometimes along with spices, during a meditative and heart-opening ceremony with a leader encouraging the opening of your spiritual centers. Cacao ceremonies have made a resurgence in times of late, as enlightenment-minded expats move and travel to the area.
Cacao ceremonies are held at many hotels and meditation centers around the lake, most prevalently in the cosmically new-age village of San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlan. Two local cacao-farming businesses also hold ceremonies from time to time: Spiritual leaders Tata Pedro and Nana Marina lead ceremonies at the local family cacao business Tz-utujil in San Pedro, and the local husband-and-wife team behind cacao operation Lavalove host Mayan ceremonies as well.
Getting Around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
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 might try to charge you extra.
Before you go…
I hope this blog about all of the absolute best things to do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala helps inspire your visit! If you are traveling more in the area, be sure to check out all of our blogs about Guatemala, Central America in general, or some of our related posts below: