How to travel to Lake Atitlan, is all you need to know about the several different towns at this famous lake in Central America. If you’re completely lost in planning your trip to Guatemala, check out my 18-day route. Unfortunately, when we went to the lake I got a parasite infection and ended up in the hospital in Panajachel so we missed out on a couple of things, but I survived and have all the tips for what we would’ve done if I didn’t have a drip and antibiotics in me.
Where is Lake Atitlan?
Lago de Atitlan/Lake Atitlan is in the southwest of Guatemala. It is one of Guatemala’s main attractions and is surrounded by 3 volcanoes; Tolimán, San Pedro, and Atitlan.
How do I get to Lake Atitlan?
So this depends on where you’re coming from, we came from Antigua and got a shuttle to Panajachel. We met people who traveled here straight from Mexico or from Flores in Northern Guatemala.
How do I travel around Lake Atitlan?
The only way to get to each village on the lake is by public boat. The general rule is that it costs 5Q for every village you pass, never paying more than 25Q which is the furthest distance. The boats will pull up at the dock if they see people wanting to get on. We were never more than 5 minutes waiting for one. There’s also an option to get a private boat but it costs like 150Q to get to one village alone.
There are little villages around the lake, each with totally different vibes and characteristics. Some villages even have an indigenous population that still lives according to ancient Mayan traditions.
What are the main towns at Lake Atitlan?
So there are 8 main towns at the lake, in this How to travel Lake Atitlan, your complete guide, I’ll mainly advise on the two places where we spent most of our time; Panajachel and Santa Cruz.
Most people get the shuttle to here from Antigua, it’s the most accessible and more developed. The main street is called Calle Santander and has loads of restaurants and cafes. As you walk along the water there are loads of little stalls and also a cool beach called Jucanya to watch the sunset.
How to get to Panajachel?
We got a shuttle bus from Antigua for 100QT (€11.50 each), was the cheapest we found. You can also get a chicken bus but it takes longer. Again price around, such a huge difference between companies. If you’re traveling here I’ll send you the what’s app of the cheapest company we found.
🛌 Where to stay in Panajachel?
We stayed in the Dreamboat Hostel which was €30 for a private room for one night. We really like this hostel, it was owned by 3 Australian guys and a German guy so had a really cool vibe to it. It has a rooftop for having drinks with a great view of the lake. Also has loads of activities during the week to meet other travelers.
🗺 What to do in Panajachel?
- Take a day trip to Santa Catarina.
- Paraglide over the lake (weather depending). We didn’t do this as we knew we would do it in Medellin, Colombia.
- Do an ATV tour.
- Visit the local market.
- Watch the sunset at the waterfront.
- During the rainy season (May through October), Pana has two waterfalls that are cooler to see in the rain. The first is near the main road into Pana and the second is harder to find as it doesn’t have a name but it runs adjacent to the Rio San Fransisco River.
🍽 Where to eat in Panajachel?
Head to Pavoni cafe for breakfast, we went back for breakfast twice because Jonathan loved the muffins so much 😂 The waiter there was learning English and I’m trying to learn Spanish so was cool to learn a few new words.
Pizzeria Florencia is where a lot of backpackers go for a cheap but good dinner!
If you love chocolate like me, check out La Casa del Chocolate which is a chocolate factory made by locals. We got our first piece of proper chocolate on the trip and it was so good. 😍 It was pricey but worth it!
There are loads of street food in Pana too, we ate at one 2 minutes from our hostel and really enjoyed it.
2. Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is a cute little town that’s also notoriously hilly where we spend most of our time.
✈️ How to get to Santa Cruz?
As mentioned above, the only way to get to each village on the lake is by public boat.
🛏 Where to stay in Santa Cruz?
Free Cerveza which was €22 each per night for a private room that could have fit four people. This is a really cool social hostel, felt like being at a big summer camp for adults. You stay in little tents with a view of the lake. The hostel runs so many activities like free yoga classes, sunrise SUP tours, beer bong, quizzes, etc so it’s the best hostel to meet other travellers. They also rent kayaks and SUP boards for free all day which is so cool. Just make sure to go before like 9.30 am because they’re normally taken. The hostel runs a family meal every night too which you pay for but get free beer between 5-7 pm.
🍽 Where to eat in Santa Cruz?
It’s a very small village with only two main places to eat apart from the hostels. ‘Cafe Sabor’ is a cool place for lunch, we got really nice sandwiches here one day and has the best view of the lake. Santa Cruz is notoriously hilly so it’s a bit of a walk to get up there but so worth it.
3. San Marcos
This is known as the ‘hippy and spiritual’ part of the lake with loads of yoga studios, retreats, and reiki/massage spots. We took a day trip here.
4. San Pedro
This is where most backpackers go, good for drinking and going out. There’s also a stunning sunrise hike called the Indian Nose hike that has an amazing viewpoint that looks out over 6 volcanoes.
5. San Juan
This is a small and artistic town, great for weaving demonstrations and souvenir shopping.
6. Santa Catarina
Santa Catarina is also a small town, located about 45 minutes walk from Panajachel. It’s full of local artwork and cool street art. Honestly, there’s not much to do here but it’s good for a day trip. We walked out one day and took a tuk-tuk back.
7. San Antonio & San Jorge
Both of these are small villages mainly with locals and very few tourists which is good for practicing your Spanish.
How to travel Lake Atitlan, your complete guide
Overall, despite me ending up in the hospital as sick as I’ve ever been, we really enjoyed the lake. You’re nearly guaranteed to stay longer than originally anticipated here!