Santiago Atitlan is a quiet but strong community surrounded by forested slopes and three distinctive volcanoes at what many people have dubbed the most beautiful lake in the world, Lake Atitlan. Not only is Lake Atitlan scenically spectacular, the lake and hillside settlements are also rich in Mayan culture.
Some of the villages in the area are the only ones in the country where people still wear traditional clothing in day to day life, with each village sporting its own distinctive style and colour of densely embroidered dress.
The people are famous for their artisan crafts and the design and colour of the textiles, distinguishing one village from the other. The hues blend into an artisanal mosaic on market days, when villagers from around the lake gather to sell their products. The Friday market at Sololá is one of the best in the highlands.
Around the lake are the main tourism centres of Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna, with lots of accommodation, small restaurants, and craft shops. Santiago Atitlan is one of the most important cultural villages along the shore, with a strong attachment to ancient Mayan culture and religion. There are good hikes around the lake as well as various water sports and excellent spots for swimming or relaxing at the water's edge.
The Volcan San Pedro is located behind San Pedro La Laguna and offers one of the most spectacular views in the world. The hike is strenuous and is around 6 hours round trip depending on fitness levels, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The starting sections include a rough trail, after which it is all jungle trekking. It is advisable to hire a local guide, as there is no signage and this is one of the wildest areas in the country, a truly adventurous hiking experience.
The holiday resort town of Panajachel in the highlands has a large population of long-term hippie expats and a distinctly Western character. The relaxed ambience accompanies breathtaking views of three volcanoes that sit near the lake. There are many hotels, small restaurants, and lively nightspots, with a mosaic of sensory delights awaiting visitors. Visit the photo museum in the Casa Cakchiquel, a historic hotel that has housed legends such as Che Guevara and Ingrid Bergman. The Church of St Francis, built in the 16th century, has survived several earthquakes, and still provides sanctuary to the locals. Panajachel is a good base for exploring the more traditional villages surrounding the lake and offers good shopping and swimming around the town. Food lovers will enjoy sampling the diverse local cuisine in one of the numerous restaurants or cafés.
The holiday destination of San Pedro La Laguna has a relaxed bohemian feel and it comes as no surprise that it is one of the most popular places for a summer holiday in Guatemala. The village revolves around the Catholic Church and the market place, with narrow cobbled streets leading up the hill, away from the ferry docks. Coffee plantations surround San Pedro La Laguna, and picturesque paths lead to the lake, where boulders and small stretches of beach provide peaceful sunbathing and swimming spots. There are also thermal pools in the village offering superb views of the nearby volcanoes. These hidden oases are a great way to relax after some rewarding hiking up the Volcán San Pedro behind the village.
At first glance, Lake Atitlan may seem like any resort destination, a picturesque, tranquil place to rest and relax. Yet, this is the heartland of traditional Mayan culture in Guatemala, ringed by several dormant volcanoes and verdant forest rich with wildlife, waiting to be explored.
For the active, summiting Volcan San Pedro is a truly off-the-beaten-track challenge; without a local guide and a machete to cut through the brush, the trip can be dangerous, even for the most experienced trekkers, but therein lies the fun! There are also plenty of other excursions, such as motorcycling and paragliding through surrounding areas, as well as kayaking and cruising on the lake.
Panajachel, a hippie haven in the 60s, offers good tourist amenities and a bohemian atmosphere that will be familiar to many travellers. The surrounding villages, however, are places to learn about local folklore, arts, and crafts handed down by many generations of Mayans. Come here and leisurely explore all of them as a welcome guest, which, in combination with the numerous adventure activities available, make Lake Atitlan a richly rewarding resort stop.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination