Lake Atitlan is a beautiful place and a must-visit in any Central America or Guatemala itinerary. Find out all the best things to do in Lake Atitlan for a perfect trip.
Before visiting Guatemala and Lake Atitlan a few months ago, I had few expectations for this small, Central American country. What awaited us however was a country very rich in culture, colour and traditions. Not only that but Guatemala is one of the best places to visit in Central America for nature, adventure and also wellness.
Guatemala is nowhere near as well visited as Mexico or Costa Rica yet for this reason there is so much waiting to still explore and uncover.
After exploring all the things to do in Antigua Guatemala, you’ll want to make your way across to Lake Atitlan for some unique stays, breathtaking scenery, indigenous culture and great food. Many travellers add Lake Atitlan to their bucket lists due to its proximity to the tourism hub, Antigua.
There are so many things to do in Lake Atitlan for every kind of traveller. Whether you’re looking to relax in an incredible boutique hotel with stunning lake views and take it easy or you’re looking for a bit more adventure or to learn about the local Mayan culture, there is something here for everyone.
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You’ll most likely be coming to Lake Atitlan from the travel hub of Antigua Guatemala. There are quite a few ways to get to Lake Atitlan depending on your budget but they are generally pretty affordable.
Most transportation to Lake Atitlan will go to Panajachel. From there make your way down to the main pier to get a boat taxi to your final destination on the lake.
Minivan Transfer: This is the most comfortable and most popular way to travel to Panajachel in Lake Atitlan. Transfers can be pre-booked at a number of different tour companies in Antigua and cost about $15 each way.
The minivans will drop you off close to the pier where you can get a boat taxi. This is the best option if you have a bit more luggage and you want to travel comfortably. Minivan transfers will also pick you up from your hotel in Antigua, making this the most convenient option.
Bus: If you’d like a truly local experience on a unique Guatemalan chicken bus, then this option is also available. Buses depart from the bus station in Antigua heading to Panajachel where they’ll drop you off in the city limits. From there you’ll have to walk down to the pier.
Private transfer: If you prefer a private transfer, they are also available. The best way to organise this is through your hotel either in Antigua or your Lake Atitlan hotel.
Boat: After arriving in Panajachel you’ll have to take a boat to your onward destination town on the lake. All you need to do is say the name of your destination hotel or town to the boat drivers and they will direct you to the next available boat.
You’ll have the option of getting a public boat taxi or a private boat transfer which cost considerably more.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE ATITLAN
Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort & Nature Reserve
My favourite place to stay in all of Lake Atitlan, Laguna Lodge is a magnificent property offering sublime lake and volcano views, charming spacious rooms and fantastic service.
Opt for the two-bedroom villa (Kucumatz Villa) and you’ll get a luxury suite beautifully decorated with local Guatemalan decor and art, a private terrace and sweeping views of Lake Atitlan and two of its volcanoes.
Your stay also includes breakfast and a vegetarian 4-course dinner which was nothing short of delicious- in fact, Laguna Lodge’s restaurant is the only exclusively vegetarian restaurant in any hotel or resort in Lake Atitlan.
Also included in your stay is access to Laguna Lodge’s private reserve located around the back of the hotel. This space is preserved in order to let plant and wildlife species in the area flourish. Their wonderful spa will also take care of all your relaxation needs.
Our stay here was nothing short of amazing, the location, views, food and staff are all incredible and Laguna Lodge is a must-stay when in Lake Atitlan.
Another sublime property right on the lake and only accessible by boat, Casa Prana features gorgeous, ancestral rooms, a garden and a pool with dramatic lake views. They also grow their own vegetables on-site and all food here is organic and locally sourced.
The grounds here are absolutely stunning and perfect for anyone who’s design-obsessed.
Located in San Marcos de Laguna, Lush is a lovely, vine-covered, boutique hotel right on Lake Atitlan, with incredible views all around.
With a simple design incorporating Guatemalan design and motifs, this gorgeous hotel is perfect for anyone wanting to slow down and spend some peaceful moments in stunning Lake Atitlan.
Check availability and book here booking.com
Hotel Casa Palopo
Another stunning, luxury option in Sololá Lake Atitlan- this gorgeous hotel is the perfect base for exploring Santa Catarina Palopo. Each room comes with a balcony overlooking the lake where you can drink your morning coffee to the sun coming up over the still lake.
Rooms are modern yet have a touch of Guatemalan design essence and the service here is top-notch.
Arca de Noé
A lovely little property just by the Santa Cruz la Laguna Pier- the perfect location to stay for a night if you want to go SUPing the next morning or to hike the Lower Atitlan trail.
It’s the perfect locally owned, budget stay with cosy, stone rooms and a beautiful garden out front to relax in and admire the exquisite lake views. The restaurant is also great and the chef is brilliant at catering to vegetarians and vegans.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN LAKE ATITLAN
Lake Atitlan has so many things to do and see from village hoping and cultural experiences to more active excursions and hikes. There literally is so many things to do in Lake Atitlan that I highly recommend staying at least 3 full days to get the best experience. If you can extend your stay then 5-7 days around the lake is best.
1. Sunrise SUP
One of the best activities that’ll get you on the water, SUP is becoming one of the most popular water activities in Lake Atitlan.
It’s one of the best ways to see a different part of the lake from a different perspective and get some exercise at the same time. SUP is also one of my favourite things to do for improving core strength and spending time in nature and in this case surrounded by amazing volcanic scenery.
Take an early morning tour on the lake or simply rent a board, paddle out and even sit down on the board for your morning meditation right on the water.
The best place to do SUP is around San Marcos and Santa Cruz la Laguna.
2. Climb to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz
Right above San Juan La Laguna, you’ll find the Cerro de la Cruz Mirador from which you’ll get some of the best views of Lake Atitlan without breaking too much of a sweat.
You can easily walk to the trailhead by putting in ‘Mirador Kaqasiiwaan, San Juan La Laguna’ on Google Maps and following the app’s directions.
There’s a small fee to get in and once you’ve paid at the entrance continue climbing up to the top. At the top, there is a colourfully painted platform full of local motifs and images.
You can relax here while enjoying the magnificent views. For the best views and light make your way up as close to sunrise or sunset as possible and try to do it on a clear day.
3. Learn about coffee making in Cafe San Juan
While you’re in San Juan la Laguna, why not stick around and do some shopping and coffee drinking? Right next to San Juan’s pier you’ll find Cafe San Juan, a local cafe with some of the best coffee in the area.
They grow and make their own coffee from grain to cup. The beans are grown in the mountains around town and also behind the cafe. In another corner of the cafe, staff will be roasting the beans ready for sale or brew.
If you speak Spanish the staff here are more than happy to tell you more about the coffee-making process and how they make their own. You can then buy a cup of coffee to taste it and buy a bag of beans or ground coffee to take with you.
We can rarely say we know exactly how and where our coffee at home is sourced but here you can finally have a cup that’s truly local and responsibly sourced. We did and looking back now, it was some of the best coffee we had in Guatemala.
It’s also a great cafe to just have a coffee and relax in for a few minutes before moving on.
4. Take a Yoga Class in San Marcos
While you can take yoga classes in many places around Lake Atitlan and I highly suggest you do, San Marcos is the new age spiritual hub of Lake Atitlan. Here you’ll find the most and often the best places to flow.
Base yourself in San Marcos for a few days where you can wake up early and flow to the sound of nature with Lake Atitlan right in front of you.
The best place to take a yoga class in San Marcos is The Yoga Forest which also has accommodation and they do retreats too. The Yoga Forest has one of the most beautiful yoga shalas in Guatemala and can’t be missed. Drop-ins are welcome for Q100 ($13) and you can check their daily schedule here.
Les Pyramides del Ka yoga and Meditation Center is another option for yoga classes in San Marcos. Find out more information here.
5. Swim in the lake
All that water around you just begs to be taken advantage of, especially if the weather is hot. Swimming is definitely possible around Lake Atitlan but not all places around the lake have such clean water. Avoid the area around Panajachel and also San Pedro and San Juan as it tends to be quite murky.
We found the best water for swimming around Santa Cruz and San Marcos. Make sure also not to swim too far out as boats are constantly crossing the lake going from pier to pier.
For the best jumping and diving, head to San Marcos, specifically the Cerro Tzankujil Natural Reserve where for just Q15 ($2) you’ll be able to access the natural reserve and its 30ft wooden platform- perfect for diving and jumping into the lake.
6. Hike to the Devil’s Nose
For extraordinary views of Lake Atitlan, this hike is an absolute must. It’s best done at sunrise while the water is still and the light is just starting to hit the lake. This combination creates a truly momentous experience, especially for photographers and nature enthusiasts.
There are two versions of the hike, the longer one and the shorter version. The longer hike sets off from San Juan and takes about 2-3 hours. Otherwise opt for the more popular shorter, 45-minute hike.
Either way, be prepared for steep inclines and incredible views.
For a highly rated tour to Indian Nose Peak and Lake Atitlan at Sunrise that leaves from Panajachel click here.
7. Relax and fully rest at Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort
As mentioned above, one of the best hotels in Lake Atitlan is Laguna Lodge. If you’re coming to Lake Atitlan for a real vacation with the goal of resting and relaxing surrounded by these divine lake views then you’ll want to check in here.
Five-star service, a fully vegetarian restaurant and an ethic that’s fully committed to the local environment. You’ll stay in a luxurious, beautifully decorated suite where you can relax, read and just stare out at the lake. There’s also an on-site lounge and games room and spa to take care of your every need.
Alternatively, the hotel can also organise many different types of excursions on the lake and tours of the surrounding towns. Kayaking is also available.
8. Take a Soak at Los Termales
One of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan is to visit the hot baths of Los Termales. Soak your sore muscles after a long hike around Lake Atitlan or just make the most of the hot water baths especially when visiting in winter.
There are 5 large, outdoor tubs that you can reserve prior to coming. All tubs have a great view of Lake Atitlan where you can enjoy some drinks and check out the view.
Los Termales is located in the town of San Pedro la Laguna.
9. Explore Panajachel
Panajachel is the largest of the Lake Atitlan towns and it’s also the gateway to Lake Atitlan. Boats from here depart to everywhere else around the lake.
However, Panajachel in its own right is a lovely town to explore. Full of museums and local galleries, lovely boutique hotels and some nice stores too. It’s a great place to get to know a little more about Lake Atitlan and Guatemalan culture.
10. Delve Deeper into Traditional Mayan Culture
Mayan culture is present everywhere you look around Lake Atitlan and if you’d like to delve deeper into it and expand your knowledge when it comes to Guatemalan culture this tour will be for you.
You’ll have the opportunity to spend the day with local Mayan women in Santa Cruz la Laguna and follow them in their day to day life. They will tell you about their homes, their job insecurities, the people’s history and culture.
You’ll also have the chance to cook with them and try traditional Guatemalan food, participate in a Temezcal ceremony or steam bath and you’ll get to know the basic techniques for making traditional jewelry and textiles.
11. Experience a Mayan Fire Ceremony
Take a journey through the traditions of Mayan spirituality as you experience a 2-hour traditional fire-cleansing ceremony with a guide in the Sacred Caves of Lake Atitlan.
These mystical caves have been used by local Mayans for centuries to perform and observe traditional rituals performed by local shamans. You’ll learn more about Mayan culture during this ceremony as your guide explains to you the history and traditions behind the Fire Ceremony while also explaining the Mayan calendar system.
12. Shop for Textiles and Handicrafts
Lake Atitlan is the best place in Guatemala to find local fabrics, textiles and handicrafts. There is some really gorgeous, high-quality designs and products to be found in the country- you just need to know where to find them.
One of the best markets in Guatemala for just about everything is Chichicastenango “Chichi” Market. You won’t find many tourists here yet it’s still one of the best places to shop for handicrafts, textiles and fabrics for your home.
The town of Chichicastenango is located an hour and a half north of Panajachel. To get there you’ll have to take a bus from Panajachel to Solola and from there to Chichicastenango. Alternatively, you can also ask your hotel to arrange private transportation for you.
If you’re coming from Antigua you can also take a day tour of Chichicastenango Market and Panajachel. Click here to find out more.
If you’re in San Juan La Laguna make sure to check out a little local store called Tinta Maya. It’s a store run by a local woman who weaves everything you see in the store outback. If you speak Spanish she will gladly tell you all about the initiative and how you can help out in the local community. The scarves and fabrics here are lovely.
13. Take some Spanish classes
While many locals around Lake Atitlan speak modern versions of the ancient Maya language, Spanish is the official language making most people bilingual.
Guatemala is one of the best places to learn Spanish if you want to delve into the language for the first time or if you want to polish your language skills further. In general, Guatemalans speak slowly and extremely clearly, making it easy to learn Spanish and also understand locals.
There are many places to learn Spanish in and around Lake Atitlan. If you’re looking to up your Spanish skills then make sure to check out San Pedro Spanish School, in San Pedro, Atitlan Spanish School in Panajachel and Santa Cruz Spanish School. These schools also offer accommodation and an immersive homestay style experience where you can really progress in a short about of time.
14. Explore the Lakeside Towns
Lake Atitlan is definitely about those immense volcanic lake views, but no trip to the area would be complete without exploring the towns surrounding the lake.
Often accessible by only boat, Lake Atitlan’s towns are a melting point of local Mayan culture, ancient local practices like weaving as well as modern cafes and services catering to travellers and digital nomads. Here are some of the main towns you should definitely consider visiting:
San Marcos La Laguna – A yoga, hippie and new age hub of Lake Atitlan. It has the most amount of plant-based friendly restaurants, cafes and boutiques. This was my favourite town and if I came back to stay for longer I’d base myself here.
San Pedro La Laguna- Another great town and base to explore Lake Atitlan known for its nightlife and younger crowd. Lots of cafes and places to eat here.
Santa Cruz La Laguna – The upper local town is very much separate from the hostels and hotels by the water. it’s a very local town where you can find a few local restaurants and services.
San Juan la Laguna – Another local town with good infrastructure and plenty of good hikes around.
Santiago Atitlan – A more distant, local town
San Antonio Papolo – Another lovely alternative and worth a quick wander.
Santa Catarina Papolo – One of the prettiest towns along the lake with brightly painted houses and a real focus on culture.
Panajachel – gateway to Lake Atitlan and the largest of all the towns. Here you’ll see the largest hotels and businesses.
AVOID San Pablo La Laguna – We came here on a whim just to explore. We found not much here in terms of tourism infrastructure and a lot of drunkenness and begging from local men- to the point where it made us feel very uneasy and uncomfortable. Safe to say we didn’t feel safe here so I wouldn’t recommend coming here unless with a guide.
15. Live like a Local in Solola Market
If you don’t want to go as far as Chichicastenango for a local market experience you’ll also find a very local market in Sololá and in the towns around the lake. San Marcos La Laguna and San Pedro all have many handicrafts stores and sellers on the street selling magnificent blankets and throws.
Not many travellers stop in Sololá, so you’ll most probably have this market to yourself. Here you’ll be able to learn more about the local produce from around the lake, pick up some local coffee and even spy some local handicrafts and textiles to take home.
Note however that this is a very local market so you won’t find so much of the tourism-focused handicrafts you’ll be able to see in Chichicastenango and in Antigua.
16. Climb a Volcano
As you contemplate the views around Lake Atitlan you will very soon realise that you’re looking at quite a few ancient, majestic volcanoes. Lake Atitlan is surrounded by three 80,000-year-old volcanoes, San Pedro, Atitlán and Tolimán which formed after the crater of an even larger volcano blew off in a violent eruption leaving the crater lake this is Atitlan today.
Most of the volcanoes around Lake Atitlan can be summited but they do make challenging hikes. The most popular volcano to summit is San Pedro followed by Atitlán which is also the highest and most challenging.
To summit either volcano, it’s best to go with a guide for both guiding and safety reasons.
For the best-rated tour to hike up Volcan Atitlan click here.
17. Hike around the lake
If you’re looking for some amazing yet active things to do in Lake Atitlan, hiking is one of them. There are some great hiking trails around the lake.
One of the best trails to hike is the Lower Mayan trail which runs from the lower part of Santa Cruz (it starts just to the left of the dock in Santa Cruz) all the way to San Marcos. It takes between 2-3 hours to do and on a clear and sunny day, the volcano views are incredible.
You’ll hike through some small, local Mayan villages and be able to witness daily local life around the lake. The hike isn’t challenging and it’s suitable for all levels of hiking expertise.
Once you get to San Marcos you can jump into the lake for a swim to cool off. You can then come back to any other Lake Atitlan town by boat, so there’s no need to hike back to Santa Cruz.
In general, the path is safe to hike but make sure to do it in daylight.
18. Eat your Way Through the Great Plant-based Restaurants
Lake Atitlan is a wonderful place to travel to for vegetarians and vegans. There is so much choice for delicious and healthy restaurants in the towns by the lake that you’ll be spoilt for choice during your stay.
I always use the Happy Cow app to find the best of what’s around me when I travel. The best vegan restaurants are in San Pedro and San Marcos.
Some amazing plant-based restaurants not to miss are Salud Para Vida and The Fifth Dimension in San Pedro and Circles Cafe and Bakery and Konojel restaurant in San Marcos.
19. Go on a Yoga Retreat
Lake Atitlan has a really strong yoga community. Thousands of yoga practitioners and teachers come to Lake Atitlan every year to flow and bask in its unique spiritual, ancestral energy.
This energy also makes it one of the best places in the world for a yoga retreat. It’s also one of the most budget-friendly places for a yoga retreat and prices here are a lot lower than in Mexico or Costa Rica for example.
With retreats available from 4 days to 14 days, you’ll be able to find the perfect one that suits your needs, budget and practice.
For the best all-rounder retreat that includes Yoga, Ayurveda and mindfulness for 7 days click here. If you prefer just 4 days of yoga in the forests of San Marcos, make sure to check out this amazing retreat hosted at the Yoga Forest
20. Explore the Village of San Marcos
San Marcos is my personal favourite of all the Lake Atitlan villages and if you also identify more with the new age movement you’ll like it there too. Here you’ll find a very community orientated place full of people practising yoga, spirituality and healing.
It’s a great place to base yourself in or to spend the day in. You can easily take a yoga class, go for a great lunch and relax by the lake or even go handicraft shopping. There are so many amazing boutique stores, cafes and restaurants to check out here as well as community initiatives to get involved in if you find yourself staying for longer.
21. Take a Maya Cooking Class
The best way to learn about a new countries culture is through their food. If you’d like to know more about Mayan food practices, culture and dishes then doing a cooking class might be something you’ll really enjoy.
While I haven’t actually done one myself, this Maya cooking class comes highly recommended. This 4-hour cooking class will give you a great introduction to Guatemalan and Central American dishes and ingredients.
It also includes a recipe book so you can recreate the dishes at home.
22. Have a Spa Day at Casa Prana
Lake Atitlan isn’t really an area known for it’s spas but there are a couple of gems around the lake. The best spa in the area is at Casa Prana, who offers a number of different spa services. They have a number of wellness packages to choose from, including the Prana Day Retreat, that will keep you pampered all day.
They also offer use of their gorgeous gym, private and group yoga classes, massage therapy and a Green Corner offering a number of incredible healthy food and drink options.
Click here to find out more about Casa Prana’s wellness packages and services.
Are you ready to dive into these best things to do in Lake Atitlan? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
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