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Your Guide to Exploring Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Your Guide to Exploring Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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If you’re wondering about the things to do in Lake Atitlan and then immediately get overwhelmed once you realize this lake is massive with several towns surrounding it—Let me help you!

Visiting Lake Atitlan is SO much more than a quick pop by to see a pretty lake and then go.

Each town on Lake Atitlan is special in its own way, with its own vibe, unique perspective, and list of things to explore. Many visitors at Lake Atitlan are searching for something different and deeper, some are here for a party, some seek adventure, and some are here to escape and melt into solitude…

All of these are attainable at Lake Atitlan. What do you want out for your visit? I hope my guide here can help you figure it out so you can maximize your visit!

Visiting Lake Atitlan—Towns, Things to Do, Where to Stay, & Tips!


After spending about 10 days relaxing, exploring, hiking, and swimming around Lake Atitlan, I felt like I needed another 10+ days to REALLLLY get to know it. The more I saw the more I wanted to stay to get more. Lake Atitlan has a lot to offer, so no matter if you have a few days, a week, or a month, you’ll find plenty to tackle.

I’m only one person and while I did A LOT, I couldn’t do everything. So below you’ll find everything I did plus tons of other things that I wanted to do, that friends told me about, and locals recommended.

Everything here is split up by the town. The best way to visit Lake Atitlan is to choose the town(s) that you vibe with most. I’ll help you figure everything out, no worries!

Oh, and sorry in advance but this post is MASSIVE!

Click the image to view the clickable map of things to do in Lake Atitlan.

Panajachel

Panajachel is your backpacker base if you’re looking for easy access around the lake, a bustling hub in the heart of all the action.

Thanks to its easy transport links, this tourist hotspot is likely to be the place you stay if you’re looking to make day trips to the other towns around Lake Atitlan. It is also Lake Atitlan’s “basecamp.” This is likely the hub you’ll be dropped off and picked up from when you’re coming to and leaving the lake.

Street stalls in Panajachel on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Panajachel is a great base for all of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.

As the busiest town, it has everything you’ll need for a comfortable stay, such as plenty of accommodation options, bars, shops, and more. It may not be the most unique or picturesque lakeside town, but it is the ideal place to start on your lakeside adventure.

Best Things To Do in Panajachel

Mayan Ceremony

Take part in a traditional fire cleansing ceremony in the Sacred Caves of the lake. The ritual is conducted by a local shaman and is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll learn all about the caves and the ceremony and feel as though you are part of the old Lake Atitlan way of life.

→ Book this Panajachel tour: Mayan Ceremony at the Sacred Caves

Shop

Shop until you drop in Panajachel, likely to be the most scenic spot you’ll ever enjoy a bit of retail therapy. The road around the lakeshore and Calle Santander is where you’ll find vendors selling goodies, including some beautiful native handicrafts.

Going shopping in Panajachel is one of the popular things to do in Lake Atitlan
Pick up some local handicrafts at the Panajachel markets

There is also a vast market used mainly by the locals to pick up foods and textiles. Still not satisfied? There are also a few shops selling high-quality clothing and goods scattered throughout the town. 

Mayan Ruins

History buffs and ruin lovers, this one is for you. On this day trip, you’ll be taken to the Iximche ruins and learn all about its vibrant past.

You’ll soon know all there is to know about this 1000-year-old city and get a better insight into the Mayan people and how they lived their lives up to the present day. Even if you’re not into history, this is a fascinating trip to make you feel all cultural and knowledgeable.

→ Book this Panajachel tour: Iximche Mayan Ruin

Cooking Class

An activity and food all rolled into one is a bonus. As well as spending the day learning how to cook the most delicious Guatemalan dishes during this activity, you also get to eat them at the end.

Take a cooking class in Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Enjoy food and fun at a cooking class

Over 4 hours, you’ll learn how to cook three traditional dishes and understand what helps to create the succulent tastes and textures only found in this part of the world. You’ll even get a recipe book to take home with you so that you can recreate the dishes at your leisure.

→ Book this Panajachel tour: Maya Cooking Class

Where To Stay In Panajachel

Hospedaje D’ Reyes – For an EASY, clean and cheap stay, Hospedaje D’ Reyes is where I crashed. The owner, David, is so sweet and accommodating. He even helped me when I came in solo and late at night. It’s a simple room with a safe location just off the main drag. I just needed it while transiting the following day and it was perfect.

Selina Atitlan – The swimming pool alone would be enough reason to stay here, but this cool hotel has a lot to offer, with a bar, movie room, a comfy coworking space, and even yoga sessions. If you’re just passing through, you can get a great deal in a dorm room, but they also have some beautiful private rooms.

Hospedaje El Viajero – This rustic hotel is just a couple of blocks from the lake, which means close to the ferries when you’re arriving or departing. All rooms are private, with either a view of the lush inner courtyard or a private terrace with views of the mountains. Keep an eye out for the resident talking parrot!

RELATED: Your Perfect Guatemala Itinerary: 1-3 Weeks + Tips!

Santa Cruz La Laguna

Santa Cruz is steep; you’ll get a workout just heading up from the lake.

The authentic town of Santa Cruz offers stunning vistas no matter which way you turn, with Lake Atitlan Guatemala on one side and lush jungle on the other. As a transitional village, you won’t find as many tourists as in Panajachel or other towns, but that adds to its charm.

A visit to Santa Cruz is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
The hills of Santa Cruz

It can only be accessed by boat, which contributes to its isolated, exclusive vibe. The central portion of the town is located up one of the steepest hills, and although it’s only a short 10-15 minute walk, I won’t judge if you want to get a tuk tuk up to the top (it should only be a few quetzals anyway!)

Best Things To Do in Santa Cruz

Walking up the Village

Yes, Santa Cruz is stunning, and yes, it offers some incredible views of the lake, but as we talked about, walking anywhere means you won’t have to do ‘leg day’ for the foreseeable future. 

A walk around Santa Cruz in Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Get ready for a leg workout walking around Santa Cruz

Despite this, one of the best things to do in the town is explore it on foot because really, there’s not THAT much else to do! After getting a good workout in and plenty of stops to admire the view, you can also do…

Drinks at Free Cerveza or La Iguana

Enjoy a drink right on the shores of Lake Atitlan at either Free Cerveza or La Iguana. Free Cerveza is a campsite oasis, with its restaurant and bar, so you can sip on a cool drink before tanning, swimming, or taking part in one of the many activities available. La Iguana is a hip and happening hostel with plenty of options for a nightcap.

Cafe Sabor Cruceno

Drink and dine with one of the finest views at Cafe Sabor Cruceno. Home to an expansive terrace, it is a beautiful place to enjoy a snack cooked up for you by young graduates.

Pepian dish in Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Pepian, a local dish, with a view of Lake Atitlan Guatemala

Suppose the delicious food has got you interested in learning how to make the dishes yourself. In that case, the venue also offers several cooking classes to polish up your culinary skills.

Kayak

One of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan is to get out on it, and Los Elementos Adventure has you covered with affordable kayak rentals.

The company offers it all, from renting a kayak by the hour and exploring on your own to going on a multi-day guided kayak tour. You can also hire a paddleboard if you want a different way to traverse the shores.

Woman and dog on SUP on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Sunset SUPing on Lake Atitlan with a random dog that jumped in and swam to me!

Cultural Private Tour

Take a deep dive into the local and cultural activities in the town by a resident. You’ll have a packed day relaxing in a Temazcal steam room, learning about traditional clothing and jewelry, even having a go at making a textile piece of your own.

You’ll cook food in a conventional kitchen and enjoy your meal with your knowledgeable guide. Everything is included in this full-day trip, so you should return feeling full and fulfilled.

→ Book this Santa Cruz tour: Traditional and Cultural Private Tour

Santa Cruz is the town I was based in; however, my accommodation was a 20-minute walk out of town! There is no car access to this area; walking is your only choice.

I will say, I highly recommend the place I stayed (more on this later), but otherwise, this town is one of the quiet ones. So make sure you know that before basing here. And if you want nightlife, stay at Free Cerveza or La Iguana.

Where To Stay In Santa Cruz

View from Sunset Lodge in Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The view from Sunset Lodge

Atitlan Sunset Lodge – OK, so semi-biased, but this is the best place to stay! Period. The views are unbelievable, and the rooms are all unique, with private stunning views over the lake. All are kitted out with kitchens, balconies, and living spaces too.

Since it’s out of town and you can only walk or take a boat, you can request beautiful vegan meals to be arranged for you by their chef for your stay! I LOVED basing myself here for ten days (read this on how I ended up staying here!) You can check here for the best prices and availability.

Free Cerveza – The name of this hostel doesn’t quite do it justice – it’s not all about the beer! It’s situated right on the lake, with glamping accommodation (private or shared) lining the green lawn alongside the water.

La Iguana – If you enjoyed a few drinks at la Iguana, you could make it your base camp for exploring Santa Cruz. Rooms range from dorms to luxury suites, but all have access to the impressive courtyard with views over the lake. It’s also home to the only dive shop in town, so if your plans lie under the water rather than on it, this is the place to be.

RELATED: 17 Adventurous Things To Do in Guatemala + Tips For Your Visit!

San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos exudes cool hippie vibes. The lake’s most spiritual town and an ‘energy vortex.’

Expect to find yoga retreats and classes, cafes serving tasty green smoothies, and a range of healing ceremonies in San Marcos. It is hard not to feel completely zen and chilled out in this town, even if all you’re doing is sipping on a cool drink in one of the bars, watching the boats pass by. 

Visit colorful streets in San Marco for things to do in Lake Atitlan
Find your inner zen in San Marcos La Laguna.

Best Things To Do in San Marcos La Laguna

Eat at Samsara, Circles, Lush

There are plenty of places to pick up a snack in San Marcos, but a few favorites include Samsara, Circles, and Lush. Circles Cafe is small but relaxed, with a peaceful outdoor seating area surrounded by lush plants and gardens, the perfect place to pick up a healthy smoothie or baked snack. 

Samsara is another outdoor vegan cafe specializing in its flavorful veggie bowls. Lastly, Lush is more on the upmarket side, offering organically sourced, plant-based foods on their expansive terrace.

Yoga

What better place to do yoga than the hippie paradise of San Marcos. The area is known for its spiritual energy, with people coming from far and wide to find their inner zen and downward dog on the lake shores.

Try yoga on the dock for things to do in Lake Atitlan
You won’t get a better view for yoga

There are plenty of places to practice yoga in the town, some of which offer a class or two, while others provide full-on multi-day retreats.

If you don’t mind a little hike up the mountains, Yoga Forest is 15 minutes from the town and is a breathtaking place to practice the art. There is an expansive balcony-like platform with incredible lake and volcano views; you will struggle to find a more scenic spot to stretch and find your inner peace.

Cerro Tzankujil

Cerro Tzankujil is a beautiful nature reserve nestled on the shores of Lake Atitlan Guatemala, just to the west of San Marcos village. Pebbly trails wind through the undergrowth, leading to stunning vistas and secluded swimming spots.

Man jumping off platform at Cerro Tzankujil on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
I got lucky and caught a bunch of army men jumping off the platform during my visit!

The diving platform is the real highlight here, and if you’re feeling brave, you could take a plunge into the cooling blue waters below. You could also climb up to a Mayan altar on top of the hill, with lookouts along the way. It’s an excellent way to spend the day, surrounded by lush landscapes and beautiful views.

Cacao Ceremonies

If you’re visiting San Marcos and want to get a complete feel for the town, it may be worth participating in the Cacao Ceremony, one of the more unique things to do in Lake Atitlan. 

A cacao ceremony is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
A cacao ceremony is one of the more unusual things to do in Lake Atitlan

These ceremonies can last upwards of 5 hours, so expect to be on for the long haul, but they will provide you with unique healing and energy transferring experience you won’t find elsewhere.

Yoga and Sound Ceremony

This inclusive full-day venture will help you relax, rewind and chill out for hours while learning some incredible facts about the locals and their beliefs.

Starting in the Yoga Forest, you’ll practice the art of yoga, enjoy a delicious brunch feast, have a boat ride to and from San Marcos, and lastly, take part in a Cacao and Sound Ceremony. The ceremony is a beautiful experience and a unique way for you to uncover the magic of the lake and mountains.

→ Book this San Marcos La Laguna tour: Cacao and Sound Ceremony with Yoga 

Where To Stay In San Marcos La Laguna

Hotel Villa Tzankujil – The accommodation here might be simple, but it’s hard to match the views you’ll get from the long sunny terrace. It’s a way out of the central part of town, but nothing in San Marcos is very far away. It’s the ideal place to get into the zen vibe that this town is known for.

Mayan Casas – With a location right in the middle of town, you’ll be ideally placed for exploring local restaurants, taking workshops, or heading out on day trips. On the lush garden property, you’ll find a jumble of wooden cabins decked out in colorful décor.

Volcano View Apartment – For a little more privacy, you can get this whole apartment for the same price as a hotel. It’s set back a little from the town, but everything you need is just a 5-minute walk away. There’s a beautiful walled garden on the property, but you’ll probably spend most of your time on the private shaded porch, which has views of the surrounding volcanoes.

Jaibalito

Cool, relaxed, and off the beaten path is what you should expect at quaint Jaibalito.

Despite being the least developed of the bigger towns around Lake Atitlan, Jaibalito is worth a visit if only for an afternoon. You won’t find the crowds of backpack-wearing, cocktail-drinking tourists here; you can have this little bit of luxury. It’s not reachable by car and many people may not have heard of it, but their loss is your gain.

Best Things To Do in Jaibalito

Indigo Restaurant – Eat at Indigo Restaurant for stunning lakefront dining. Undisturbed views and good food are all you need to spend the whole day here at Jaibalito. There is a fresh and seasonal menu and delicious cocktails; what more could you want?

Indigo restaurant Jaibalito is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
Add a visit to Indigo Restaurant to your list of things to do in Lake Atitlan.

La Casa del Mundo  – La Casa del Mundo is one of the most magical hotels in the world. You can only reach it by boat or by foot for a start, which already gives it that exclusivity. It has a hot tub, swimming holes, and beautiful views of the lake. The meals served are tasty, and the vibes super chill.

Where To Stay In Jaibalito

Casita de la Sirena – Surround yourself with tropical gardens of avocado, banana, and papayas in this quirky cottage. It’s not far from the lake, and the property backs onto a small river that’s ideal for a peaceful stroll. It’s a cozy studio space but has everything you need for a comfortable stay, including a full kitchen and private patio.

A visit to El Casa del Mundo Jaibailo is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
La Casa Del Mundo overlooking Lake Atitlan

La Casa Del Mundo – Casa Del Mundo isn’t just great for a restaurant visit; the hotel accommodation is just as magical. Yes, it’s more expensive than a hostel, but the private rooms with stunning lake views are absolutely worth it. It’s a traditional stone building, with all spaces decorated with local fabrics and handicrafts.

San Pedro La Laguna

Hip and happening San Pedro is your go-to for fun places to stay on the lake.

San Pedro is backpacker central. Think cheap accommodation, great eateries, Spanish lessons, a beautiful setting, and partying the night away. 

Boats at San Pedro on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The docks of San Pedro

Surrounded by stunning scenery, no matter which way you look and a welcoming, happy vibe, chances are you’ll be making your way to San Pedro at some point during your visit to Lake Atitlan Guatemala. You’ll surely be drawn in by the music and vibrant atmosphere.   

Best Things To Do in San Pedro La Laguna

Kayaking

Pick up your kayak and be led by an experienced guide out onto the blue waters of the lake. On the 3-hour venture, you’ll paddle over to Las Cristalinas, with plenty of time to rest your aching arms on the white sand beaches before paddling back. Your guide will tell you all there is to know about the area as you glide across the waters. 

→ Book this San Pedro La Laguna tour: Kayaking on Lake Atitlan

Kayaking at San Pedro is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
Kayaking is one of the most popular things to do in Lake Atitlan

Party at Sublime

Bar Sublime is THE place to go at San Pedro when you are looking to throw some shapes on the dancefloor. As soon as the sun begins to set, the whole atmosphere changes, and the venue is filled with very different lights, cheap drinks, and great tunes.

Shanti Shanti

Shanti Shanti is a gorgeous place to eat in San Pedro, with decent food and beverages (the views are the main draw!). The seating arrangements are special, with various terraces layered down the hillside. Dine on tasty, hearty dishes while watching the kayakers below you, and think about how life can’t get much better than this!

Shopping

Don’t be afraid to do a little shopping while in San Pedro; there is no harm in picking up a little souvenir if something sparkly catches your eye.

The town of San Pedro on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The streets of San Pedro La Laguna

Like many touristy towns around the lake, you’ll find many shops or stalls selling an abundance of brightly colored textiles, leather goods, food, and fabrics, all at a very affordable price. The entire town is walkable, so you should be able to hit up most of the streets in one morning. 

Los Termales

Soak away those worries the Los Termales, San Pedro’s thermal baths. The steaming waters are not hard to find. Just take the alleyway beside Buddha Bar, and before long, you’ll reach the baths. Sure, they might not be all-natural, but that doesn’t mean they are not super relaxing, especially after a day of hiking. 

Local Markets

San Pedro has some of the most lively and bustling markets around, with tiny narrow streets crammed with market traders selling colorful fruits, veg, local crafts, fresh fish, and plenty of other wares.

Market at San Pedro in Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Shop like a local at San Pedro’s markets

You’re bound to run into it while wandering around. If you’re staying near the town, this is where you should do like the locals do and do your shopping. Get there in the morning for all the best stock and deals.

Where To Stay In San Pedro La Laguna

Zoola San Pedro Atitlan – If you want to meet people on your travels through town, Zoola is the place to be. It’s a sprawling property with accommodation to suit everyone, from cool shared dorms to deluxe rooms with a private balcony. Relax in the pool with views of the mountains, or relax in the cushion-filled dining room.

Santa Maria Del Lago – For a completely different vibe, head to this hotel that’s more like a large country house. With just four rooms available, you’ll have plenty of privacy—there’s even a private beach for you to enjoy the lake. When you want a slice of the action, the center of town is less than a mile away.

Bird House – The owner hand-built this quirky home to emulate a birdhouse, made from a mix of clay, stone, and wood, and tucked away among the trees. A few minutes’ walk from the pier, it’s convenient but removed enough for a quiet stay.

San Juan La Laguna

Discover the charming town of San Juan, full of colorful murals and views that will take your breath away.

San Juan makes a great alternative to San Pedro if you are looking for a little bit more of a laid-back kind of lifestyle during your stay.

Colorful streets of San Juan on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Looking for artistic things to do in Lake Atitlan? Try visiting San Juan

It is arguably the art and craft capital of the lake, with the local inhabitants taking pride in their work and painting galleries aplenty. The town is also known for its incredible views and panoramic vistas, which you’ll never tire of gazing at.

Best Things To Do in San Juan La Laguna

Mirador Kaqasiiwaan

Follow the brightly painted steps and murals to the stunning Mirador Kaqasiiwaan. You won’t find many other viewpoints quite like this one. We are not quite sure what is more beautiful, the colorful platforms of the Mirador or the view itself, making it one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan. (Entrance is $3.50)

The Mirador at San Juan is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan
Follow the rainbow brick road to the Mirado Kaqasiiwaan

Indian Nose

If you can bear to wake up at 4 am (it is worth it, we promise), the Indian Nose hike offers one of the best sunrise spots. From the peak, you’ll be able to see the lake and surround volcanoes in all their glory, flaming reds and burnt amber in the sun.

View of Lake Atitlan from Indian Nose hike, Guatemala
View of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala from the Indian Nose Hike

Although it is possible to hike yourself and pay the farmers, you would be better off getting a guide as you won’t get lost in the dark and will be much safer. It is also possible to reach the Indian Nose hike by carrying on from Mirador Kaqasiiwaan.

→ Book this San Juan La Laguna tour: Indian Nose Hiking Adventure

Where To Stay In San Juan La Laguna

Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan – You’ll find this luxurious stay on the road between San Pedro and San Juan. It offers an outstanding balance between comfort and nature, with lush tropical gardens where you can enjoy a massage, take a yoga class, or relax in the outdoor hot tub.

Casa Maya – To get more immersed in local culture, you can opt for this homestay experience. You’ll be welcomed by the family and invited to share delicious Guatemalan food with them, but you still have space to yourself with your room and private bathroom.

Posada Mana – Located right in the center of town, this comfy hostel makes a great base for exploring the area. There’s a market right nearby if you want to make your food in the communal kitchen, and a vast garden where you can relax in your downtime.

Other Lake Atitlan Towns

I didn’t get to personally visit these next Lake Atitlan towns but I couldn’t leave them off the list. This just goes to show you how many places there are to visit!

Santa Catarina Palopo

Santa Catarina Palopo is a beautifully colorful town, and oddly, it is one of the lesser-visited places on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Geometric patterns are painted on the houses all around. Seeing as tourists rarely venture here, you will experience how the locals live their lives and take some stunning photos.

Overhead view of Santa Catarina Palopo on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Colorful Santa Catarina Palopo

The most common thing is to admire the houses and learn about the art in one of the painting galleries. There is also a tucked-away little hot spring next to the lake, which is great for relaxation, as is Plaza Central, home to some stunning buildings. It is also the perfect place to take a kayak out onto the water. 

Tzununa

Another lesser-known hidden gem is Tzununa. You won’t find any market stall holders trying to sell you keyrings or ‘traditional’ jewelry here. A few cute eateries are dotted throughout the town, making for a peaceful place to grab a bite.

It is the perfect town to admire the beauty of the lake without the hustle and bustle of backpackers blocking your views. It is an excellent base for hiking the surrounding hills. All you have to do is pick one of the many paths and set off to explore.

View of Tzununa on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The peaceful town of Tzununa on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

You might come across waterfalls or hidden viewpoints, but be sure you stay safe as a group. The Tzununa waterfall hike is a must for waterfalls lovers and is just a 40-minute walk from the village. For something a little different, head to Atitlan Organics, where you’ll be able to visit an edible landscape or even take a course on permaculture. 

Santiago

Santiago is a local town, holding a solid indigenous identity. A visit here will immerse you in the lake culture, allowing you to escape the tourists for a while. The women are often clad in traditional purple striped skirts and beautiful embroidered tops, with the men, especially the older generation, in matching pants.

Santiago village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Santiago on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Although the town is not necessarily set up for visitors, there is still plenty to see and do. There is a small museum devoted to the art of loom weaving, the parish church, and Central Park to explore, plus on Fridays and Saturdays, there is a bustling market where the locals do their shopping. 

It is also the start of the Atitlan Volcano hike, the tallest yet least summited volcano on Lake Atitlan. Your knowledgeable guide will take you to the summit, telling you about the landscape and coffee plantations.

→ Book this Santiago tour: Atitlan Volcano Hike

How To Get to Lake Atitlan

You will likely end up in Panajachel first when visiting Lake Atitlan. You can stay there or immediately head out to another town via boat.

Getting to Pana (common nickname for Panajachel) is very quick and easy from Guatemala City, Xela, Antigua, and almost literally anywhere else! Considering many towns are challenging to get to by car or inaccessible by car, most of the time you’re going to be dropped off at Pana, and from there you can easily catch a boat to the town you’d like to stay at.

Getting to Pana will require a shuttle. The roads around here are a bit narrow for buses, so shuttles are usually what’s used. The easiest way to get around Guatemala, in general, will be by booking with GuateGo!

Streets in San Juan on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The streets of San Juan

Check GuateGo for prices and schedules, and within a few clicks, you’ll be booked! They will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel. Your other choice is by chicken bus, which will definitely be cheap but less comfortable and likely take twice as long.

You can also walk around and find places selling shuttle tickets to Pana, but I found GuateGo too easy, and that’s how I booked myself transportation around the country.

RELATED: 15 of The BEST Things To Do in Antigua, Guatemala

How To Get Around Lake Atitlan

Boats are the best and sometimes the only way to get around the lake!

Traveling by boat is pretty quick, perhaps 10, 15, or 20-minute rides depending on where on the lake you’re heading. Lake Atitlan uses boats to get around as the road is pretty crummy, and a 20-minute boat road would be over an hour in a car! And again, some places are literally inaccessible by vehicle, so boat travel it is around here!

The boats are all the same and frequently operate throughout the day. They aren’t necessarily on any set time, but I never waited more than 10 minutes for my boat to take off.

A boat ride in Panajchel is one of the popular things to do in Lake Atitlan
All the best things to do in Lake Atitlan are just a boat ride away!

Boats usually start around 6:30 am and end around 7:30 pm. You can get a private boat if needed, and it’s generally around 200q per my local friend, but if you’re a bunch of tourists wanting one, I’d expect to pay a bit more.

Know that the boat drivers often charges tourists more than locals, so if you see this, just sit down and forget it, there’s no use in arguing over a $1, and it’s probably going to happen your entire time here (and you likely wouldn’t have know it).

Expected boat costs:

Pana to Sunset Lodge (Santa Cruz) with my Guatemalan friend – 10q

Sunset Lodge to San Pedro solo – 20q

Santa Cruz to San Marcos solo – 20q

One of my boats was 25q, I don’t recall where to where but it was the most I paid ($3.25).

Note that boats will stop at numerous towns along the way, so keep your ears open for the town you’re going for, the boat driver will announce it.

View from inside a tuk tuk in Guatemala
San Pedro to San Juan tuktuk at Lake Atitlan

Within the towns, you’ll find tuk tuks to ride. A road goes around and connects towns, and it’s possible to get a tuk tuk from one town to the next if you don’t want to use the boat. For example, I took a tuk tuk from San Pedro to San Juan, they are pretty close! But most will be quicker and cheaper by boat (I think got it by now, right? Boats are the way!)

Once I was in a town, I just walked, each town is very walkable, although do expect some hills here.

Walking From Town to Town in Lake Atitlan

It’s possible to walk from town to town depending on which towns you’re starting from and heading to. BUT please ask the front desk at your hotel or a local at a restaurant before doing so. Not only can they tell you valuable info, tips, and point you in the right direction, they will let you know if it’s advisable or not.

There are some routes that are not recommended to walk between. Whether it’s unsafe because you’re walking along the side of the road or if it’s just not smart to do so. Always ask first!

So Which Lake Atitlan Town Should I Stay In?!

This is totally up to you! Hopefully, you can tell which town you may vibe with best from everything I mentioned above. The best thing about Lake Atitlan is that you’re spoilt for choice on where to stay; there’s a place for every type of traveler.

Dock at San Marco on Lake Atitlan Guatemala
The dock at San Marco La Laguna

My suggestion would be to either choose one place to base from and explore or, at the most, choose two and split your time based between those. I would only choose two if you’re staying at least a week at the lake; otherwise, keep it at one.

All the towns around Lake Atitlan are accessible by boat, and they only cost a buck or two. It’s straightforward to get around no matter where you stay, so you really can’t make a wrong choice here. And it’s certainly not necessary to change your hotel every night just to see another town.

Tips for Visiting Lake Atitlan:

Woman on swing at jetty on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala
Tip: Enjoy the views from ANYWHERE on the lake
  1. If you need an ATM, not every town around the lake has one. Tzuna and Jaibalito don’t have one and a few others, including the popular village of San Marcos have only one. This can mean that the machine runs out of cash at times. So go in Pana or in San Pedro when you roll through and make sure you take out enough or at least keep enough in your pocket to get the boat over!
  2. Don’t forget that boats are the way to get around! If you get a bit seasick like me, you should be fine. It wouldn’t be worth taking any meds before your boat ride since most everything is under 20 minutes! Just try to maybe get a window seat and avoid extra choppy days! The winds can get really crazy on the lake.
  3. Don’t swim in the major towns and areas too close to the big piers… It’s not great or smart. Be on the lookout and ask about algae blooms, it should be pretty obvious though!
  4. Nov-April is Lake Atitlan’s dry season, and May-Oct is the rainy season. Afternoon showers are common during that time but everything is beautiful and green! The dry season means things are a bit dried and perhaps a shade of brown but when I went in Novemeber, just on the cusp, I found it to be perfect.
  5. Spanish is obviously helpful in Guatemala but keep in mind most people around the lake actually speak a variety of Mayan languages, like Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil. In fact, Spanish is their second language but most will know it and speak it when needed.
  6. Definitely don’t forget to pack some warmer clothes, I got quite cold when the sun set. A rain jacket and a dry bag wouldn’t hurt either for those rainier times! I also use my dry bag as a day bag sometimes if I know I’m doing water activities.
  7. Lake Atitlan is safe but anti-theft gear won’t hurt! Always watch your stuff, no matter how comfortable you are in the area, there are always opportunists lurking (this goes for anywhere in the world.) Using my anti-theft gear makes me feel better. It’s anti-slash, I can lock them to a chair etc. It help me keep my peace of mind.
  8. Stay where you live at night! Not only is it going to be safer, but if you need a boat after sunset it’s going to cost you more, you’ll have to haggle, and you’ll need to find somenoe willing to take you. So make sure to be back in the town your accomdation is at before dark.

RELATED: Best Anti Theft Backpacks, Bags, and Purses + Tips for Keeping Your Stuff Safe!

Day Trips From Lake Atitlan

If you plan on basing at Lake Atitlan and want to take some day trips from here, you do have some choices! You’d probably need to stay in Pana while doing these day trips.

Chichicastenango Market

Shop until you drop at one of the country’s most colorful and vibrant markets. Chichicastenango Market takes place in the western highlands, and on this full-day trip, you’ll be able to experience it all. You’ll go for a drive before arriving in the town’s central plaza, where market trader set up their wares for a day of selling.

Stalls at Chichicastenango Market in Guatemala
Chicicastenango Market near Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Admire the intricate handicrafts and get lost down the maze of alleys. If you go on this tour, you’ll also have the chance to explore the town of Panajachel on the lake. The market takes place every Thursday and Sunday, so if you are in the area during this time, put this on your list of things to do in Lake Atitlan.

→ Book this Lake Atitlan tour: Chichicastenango and Lake Atitlan

Mayan Ruins

You can’t visit Guatemala without admiring at least one set of ruins. It is like a right of passage. On this trip, you’ll see the Iximche Mayan Ruins, discovering what life was like 1000 years ago.

Ruins of building at Iximche in Guatemala
A day trip to Iximche is one of the essential things to do in Lake Atitlan

You’ll see the remains of pyramids and temples and learn all about fascinating Maya history at the museum. It is a great excursion for history lovers and better insight into Mayan life.

→ Book this Lake Atitlan tour: Iximche Mayan Ruin

Day Trips to Lake Atitlan

Sometimes when you travel, you don’t have enough time to see everything; we get it. So make the most of a bad situation and take a full-day tour to explore the lake, a great way to see a lot with a short amount of time.

On this full-day tour from Antigua, expect to see a few lake highlights, such as a stop at Panajachel and the chance to visit the vibrant market of Chichicastenango.

El Arco de Santa Catalina in Antigua Guatemala
Taking a day trip to Lake Atitlan from Antigua is an option! It’s a FULL day, but it’s better than no visit at all!

Another option is a lake boat tour from Guatemala City. Get out on the water, making stops at Santiago Atitlan and Panajachel. The comfortable boat gives you a great vantage point of many towns and the surrounding volcanoes.

When in Santiago, you’ll learn more about the traditional Tz’utujil Mayan lifestyle and are given free time to explore on your own and sample some of the local cuisines.

→ Book this Lake Atitlan tour: Full Day Tour from Guatemala City

I really hope this helped you plan your trip to Lake Atitlan!

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