Our next stop in Guatemala was Lake Atitlan. Depending on what you read & by whom; Atitlan is definitely up there, in the top ten lakes of the World to visit. So of course we had to visit.
The lake is 1120 ft at its deepest. The basin is volcanic in origin, formed 84,000 years ago.
Atitlan lake is surrounded by 13 villages, overlooked by 3 large volcanoes: San Pedro is the oldest, Toliman is probably active (although has not erupted in known times) & Atitlan last erupted in 1853.
We were told that the villages were named after the Apostles, but there seem to be a few names missing on the map.
We were also informed by a local, that apart from Spanish, the local Mayan people speak a total of 4 distinct indigenous languages, depending on which villages they live.
We based ourselves here, as it is the most popular village/town for tourists, used as a hub for visiting the other villages around the lake.
Panajachel has received mixed reviews, regarding it being too touristy. We visited 3 other villages around the lake; each offers something different to the other.
We quite liked Panajachel. I guess it helped that we visited during low season, but we didn’t feel it was too touristy.
From Panajachel we took boat trips to 3 other villages:
This was the first village we visited & our favourite. It was a quiet village, with few tourists (apart from boat trips). The Mayan people here were in traditional dress, including the men. There was a large art focus to the village, with galleries as well as street art.
Many of the textile shops had women weaving fabric on a traditional loom. It had a relaxed feel with no hassle from locals to purchase anything.
The above photo shows local village life overlooked by the famous mountain ‘The Indian’s Nose’. You can take a 3hr hike & sit in his nostril if you fancy it.
We were looking forward to this town, as we had read that many people prefer San Pedro to Panajachel. If fact our last hotel owner recommended it, as a more authentic experience. We were a little dissapointed, as we felt it was still touristy. It’s just attracts a different tourist: young, bare footed backpackers, rather than the mainstream tourists attracted to Pana. It appears to have a wealth of restaurants & bars & I imagine, a great nightlife.
I must admit the weather turned bad for our lake crossing here, & I was feeling ill & sorry for myself when we arrived. This may have had a big impact of how I felt about Santiago. We were both dissapointed by the town. As you get off the boat you walk through a street of hawkers, desperately trying to get you to buy stuff (no doesn’t mean no here, even after 5 mins of politely saying it).
Once you’ve walked for about 10mins you reach the main town. This looked more interesting & to be fair, it might have been good to spend more time here to get a better impression. There are certainly fewer tourists here. Locals were again dressed in traditional dress; the men in cowboy hats & short, often embroidered trousers.
There is also a lot of construction going on, which spoils the look of the place. Around the headland, away from the main village, there are certainly some luxury properties hidden away.
I had read before our visit that the lake is rising each year & there are warnings not to buy property on the shoreline. There is evidence everywhere of structures half submerged. A local told us the damage was done in the hurricanes of 2007 & 2010. Whatever the reason, do not be surprised to see shops & houses half submerged along the shore around the lake.
For a more extensive write up on Lake Atitlan see Globetrottergirls