Weekend at the Lake: Lago Atitlan, Guatemala

I’ve always heard people say, “weekend at the lake” or “let’s spend the weekend at the lake”. If we did things like that as a child, I don’t remember but I can tell you that after a weekend at Lake Atitlan I get it.

Lago Atitlan

It was quite a trip from Guatemala City but so worth it. I think that next time I would spend more than a weekend there, maybe a week or two to explore all the magic of Atitlan. Lago Atitlan is this beautiful, picturesque lake. They call it El ombligo del Mundo, translates to the bellybutton of the world. It’s the lake, the towns, the volcanos and the overall view.

Back to my story of why I want to go back, when we went we were trying to do several things in one weekend. We were trying to spend time with family, get to know Guatemala and research for my art. One weekend is all we had, but it was enough to give us a taste and desire to return.

Guatemala Chicken Bus

We arrived at Panajachel after a long bus ride, the famous Chicken buses. They are not as bad as some tourists say plus they are super cheap, 10 Quetzales each way per person, which translates to about $1.39 depending on the dollar exchange of the day. I don’t know about you guys but when you are trying to make the most of your hard earned money and making it last, that’s a good deal. You get to experience the everyday life of Guatemala. You hear interesting dialects, people sit next to you that are so shy because they are not used to tourists on these buses. Yet everyone was nice, bus drivers gave us instructions and we got there in one piece. It did help that I am fluent in spanish.


Panajachel, Guatemala

I had read a lot through my research that Panajachel was too Americanized and very touristic. Because of all this my research was more geared to the other towns across the lake. Let me tell you now, do not listen to the snooty people that say those things. I wish I would have spent more time here. I spent not even half a day and of course this was not enough. This is also the best place to see the best sunset. So this tells you how upset I was and still am that I missed that photo opportunity. There is so much to see on the streets of Panajachel. It’s true there are many of tourists that have stayed, but with good reason, that amazing view and serenity of that lake. Honestly they act like locals, they just look american or european. We did make a stop at a cute art gallery which displays work from Guatemalan artists. Some great talent in this gallery. Once he found out I was Guatemalan and an artist he encouraged me to show work there.


Lago Atitlan by Lancha

After a little lunch stop we headed towards the lanchas (small boat) that would take us across to our destination. On my research several people said it was about 20 Quetzales per person and I believed them. Nope, every single one no matter what town you were heading to 50 Quetzales per person and I was not doing the talking but my aunt who is from Guatemala with an accent. If you do the math it’s less than $7 per person, but when you had in your mind you would pay $2.5 it’s kind of a let down. Especially when you are traveling with a group. Nothing you can do and you must experience the lake and get to the other towns.

San Pedro

We arrived in the town of San Pedro. From my research a lot of people said that this was the best place to stay because you could find the cheaper hotels. When we arrived I realized that these people must have been backpackers or students who would be staying in hostels because I didn’t see anywhere I wanted to stay. Not to mention there was not a great deal to see. They talked about their beautiful plaza and church, it was OK, nothing that amazing. We asked locals where we should stop and what we needed to see of San Pedro, they didn’t seem too proud of their own town. They told us themselves there was not much to see, that Santiago had more to offer. They suggested the Mirador, which we did go see it and took some pictures because the view is great. BUT we could have seen this in the Santiago Mirador or any of the other towns and skipped San Pedro.

San Pedro

I did hear a big group of young people that got off with us that this was the Tijuana of Panajachel. I’m assuming that the action happens after dark and it may be a party town. Unfortunately that is not what we were looking for after a long, hot day of traveling and we were trying to spend family time not separating to go party.

From here we took another lancha (boat) which took us to Santiago. We took the last one out right before sunset, maybe there are others but I would not recommend it. Because the temperature has changed and they are going against the current (that’s what I was told) we kept getting soaked and it was a bumpy ride. I can’t imagine going any later.


Santiago, Guatemala

I know I only saw San Pedro and part of Panajachel but I have to say Santiago was my favorite. This means I have more to write about since I saw more. Santiago will end up having it’s own post after this teaser.

We arrived right in time to check in a hotel and to drop all our gear and head to the dock and see the sunset. In the back of my mind I was thinking of how the sunset was from Panajachel. The photographer in me, sorry.

Santiago, Guatemala

We settled at one of the first hotels closer to the dock. Not saying it was the best, but they did negotiate to 300 Quetzales for 5 people. That is 60 Quetzales per person, or less than $8 per person for private rooms.

Lets forget the hotel, because there is more to Santiago.

El Pescador was where we decided on having dinner at. I wanted to know what the hype was about, they are the #1 suggestion for Guatemalan food on TripAdvisor.

We strolled the streets of Santiago at night, and saw interesting things. While some parts of Guatemala may not be safe to be out at night. This was not the case in Santiago. Everyone was either nice or too shy to say anything.

Next day all I wanted to see before we left was to see the famous Maximon. This is the number one thing you find on the internet about Santiago. I wanted to see, learn and photograph this very ancient tradition.

Maximon, Santiago Guatemala

We strolled all the places to see in Santiago.They have a gorgeous church I couldn’t stop photographing and trying to imagine how it looked 60-1000 years ago. We went to the market, I don’t know if it was because it was Sunday but it was never ending. So many different foods and everyone making some amazingly smelling food.




We had a late breakfast in a cute restaurant/art gallery named Kape Ixim Ché. I stopped for the art and we ended up eating there after meeting the lovely artistic local family. Best food I had all weekend.

After a little more strolling uphill and downhill, doing great exercise we decided to start our four hour trip back to the city. No lancha back to Panajachel, just a straight bus back to Guatemala City. The buses leave almost every hour according to the man we asked.

Overall Lago Atitlan was beautiful and a place everyone should try to make a stop at while in Guatemala. There is something for everything, backpackers on a budget to luxury boutique hotels. I’m hoping next time we get to see other towns and stay a little longer to appreciate it better.

I have more pictures on our social media.





Leslie M. Guzmán is a Guatemalan artist best known for her creative explorations of world cultures. Her works capture the untold stories of people, objects and the places from which they come.


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