Town hopping is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.
Every town has its own charm and something different to offer. There are 11 towns around Lake Atitlan. Whilst you don’t have to visit all of them, visiting a few really helps you to fall in love with the place.
Getting between them is super easy and the boat rides are part of the adventure too.
Here are the top Lake Atitlan towns that we recommend visiting:
A lot of people choose to stay in San Pedro. We talk about why in our Ultimate Lake Atitlan Guide.
It’s brimming with restaurants, cafes and bars as it’s one of the most popular places for tourists. There’s a lot going on in San Pedro that can keep you entertained.
A lot of the hikes around Lake Atitlan also start in San Pedro, including Indian Nose (see #2).
San Marcos is the town that gives Lake Atitlan its spiritual and holistic reputation.
The small streets of San Marcos seem to ooze relaxation, healing and tranquillity.
There are a number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants here, plus places to take part in ceremonies. It’s one of the best places for yoga and meditation.
The popular cliff jumping spot (#4) is located in San Marcos too.
Santa Cruz is one of the most relaxing towns on the lake. There are some beautiful accommodations here that offer the perfect spot for simply doing nothing.
However, there is an incredible local experience that you can join in Santa Cruz.
Panajachel is where most transportation will drop you off when you’re arriving at Lake Atitlan. You can use this opportunity to have a look around, grab a bite to eat and shop at the huge market.
Panajachel is by far the busiest and most developed town on the lake, but it won’t take you long to explore.
Go on an ATV tour
A popular activity to do from Panajachel is an ATV tour of the surrounding area.
The half-day tour allows you to explore some of the smaller villages around the lake. You also visit a local ceramic factory, chocolate factory and learn about the weaving traditions in Guatemala. It’s an experience full of fun and adrenaline!
The Indian Nose hike is a MUST when visiting Lake Atitlan.
The name comes from the fact that the mountain is shaped like the profile of a sleeping person, with ‘the nose’ being the highest point. This summit sits at just over 2,200m. Don’t worry, though, it’s not a hard hike, you only gain around 290m in elevation.
The hike up takes around 45 minutes from the start of the trail. It’s pretty steep, but the views at the top are completely worth the sweat.
When to hike Indian Nose
Undoubtedly, the best time to take on the Indian Nose hike is for sunrise.
Most people start the hike at around 4am, getting to the viewpoint in time to watch the sun wake up. The gentle golden light that is cast across the lake is indescribable.
On a good day, you can see up to eight of Guatemala’s volcanoes in the distance!
How to hike Indian Nose
The best place to stay for the Indian Nose hike is in San Pedro. This is where most of the tours run from, and the easiest place to get to the trailhead from.
A lot of people opt to join a tour which includes transportation and a guide. You can book these tours in San Pedro, costing between Q80-150 per person. The benefit of taking a tour is that you don’t have to worry about transportation so early in the morning.
Hiking Indian Nose without a tour
It’s possible and easy to hike Indian Nose without a tour.
Chicken buses run from San Pedro to Santa Clara La Laguna, where the trail starts, every 30 minutes. They start running at 3am from the church near the market.
The bus journey can take up to an hour, so take this into account when working out when to leave for sunrise.
Top Tip: Although there shouldn’t be an entrance fee for the hike, there might be people demanding payment to do the hike. They decide how much you should pay depending on how they’re feeling. This can range from Q15-100. You have no choice but to pay.
One reason people opt to join a tour is so they can avoid the hassle of dealing with these people.
The summit of San Pedro volcano sits at an impressive 3,020 metres and offers magnificent views of Lake Atitlan and Guatemala’s countryside.
The hike is extremely rewarding and may be one of your favourite things that you do in Lake Atitlan!
How to hike San Pedro volcano
The San Pedro volcano hike is 6.8 km long and takes between 5-6 hours, round trip.
The best place to start the hike is from San Pedro where you can take a tuk-tuk to the trailhead for Q10. We recommend starting early, before it’s too hot or the weather changes.
At the entrance to the hike, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee of Q100. This price also includes a guide if you want one. This trail is known to be frequented by bandits, so some people feel safer having a guide with them.
The hike starts off pretty flat and then gets gradually steeper, with a lot of stairs.
After around 3 hours you should reach the final viewpoint. At this point you’ll be breathless — either from the hike or the incredible view.
#4 Jump from 12 metres into Lake Atitlan
A popular thing to do in Lake Atitlan is to face your fears and jump from 12 metres into the water!
A wooden platform has been built purely for you to take that leap of faith into the water. It can be a nice place to hang out, watching people dive, cannonball and belly flop into the water.
It costs Q20 to enter the nature reserve, which also includes nice places to swim in the lake and some beautiful viewpoints.
#5 Hike from Santa Cruz to San Marcos
If you want to save the Q20 to get from Santa Cruz to San Marcos, then you can walk the distance instead.
We’re kidding. The nearly 3-hour walk is not worth it to save that little money. But the hike is an enjoyable way to explore the hidden paths surrounding Lake Atitlan.
For the majority of the hike, you’re treated to incredible views of the volcanoes and glistening waters of Lake Atitlan. It’s also not a particularly difficult hike. There are a few uphill parts, but the majority of the trail is flat.
You can savour the views and stop at coffee shops and cafes along the way. Maya Moon Lodge is a delicious and tranquil place to stop at.
#6 Get lost in Chichicastenango market
Chichicastenango is Latin America’s largest outdoor market. That’s saying something as Latin America has a lot of big markets.
Since the Mayans, Chichicastenango has been an important trading post and a significant town in Guatemala. It’s still as important today, acting as a place for locals to buy and sell goods, as well as interact with each other.
Anything you can think of, you can probably buy in Chichicastenango –– souvenirs, fruit and vegetables, freshly made bread, dishes from across the country, jewellery, clothes etc.
Top Tip: Chichicastenango has become popular amongst tourists now as well. Vendors like to charge you tourist prices. Always make sure to haggle on the price that you’re originally given.
The market is only on Thursdays and Sundays, with Sunday being the busier day, so plan your visit accordingly.
How to visit Chichicastenango from Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is one of the best places to visit Chichicastenango from. It’s easier and closer than visiting from Antigua.
There are two ways to get from Lake Atitlan to Chichicastenango. One that’s easy, but slightly more expensive. The other is the cheaper option, but way more adventurous.
By far the easiest way to get between the two places is by minivan. They run directly from Panajachel to Chichicastenango market itself.
The minivans leave at around 8am every day, bring you back at around 2pm and cost around $25 each way. You can book your minivan via Bookaway.
By chicken bus
We’ll be honest, taking the chicken buses to Chichicastenango definitely isn’t the most straightforward way. However, it is a lot of fun and cheaper than the minibus.
Like the minivan, your journey begins in Panajachel. There you need to take a chicken bus to Solola from outside Pollo Campero. The journey to Solola takes around 20 minutes and costs Q5.
From Solola, take another bus to Encuentros, the final stop. Again, this bus should cost around Q5 and take 40-minutes.
The final leg of the journey should be the easiest. When you get off the bus in Encuentros there will be lots of minivans, costing Q3-5 and offering to take you to Chichicastenango.
To return to Lake Atitlan, simply do the opposite journey.
#7 Test your flexibility and strength with yoga
Whether yoga is already part of your daily routine, or you can’t even touch your toes, Lake Atitlan is the perfect place to join a yoga class.
Yoga and its teachings are at the heart of what makes Lake Atitlan such a magical and spiritual place.
A lot of people come to Lake Atitlan purely for yoga!
Where can you take a yoga class in Lake Atitlan?
One of the best places on the lake to do yoga is at Eagles Nest Atitlan. They have the most incredible platform for their yoga classes that overlooks the lake. It can’t get much more blissful.
They run yoga classes every day, exploring a variety of yoga styles that cater for beginners and intermediate yogis. Each class lasts for 90 minutes and costs $20.
There are also plenty of multi-day yoga retreats that you can join.
#8 Take part in a Temazcal ceremony
If you’re travelling through Central America, particularly Guatemala and Mexico, you’ll keep on hearing about Temazcal ceremonies.
You may recognise the name, but not know what it actually is.
What is a Temazcal ceremony?
Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge that originated from the pre-Hispanic indigenous people in Mesoamerica.
Built out of earth, stones and clay, they are typically constructed as round structures symbolising a pregnant woman’s belly.
It’s believed that people emerge from this symbolic womb spiritually reborn. During your time inside the Temazcal, your body rids itself of toxins through sweating.
It’s not just a physical experience, though. Song and prayer are used to encourage reflection and introspection, leaving your spirit feeling renewed too. As well as being a rejuvenating opportunity, taking part in a Temazcal ceremony is also a way to experience an ancient culture.
The Yoga Forest can arrange a Temazcal ceremony upon request.
#9 Take part in a Cacao Ceremony
Lake Atitlan is a hub for all things spiritual, including Cacao Ceremonies.
You’ll find Cacao Ceremonies throughout Central and South America as the ceremonies were conducted by the Maya and Ancient Aztec civilisations.
What is a Cacao Ceremony?
A Cacao Ceremony is a celebratory ritual that opens the heart through the use of cacao.
It involves drinking cacao, usually in a communal gathering. Depending on the ceremony, breathwork, meditation, sound, dance and music are used to form intentions and connections.
Cacao ceremonies are an incredible experience in Lake Atitlan. Whether you’ve done it before or not, this is a magical place to take part in one.
The Yoga Forest in San Marcos offers a number of different ceremonies, including cacao.
#10 Go kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding
So far we’ve only mentioned exploring Lake Atitlan by land, but one of the best ways to enjoy the lake is by taking to its waters.
It can get hot in Guatemala, so hiring a kayak or SUP board can be a great way to cool off and unleash your inner child. It can also be a highly relaxing experience, allowing you to escape the noise from the shores of the lake.
There are plenty of places where you can hire kayaks and SUP boards, including the dock in San Pedro and Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos.
Prices start at around Q15 per hour.
#11 Visit Iximche
Guatemala is brimming with former Maya cities — Tikal, El Mirador, Yaxha and Iximche.
Iximche is close to Lake Atitlan and therefore a great day trip.
History of Iximche
Between the 15th and 16th century, Iximche was the capital city of the Kaqchikel Maya. Over this period, impressive plazas and over 170 structures were built.
The city thrived until the Spanish conquerors came along and eventually burned a large majority of the city down.
Nowadays, Iximche is one of the smaller and less touristy Maya ruins in Guatemala. The majority of visitors are of Mayan descent, going there to perform ceremonies and visit the sacred area.
You may even see a Mayan ritual!
There is also a small museum that you can visit whilst you’re at Iximche.
How to visit Iximche
Iximche is located just under two hours from Lake Atitlan. The best way to get between the two spots is by car.
However, if you don’t have a car, the next best option is to join a tour.
This 6-hour tour to Iximche includes transportation, entrance ticket and a guide. There are no official guides at Iximche, so having your own professional and knowledgeable one will make the experience even better.
The entrance ticket to Iximche costs Q50 and it’s open everyday from 8am-4pm.
Paragliding is on a lot of peoples bucket lists, so where better than Lake Atitlan in Guatemala to tick it off?
The lake offers some of the most stunning sights you’ve ever seen, and that’s just from the ground. Soaring through the air, you get a birds-eye-view of Lake Atitlan and the three volcanoes that line its shores.
All of this beauty with no engine or noise pollution feels magical. It’s idyllic, and not as scary as it seems.
Lake Atitlan offers ideal weather conditions, allowing you to stay up in the air for longer. Most flights last between 20-45 minutes.
Knowing Spanish whilst travelling in Latin America can be extremely helpful as a lot of the locals don’t speak English. Learning the language is also a great way to immerse yourself into the culture and lives of the locals.
There are a number of Spanish schools situated on Lake Atitlan, with many of them also offering homestays.
Spending a few hours a day learning Spanish and the rest relaxing at one of the most spectacular lakes in the world? Sounds like a great addition to a Guatemala itinerary to us!
Lake Atitlan Spanish School is a highly rated school with 10 hours of lessons starting at Q600. They combine a mixture of both indoor and outdoor lessons to accelerate your learning, and use some of your payment to support their social project ‘Building my Dream’.
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