Lake Atitlan is a place that captures people’s hearts.
Why? It’s a huge crystal-clear lake that’s surrounded by impressive volcanoes and rolling hills. Everywhere you look, you’ll be in awe of what nature can create.
Whilst the scenery is the definition of idyllic, there is so much more to visiting Lake Atitlán than just the views. Hiking, yoga and meditation, Temazcal… the list goes on!
If you’re visiting Lake Atitlan soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know which town on the lake to stay in, where to find the best restaurants, how to get around and what to do in this beautiful lake town in Guatemala.
Is Lake Atitlan worth visiting?
Visiting Lake Atitlan offers something for every type of traveller. Each of the 11 villages and towns on Lake Atitlan has its own personality and charm.
If hiking is your thing, plenty of great hikes start in San Pedro. Looking to enjoy incredible lake views and simply relax? Santa Cruz might be your place.
Lake Atitlan is also a hotspot for yoga, meditation and spirituality. Especially in the town of San Marcos, a welcoming and friendly ‘hippie’ community has formed, creating a place to try new things.
The beauty of Lake Atitlán is that it’s so easy to get around and discover the allure of each village.
How long should you stay in Lake Atitlan?
We recommend dividing your time between a few of the towns on Lake Atitlan — essentially town hopping. A night or two in 2-3 towns gives you a good amount of time to explore the lake and get a feel of the different areas.
It’s easy to slip into the laid-back vibe of Lake Atitlan and forget how much time you’re spending there. Those not restricted by time can easily end up spending a month on Lake Atitlan.
For most people, though, 4-7 days is enough.
Where to stay on Lake Atitlan
There are 11 towns and villages scattered on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The best part is that you don’t have to pick just one.
Stay in a few different towns, experiencing what each of them has to offer. Getting between the towns is relatively easy, so you have nothing to lose.
To help you pick the right places to stay, we’ve chosen our 4 favourite spots on Lake Atitlan:
Location #1: San Pedro La Laguna — one of the most popular towns
- Best for: Nightlife, great restaurants and learning Spanish. The social scene amongst locals and visitors is very vibrant here. Easy transportation.
- Who is it for: San Pedro is one of the most popular towns, especially for backpackers.
- Don’t miss: If you want to pick up a new skill, San Pedro is home to some of the best Spanish schools on the lake.
- Biggest downside: Feels super busy and slightly touristy.
Accommodation in San Pedro
As San Pedro is one of the most popular places to stay, there are plenty of accommodation options. On the flip side, they also get booked up pretty fast.
Accommodation ranges from hostels and Airbnb to quite fancy resorts and hotels. Amigos is a great spot if you’re looking for somewhere cheap, nice and in a good location.
If you want to treat yourself, then Sababa Resort is amongst the best of the best.
Private rooms in San Pedro start at around $15 per night.
Location #2: Panajachel — a more local town on Lake Atitlan
- Best for: Restaurants, street food and convenience. A lot of buses from major towns in Guatemala will drop you off in Panajachel.
- Who is it for: Travellers looking to have a more local experience.
- Don’t miss: The large market that rivals Chichicastenango.
- Biggest downside: It can feel busy and the swimming spots in this area aren’t the best.
Accommodation in Panajachel
Panajachel offers the highest number of accommodations to choose from. A lot of the accommodations here are bigger than elsewhere on Lake Atitlan.
You can still find a number of hostels, homestays and small hotels, though.
Hotel Villas Balam Ya is our favourite place in Panajachel. You can have your own incredible and luxurious villa overlooking the lake. For a more budget-friendly option, Posada don Miguel is a great option.
Private rooms in Panajachel start at around $17 per night.
Location #3: San Marcos La Laguna — Lake Atitlan’s hippie town
- Best for: Yoga and meditation. Try cacao ceremonies, ecstatic dance, crystal therapies, temazcal and much more.
- Who is it for: Those looking to relax, rejuvenate and explore new things.
- Don’t miss: The healthy restaurants and cafes in San Marcos are perfect for chilling in.
- Biggest downside: Fewer accommodation options.
Accommodation in San Marcos
There aren’t as many accommodation options in San Marcos. For this reason, some people choose to stay in another town on the lake and get the boat over to San Marcos.
San Marcos is home to the renowned hotel, the Eagle’s Nest. It’s known throughout Guatemala for its yoga, meditation and spiritual practices.
Top tip: If you can’t afford a night at Eagle’s Nest but you want to enjoy their panoramic yoga platform, you can book a drop-in yoga class online.
Private rooms in San Marcos start at around $30.
Location #4: Santa Cruz La Laguna — the quietest town
- Best for: Relaxing and breathtaking lake views. Santa Cruz is the quietest town out of the ones that we’ve mentioned.
- Who is it for: Travellers who want to slow down and soak up the views (but still with a social atmosphere). Most people stay in Santa Cruz due to the two well-known hostels — Free Cerveza and La Iguana Perdida.
- Don’t miss: Swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding.
- Biggest downside: Not as many things to do as some of the other towns.
Accommodation in Santa Cruz
Pretty much all of the places to stay in Santa Cruz offer spectacular views of the lake. As Santa Cruz is more of a place to relax, the accommodations put more emphasis on creating idyllic and tranquil environments.
Aside from the hostels mentioned above, Atitlan Sunset Lodge is also a magnificent place, offering both private and dorm rooms.
Where to eat in Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlan is one of Guatemala’s most famous spots. It receives visitors from all over the world, which has also brought a global food scene.
Most cuisines that you can think of, you can probably get in Lake Atitlan.
Of course, there are plenty of local spots and street food to indulge in some Guatemalan cuisine, but there are also Japanese, Italian, vegetarian, vegan and many more types of food.
Here are our top 3 places to eat in Lake Atitlan:
Samsara’s Garden — delicious and healthy spot in San Marcos
Samsara’s Garden emanates the vibe of San Marcos. Hidden in a garden, it’s a relaxing and quiet spot to enjoy great food.
Offering only vegan food, they are adventurous and creative with their flavours. It’s delicious! They offer a range of dishes such as tacos, noodles, toast, smoothie bowls and more. Samsara’s Garden really knows how to get the most from tempeh and tofu.
Sababa Restaurant — an Israeli restaurant with a view in San Pedro
Sababa is one of Lake Atitlan’s most popular restaurants. It has all the right ingredients for an amazing place – a panoramic view of the lake, cute interior and mouth-watering Israeli food.
Here you can sit on a swing, overlooking the lake, whilst enjoying some shakshuka, hummus or a massive sandwich! They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it might become your new local.
Deli Jasmin — a popular place for breakfast and lunch in Panajachel
Deli Jasmin is another great spot to visit if you enjoy vegan and vegetarian food. They also offer meat dishes, but you won’t miss meat with how good their vegetarian plates are!
Situated in Panajachel, amongst lush greenery, Deli Jasmin is particularly popular for breakfast and lunch. Fair warning: it can get pretty busy, so it’s probably not the place to go if you’re in a rush.
How to get around Lake Atitlan
When you arrive at Lake Atitlan, your mode of transport predominantly changes from vehicles to boats.
Getting between the towns on Lake Atitlan is very easy, and once you’re in the towns, it’s even easier.
Here are the main ways to get around Lake Atitlan
Instead of roads, most of the towns around Lake Atitlan are connected by boat.
Every town has a dock where you’ll find boats ferrying people around the lake. There are both public and private boats, so make sure to get on the public one for a cheaper ride.
Most boats tend to leave every 30 minutes or whenever they are full. Journeys between the different towns on Lake Atitlan cost between Q10-25.
The boats run between 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. After 7:30 pm, it becomes more difficult to move around the lake, and you’ll need to find a private driver to make the journey.
None of the towns on Lake Atitlan are huge. Although they might be hilly, they are perfect for exploring on foot.
You should be able to walk to most places that you want to get to.
If your accommodation is too far from the boat dock, or you just don’t fancy walking, then there are tuk-tuks. They wizz around the towns and can be found easily.
Tuk-tuk rides cost around Q5 per person. Make sure to haggle when you’re agreeing on the price.
Top 14 things to do in Lake Atitlan
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Lake Atitlan and how to experience them.
Best tours in and around Lake Atitlan
- Hands-on Guatemalan cooking class and feast with a view for $55
- Exhilarating ATV tour to explore the outskirts of Lake Atitlan for $57
- All-day tour to Iximche ruins for $74.
#1 Explore the different towns in Lake Atitlan
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 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.
A local experience
This private traditional and cultural tour in Santa Cruz is led by local women, offering a fascinating insight into Maya life in this area.
You’ll witness how ancient traditions can still be seen in modern Guatemala, take a cooking class, learn about local handicrafts and enjoy a Temazcal experience.
Lake Atitlan can feel somewhat touristy, but this experience allows you to see another side of the lake. A more traditional one.
Book your private traditional and cultural tour in Santa Cruz for $64.
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!
Book your half-day ATV tour to explore the outskirts of Lake Atitlan for $57.
#2 Hike the incredible Indian Nose
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 at sunrise.
Most people start the hike at around 4 am, 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 3 am 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.
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.
#3 Take on the challenge of San Pedro Volcano
If Indian Nose is a little too easy for you, consider hiking San Pedro Volcano.
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 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!
You can try it yourself in the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos.
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 the lake.
For the majority of the hike, you’re treated to incredible views of the volcanoes and glistening water. 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.
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 get from Lake Atitlan to Chichicastenango
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 8 am every day, bring you back at around 2 pm 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 the lake such a magical and spiritual place.
A lot of people come here 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 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 centuries, 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, an 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 every day from 8 am-4 pm.
Book your all-day tour to Iximche including transportation, entrance and guide for $74.
#12 Join a Guatemalan cooking class
If you couldn’t possibly leave Guatemala without knowing how your favourite dishes are made, then you should join a cooking class.
This 4-hour long cooking class near Panajachel allows you to discover the blend of Mayan and Spanish colonial flavours that give Central American cuisine its unique taste.
Over the course of the cooking class you’ll get to prepare three typical Guatemalan dishes.
As well as learning what ingredients are needed to make the dish, you’ll be able to pick up unique cooking techniques used in Guatemala.
As a reward for all your hard work, you’ll finish the class by enjoying a tasty lunch consisting of the dishes that you made. Plus, you receive a recipe book to recreate the dishes at home.
Book your hands-on Guatemalan cooking class and enjoy a feast with a view for $55.
#13 Paraglide over Lake Atitlan
Paragliding is on a lot of people’s 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 the lake 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.
Real World Paragliding offers an unforgettable experience, with flights costing Q700.
#14 Take Spanish lessons on Lake Atitlan
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 in 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’.
Rounding it up
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in Lake Atitlan, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. After reading our guide, you should know where to eat, stay and how to get around Lake Atitlan.
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