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 Atitlan 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 and how to get around this unforgettable lake in Guatemala.
Visiting Lake Atitlan offers something for every type of traveller. Each of the 11 villages and towns on Lake Atitlan have their 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 Atitlan is that it’s so easy to get around and discover the allure of each one village.
How long should you spend 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:
San Pedro La Laguna
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 Airbnbs 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.
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.
San Marcos La Laguna
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.
Santa Cruz La Laguna
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 Atitlan
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 is 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, toasts, 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 — 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 6:30am to 7:30pm. After 7:30pm, 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 by 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.
Now that you’ve finished reading this guide, you’re almost ready for your adventure in Lake Atitlan. The next step is to create your personalised itinerary with our top picks of things to do in Lake Atitlan. Simply choose your favourite activities and places to visit, and you’re all set to make lasting memories in Lake Atitlan.
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Aleksandra is a writer and editor who recently moved from Hong Kong to London. She’s worked and studied in four countries (and counting) and picked up a new hobby in each of them. She’s a big fan of long train journeys so you can count on her to take the scenic route, finding a few hidden gems along the way.