Lake Atitlan is known by some as the most beautiful lake in the world. It is situated in the Guatemalan highlands approximately 50 kilometers west of Antigua and is the deepest lake in central Amercia. It was formed by a huge eruption 84,000 years ago and due to continual volcanic activity is now flanked by three big volcanos.
I arrived here after a 3 hour journey from Antigua, just when you think you have arrived you spend another 30-40 minutes driving down the twisty broken roads leading to the waters edge.
There are many local towns and villages around the lake all offering something a little bit different. I stayed in the main arrival town of Panajachel, it is mainly used as a base to get to the other towns but i quite liked it so stayed for a few days.
Obviously the streets are packed with souvenir shops and restuarants for the hordes of visiting tourists. It gets twice as bad at the weekends when the local and rich Guatemalans come to town for a weekend break.
The climate is cool and it can get quite chilly at night sometimes. The wind picks up during the day and the water can get quite choppy. It is always recommened that you do your boat trips in the morning unless you mind a bit of refreshing lake spray as you shoot from town to town.
I took a four stop tour of the lake one day which soon became a three stop tour when nobody else turned up at the agreed 8.30 a.m start. I was told to return at 9.30 a.m. and fortunately other people had arrived to do the shortened trip.
Our first stop was the small town of San Juan. Easily walkable in the hour we had including a stop for coffee. It was a nice relaxing little town where a few artists had set up gallerys and clearly enjoyed the peaceful environment.
First thing you see off the ferry, the only way is up –
This was the church at San Juan, i like the way they built the new church but kept the original front of the old.
Same road looking back down, i bet the locals have very firm leg muscles –
I had a coffee waiting for the boat to return and noticed how most people had returned before the hour was up. If it is peace and tranquility you are after and you are a bit of an artisan then this maybe the right town for you in Lake Atitlan.
Next stop was San Pedro, this is the backpacker/party town of Lake Atitlan plain and simple. Many people just come straight here after arriving by the lake and crash here for a while. Many hostels/hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, you name it its got it. It also has quite a lot of Spanish language schools, apparantly one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish in Guatemala.
The main Catholic church in San Pedro with its well kept gardens –
Whilst walking around town i came across the local cemetary. Instead of burying them they stack ’em high. All sorts of decoration from plain, coloured, window box features, pictures of loved ones on the front, some with no name.
Next stop was Santiago Atitlan, this town has the largest indigenous population of Tzutujile Mayans. Also seems to have the largest densitity of tourist shops too !! It was time for a bite to eat so i stopped in a cafe for a while to consume some calories before finding the central square. There were many ladies selling all sorts of produce sitting by the side of the road until some old gentleman caught my eye.
Now i don’t know about you but i have become very concious of taking photos of people, grabbing my camera and pointing it at someone whilst they are going about their everyday business. I don’t really do it anymore but wanted this shot which i think typifies the older Guatemalans nicely. This group of guys were sitting in the shade in the early afternoon, although they probably knew each other quite well they just preferred to sit and watch and conserve energy.
Sorry for the poor photo quality but i took it on my camera phone trying not to be too obvious but i think the second guy from left spotted me !!
I returned to Panajachel after seeing 3 completely different towns around the lake, i just wonder what the fourth one would have been like ?!
Having the volcanos in the back drop always made it a nice place to have a beer and a meal by the waters edge.
Gallo – the beer of Guatemala in its natural environment –
A good end to the day at Lake Atitlan.