Cafe Sabor Cruceño Santa Cruz Guatemala

Lake Atitlán Guatemala must be seen to be believed. Surrounded by breathtaking volcanoes, this stunning location is a must do when you are visiting Guatemala. Located in the southwestern highlands of Guatemala, this massive lake has formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. There are a number of towns and villages surrounding the lake. Each lakeside town has its own unique charm, from backpacker central of San Pedro, to the tranquil village of Santa Cruz and the hippy mecca of San Marcos La Laguna. This destination is one of the top things to do in Guatemala.

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About Lake Atitlán Guatemala

Lake Atitlán Guatemala is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The lake itself was formed around 84,000 years ago after a major volcanic eruption. Water has now filled the lake and there are still three volcanoes in the area. And it makes for an amazing view.

Getting to Lake Atitlán Guatemala

Wharf at San Pedro La Laguna Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Arriving at San Pedro

Lake Atitlán is around a 3 to 4 hour bus ride from Antigua Guatemala. We caught a shuttle bus to Lake Atitlán for 50 Quetzales per person (prices as at 2020). We got a travel deal on the bus tickets with Wicho and Charlie’s, because we also did the Acatenango Volcano Hike with them. The shuttle picked us up from our hotel in Antigua and dropped us at the village of Panajachel, which is the gateway to Lake Atitlán. From there you can catch a boat to one of the villages that’s scattered around the lake.

The shuttle to take us back to Antigua picked us up from Selina Atitlán Panajachel.

Getting around Lake Atitlán

Boat at Wharf at Santa Cruz Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Wharf at Santa Cruz

There is no road connecting all the different towns that are scattered along the edge of the lake.

To get in between the villages on Lake Atitlán you will need to catch a boat. The cheapest option will be the publico boats. A boat ride on a publico boat will cost you between 10 and 25 quetzales per person, depending on how far along the lake you go. Publico boats are reasonably frequent and sometimes you may be able to pay publico prices for a private boat if they are going in that direction anyway. Make sure you confirm the price before your trip and you pay at the end of your journey. Take care when getting in and out of the boats as it can be a bit tricky stepping from a rocky boat onto the pier. We would not recommend catching the boats if you are mobility impaired.

Pontoon at Santa Cruz Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Pontoon at Santa Cruz Lake Atitlán

To get around the villages, we walked. However there are also tuk tuks available, which can be a handy option if you don’t feel like walking up the steep hills of the area.

Towns of Lake Atitlán

Sababa Restaurant San Pedro Guatemala, lakeside restaurant, dreamcatcher, Lake Atitlan, water view
Sababa Restaurant San Pedro

There are a number of towns and villages on the edge of Lake Atitlán, each with their own unique charm. We’d recommend visiting a few different towns to experience all the area has to offer, as well as to see the beauty of this area from different vantage points.

The main towns in Lake Atitlán include:

  • Panajachel – the gateway to Lake Atitlán, with plenty of restaurant, shopping and accommodation options. If you only have limited time, then this destination will give you a good taste of the area.
  • San Pedro La Laguna – a great option for backpackers. It’s got a lot of restaurants lively vibe and a lot of places to eat and to shop around
  • San Marcos La Laguna – for those seeking an alternative lifestyle, this area has a laid back hippy vibe
  • Santa Cruz La Laguna – if you’re looking for a quiet place to relax and unwind, this is the place to come. Santa Cruz is a small tranquil village with just a few hotels and restaurants and with beautiful views across the lake to two of the volcanoes
Woman standing on Rooftop Balcony Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz Guatemala, woman in pink dress with yellow shawl
Rooftop Balcony at Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz
  • San Juan La Laguna – great for a more authentic local experience
  • Santa Catarina Palopó – perfect for souvenir shopping and learning about the local culture in their museum
  • Sololá – in this city many of the locals wear dress in traditional clothes

What to do at Lake Atitlán Guatemala

Man at San Pedro Lake Atitlan, Volcan San Pedro in background
San Pedro Lake Atitlán

There’s so many activities to do in Lake Atitlán and there’s really something for everyone. We’d recommend the following:

  • Take in the views of the lake from the water on one of the publico boats
  • For phenomenal views of the lake and outstanding food, visit the locally run Café Sabor Cruceño in Santa Cruz. The café supports the local community by promoting vocational skills for women. The café also runs cooking classes which look like lots of fun!
  • Hire a paddle board and explore the lake by water
  • Indulge in a weekend brunch at El Barrio San Pedro. Their 40 quetzal weekend brunch was ridiculously cheap for the mouth-watering banquet we received
Sunday Brunch at El Barrio San Pedro La Laguna Guatemala
Sunday Brunch at El Barrio San Pedro
  • Find inner peace with a yoga class at San Marcos la Laguna
  • Get active and hike one of the 3 volcanoes in the area – Volcán Atitlán, Volcán Tolimán or Volcán San Pedro
  • Cool off with a swim in the lake – we swam in the lake off Santa Cruz. We saw some locals swimming at San Pedro but we read that it wasn’t advisable to swim around San Pedro given the higher levels of pollution there.
  • For a cultural experience, visit one of the small communities on the edge of the lake where Mayan culture is alive and well and traditional dress is still worn. Santiago Atitlán is the largest of the lakeside communities in the area
  • Take a Spanish class at one of the Spanish schools
  • Put your trivia skills to the test with the weekly trivia night at Hostel Fe Bar San Pedro
Trivia at Hostel Fe San Pedro La Laguna Lake Atitlan Guatemala
Trivia at Hostel Fe San Pedro

How long to spend at Lake Atitlán

Our 4 days in Lake Atitlán weren’t nearly enough! There’s so much to see and do in this area that you could easily while away a couple of weeks or a month enjoying this beautiful area. We met a number of digital nomads during our stay here and it isn’t hard to understand why this is a popular location to base yourself while pursuing a digital lifestyle. If you’re short on time, you should be able to get a taste for the area in a couple of days.

Where to stay when visiting Lake Atitlán

San Pedro la Laguna – We stayed at an Airbnb in San Pedro with million dollar views for only USD$10 a night. There is a range of accommodation options to suit all tastes, from rowdy hostels to tranquil lakeside boutique hotels.

Santa Cruz la Laguna – We stayed at Casa Kaktus, a boutique hostel only a short walk from the shoreline. We love this place for its tranquillity, large rooms, friendly service, and nice inclusive breakfast. There is also a great balcony area that overlooks the lake. It’s very useful for a spot of sunrise yoga too! We made good use of the proximity to the lake here and swam a lot.

Bedroom Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz Guatemala
Bedroom Casa Kaktus Santa Cruz

Is Lake Atitlán Guatemala safe?

We found the town areas of Lake Atitlán to be a very safe. We walked around the area at night with no issues. The area is at altitude, so altitude sickness is a potential risk.

The signs of altitude sickness are:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of Breath

If you decide to hike any of the volcanoes or hills in the area, make sure you bring plenty of drinking water with you and consider taking a guide.

Woman Sitting on Pontoon at Santa Cruz Lake Atitlan Guatemala, Volcan San Pedro and Volcan de Atitlan
View of Volcán San Pedro and Volcán de Atitlán from Santa Cruz

Other general safety considerations for travel in Lake Atitlán:

  • Drinking water – The tap water in Lake Atitlán is not safe to drink. Everywhere we stayed while we were in Lake Atitlán provided filtered water for guests to use
  • Mosquitoes – Lake Atitlán is at altitude and there are no mosquitoes
  • Road safety – The roads around Lake Atitlán are steep and windy. We often travelled in vehicles without helmets or seat belts. Be aware that this does come with an element of risk
  • Water safety – We swam in the Santa Cruz area and we also saw locals swimming in at San Pedro. The water quality close to more populated areas might not be the cleanest, so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to get in the water. Take care when swimming as currents may be stronger than you expect
  • Sun safety – The UV Index is very high in Central America, so sun protection such as sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses is very important to ensure you don’t get burnt.
  • Dogs – In many countries in Central America, stray dogs are common. For more on dog safety while travelling, check out this video.

As with any destination, take all of your normal safety precautions.

Final thoughts on Lake Atitlán

Boat on Lake Atitlan San Pedro Guatemala
Boat on Lake Atitlán San Pedro

Lake Atitlán is one of our favourite areas in Central America. It’s no wonder why this place was nominated as one of the seven wonders of the world! This is a truly special place and although it is one of the most visited places in Guatemala it did not feel overcrowded. Be sure to add Lake Atitlán to your bucket list when planning your next Central America holiday!

If you want to learn more about visiting Lake Atitlán, check out our Lake Atitlán video.

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