Lake Atitlan, Guatemala is easily one of the most unique places you could ever visit in Central America, and for anyone planning a trip to this location, staying for a few days to visit the many Lake Atitlan villages is an absolute must.
Did you know it’s known as one of the most beautiful places on earth? No surprise!
These turquoise waters are known for being a natural wonder surrounded by lush hills and imposing volcanoes, but there’s actually so much more to see and do here.
That’s why I’m sharing the best towns and villages around Lake Atitlan you definitely cannot miss, as well as the top things to do so you make the most out of your trip – even if you’re only staying for a short time.
Lake Atitlan Villages
There are 12 Lake Atitlan towns to explore around the lake. But before you get overwhelmed by this number, I’ve got good news: they’re all really close to one another and most of them are easily accessible for tourists.
You don’t need to worry about where to stay in Lake Atitlan or which towns to visit. In this travel guide, you’ll find the most popular villages and everything you need to know about them to make your decision easier.
Facts About Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, located in the heart of the Guatemalan Highlands with three surrounding volcanoes:
Despite having two seasons, Guatemala generally has the perfect weather with warm days and cooler nights. The dry season runs from November to April and is the most popular time for tourists. Whereas the rainy season, from May to October, might not have as many sunny days but you can enjoy the best prices and a less crowded area.
Towns around Lake Atitlan are home to indigenous communities and keep their Mayan roots and ancient culture intact. Each Lake Atitlan village is very different from one another and has its own characteristic style and costumes – this is what makes them so interesting to explore!
A Place For Coffee Lovers
Guatemala is known for its delicious coffee. For many generations, the country has taken advantage of its rich soil, tropical climate, and abundant rain to grow great-quality coffee beans – so tasting some local coffee here is a must!
Cool fact: Many coffee beans are grown in Volcanic ashes, which gives them an additional distinguished taste.
How To Get To Lake Atitlan
From Antigua, it will take you approximately 2.5-3 hours to get to the lake; if you’re coming from the airport or Guatemala City, the trip will be much longer (up to 5 hours). Either way, the easiest way to get to Lake Atitlan is to get a shared or private shuttle service, which you can book through your hostel or a travel agency.
If you’re coming from Antigua: another way (and a cheaper one) is to take a chicken bus. The chicken bus departs from Antigua at 7 am and arrives at Panajachel (a popular Lake Atitlan village). It costs only Q35.
Also, check out this complete Antigua travel guide if it’s your first time going!
How To Get Around Lake Atitlan Villages
Lake Atitlan villages are quite close to each other. This is great since it makes it easy to explore the different towns independently of where you’re staying.
The main means of transportation in Lake Atitlan are small boats called ‘lanchas’. These are public boats that transport around 20 people and can take you to most villages around the lake. You can expect to pay between 15 and 30 Quetzales per ride. You can also ask for a private boat ride, which is usually more expensive.
Another common way to travel between nearby villages is by renting tuk-tuks. They’re usually not expensive, however, you might need to negotiate the prices since they tend to overcharge tourists.
Feeling brave? Find out how to go on a spontaneous road trip alone! Even in Guatemala it’s possible!
Where To Stay In Lake Atitlan
The most popular villages to stay in Lake Atitlán are Panajachel, San Marcos, and San Pedro; but which one you choose will depend on things like your budget, transport, and the general vibe you’re looking for – some locations will be quieter and with a stronger local presence while others are more lively and touristy.
Each village has something special of its own and will offer a different experience. Here’s all you need to know about the best Lake Atitlan villages so you can choose which one is the best for you.
Of all Lake Atitlan villages, Panajachel (also known as Pana) is the largest and most developed town around the lake. Apart from being surrounded by beautiful nature, Panajachel has a wide selection of resources and facilities like high-end hotels and restaurants, shops and markets with good prices, Spanish schools, and even communities of US and European expats – which makes it a great place for digital nomads!
Did you know it’s an extremely affordable village too? Find out how to stay in Panajachel on a budget here!
Additionally, it is the most easily accessible village on Lake Atitlan and is connected to other towns as well, with multiple buses and boats departing to different locations in Guatemala. This makes Panajachel a great option if you want to visit nearby villages with ease – it also means that it can get rather crowded and busy, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Things To Do In Panajachel
One of the advantages of staying in Panajachel is the great variety of activities you can do. Here are a few things not to miss:
- Visit The Local Market – Pana has a large, colorful market along Calle Santander, which is the main street. Here you’ll find lots of traditional Mayan goods like handicrafts, clothes, pottery, and street food.
- Kayak and Paddle Board On The Lake – Stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking are a great way of enjoying the scenery and many hotels offer hourly kayak and board rentals.
- Hike The Surrounding Mountains – There are mountains all around Pana with many dirt trails you can pick from for your day hikes. Although these trails can be challenging, getting to the top for a panoramic view of the lake and towns is absolutely worth it.
- Take A Yoga Class – There are yoga centers and retreats all around Lake Atitlán that offer classes for all levels.
- Parasailing – Experience the most unique views of Lake Atitlan from the sky.
Where To Eat in Panajachel
The best thing about Pana’s restaurants and cafes is that you can have the best views while sipping your coffee. I suggest trying these places:
- Food street! – you will literally never regret it!
Hotels In Panajachel
- Budget ($) — Selina Hostel
- Best Value ($$) — Regis Hotel & Spa
- Luxe ($$$) —- Hotel San Buenaventura De Atitlan
- Unique ($-$$$) —- Jenna’s River Bed and Breakfast
Santa Catarina Palopó
Santa Catarina Palopó is a tiny village located just outside Panajachel and its popularity has been growing in recent years, becoming one of the loveliest Lake Atitlan villages.
Despite not being very touristy and mostly considered a day trip destination from Panajachel, Santa Catarina Palopó has undergone several changes to spark tourism and economic growth. This led the local organization Pintando El Cambio (Painting Change) to paint hundreds of buildings around the town to make this village more attractive to visitors.
Staying in Santa Catarina Palopó might be the right choice for you if you want to have a relaxing trip in a quiet place that offers a slower pace of life compared to other towns. The good thing is that if you suddenly feel in the mood for some fun and adventure, the exciting and lively Panajachel is only 5 minutes away!
Things To Do In Santa Catarina Palopó
- Pintando El Cambio Museum – Pintando El Cambio has a museum where you can learn about the meaning behind the different designs, patterns, and symbols that you see in the Santa Catarina streets. You’ll definitely appreciate this town at a new level after checking out the museum.
- Visit the Centro Cultural – this center is free and provides a more thorough background of the town’s history, traditions, and culture.
- Swim in Natural Hot Springs – Santa Catarina is the only location in Lake Atitlan with natural hot waters where you can hang out and swim while enjoying some nice views of the village.
- Go shopping at the Central Plaza – the Central Plaza is small but you’ll find several art galleries and shops with colorful handcrafted goods.
- Visit San Antonio Palopó – this is another nearby village that’s worth visiting that has become popular in Lake Atitlan for its hand-made pottery and ceramics. You can easily get there by tuk-tuk or boat.
Where To Eat in Santa Catarina Palopó
Hotels In Santa Catarina Palopó
- Budget ($) — Hotel Villa Santa Catarina
- Best Value ($$) — Villas B’alam Ya
- Luxe ($$$) —- Tzampoc Resort
- Unique ($-$$$) —- Casa Palopo
San Pedro La Laguna
Although San Pedro is right beside San Juan, its atmosphere is the complete opposite! The numerous backpackers that stop here have made San Pedro a very popular destination and one of the liveliest towns around Lake Atitlan.
If you’re a party person who enjoys going out at night, meeting new people, and having a good time, you’ll be glad to know that San Pedro has lots of clubs, bars, and restaurants – you’ll also find the place full of backpackers, digital nomads and travelers from around the world!
Things To Do In San Pedro La Laguna
Despite the touristy feeling of San Pedro, the presence of locals and the Mayan culture is still there, and there’s so much to explore and discover underneath the surface of this vibrant hotspot.
- Wander the colorful streets – as you look around the streets of San Pedro, you’ll come across unique painted murals, a local market, small parks like Parque Puerta Hermosa, and art galleries where you can take painting classes.
- Tzunun’ Ya’ Museum – for Q35, get a brief but worthy tour of the history, geology, and culture of the town, as well as Lake Atitlan’s origins.
- Indian Nose – hiking this mountain that resembles the face of a man looking up at the sky is one of the most popular things to do in San Pedro and the best spot in town to watch the sunrise.
- Kayaking and Paddleboarding – there are many places to rent kayaks and paddleboards. The tranquil waters and surrounding mountains make the perfect scenery for a sunset adventure in the lake. You can take a class, a tour, or you can go on your own.
- Take a cooking class – discover new flavors and learn how to prepare authentic Guatemalan dishes.
- Coffee tour at Cafe Las Cristalinas – take a tour around the plantations and learn all about the production process and coffee industry in Guatemala – and of course, taste delicious coffee and chocolate.
- Visit nearby villages – San Pedro is close to other beautiful Lake Atitlan villages, such as San Juan, San Marcos, and Santiago Atitlán, so there’ll always be more to explore if you run out of things to do.
Tours You Should Try in San Pedro:
Where To Eat in San Pedro
Hotels In San Pedro La Laguna
- Budget ($) — Hotel Amigos
- Best Value ($$) — Mikaso Hotel Resto
- Luxe ($$$) —- Hotel Sak’cari
- Unique ($-$$$) —- Sababa Resort
Visiting Guatemala? Don’t miss my Antigua, Guatemala travel guide!
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San Juan La Laguna
San Juan is significantly smaller compared to other towns around Lake Atitlan, but it’s still one of the most charming ones. Its streets are incredibly clean and full of colorful buildings, murals, little hidden cafes, and restaurants.
San Juan is more popular as a day trip destination than a place to stay, this is why the village has preserved a more authentic local feeling and a calm atmosphere. If what you’re looking for is a quiet place to rest that doesn’t feel too touristy, you won’t be disappointed in San Juan.
Things To Do In San Juan La Laguna
Just because San Juan is a less busy area, doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do – In fact, there are plenty! Here are a few activities I recommend:
- La Calle de las Artes – As in most Lake Atitlan villages, most shops and restaurants are concentrated along the main street, La Calle de las Artes.
- Art Galleries – You’re likely to find more art galleries and craft shops than anything else around San Juan. These galleries are great places to discover Mayan talent and culture, take a painting class, and shop beautiful artworks and souvenirs.
- Casa Flor Ixcaco – San Juan is known for its beautiful, colorful textiles which are dyed naturally. You can shop for clothes and learn about the exact process that locals use to dye them.
- Cerro Kiaq’Aiswaan – Climb the hills also known as Mirador Cerro De La Cruz, where you can enjoy a 360-degree view of Lake Atitlan villages from the colorful wooden deck at the top. The admission fee is Q10 per person.
- Visit the Catholic Church – The San Juan Catholic Church is located in the main plaza. The building has a low-key stone facade, but an impressive interior with Spanish 1500s architecture, tall ceilings, and intricate stained glass windows.
- Cafeteria La Voz – A lovely place run by local farmers where you’ll probably have the best organic coffee in town. You can also get an in-depth tour of the entire process of coffee making.
Where To Eat in San Juan La Laguna
Hotels In San Juan La Laguna
- Budget ($) — Eco Hotel MayAchik
- Best Value ($$) — Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan
- Luxe ($$$) —- Hotel Pa Muelle
- Unique ($-$$$) —- Hotel Taa Tiin
Apart from being one of the most beautiful Lake Atitlan villages, San Marcos is known for attracting a hippie community due to its mystical and spiritual vibe. You’ll find everything from yoga retreats, meditation centers, and natural healers to streets full of shops, lovely cafes, and restaurants with many vegan options.
This town is perfect for people interested in being in touch with their spiritual side, San Marcos’ magical nature, and the special energy of the place.
Even if you’re not into this kind of thing, I would still recommend visiting Sam Marcos for a day trip. This village is really small and it won’t take you long to see the majority of it. Moreover, it’s a great location to have a relaxing day drinking smoothies, having a massage, and enjoying the gorgeous scenery.
Taking care of yourself is just as important while traveling, check out these self-care tips for stress-free travel!
Things To Do In San Marcos
Things to do in San Marcos are regularly changing, so you might find new activities and different events depending on the time you’re visiting. However, these are some of the most popular things to do that you can find any time of the year:
- Practice yoga – regardless of your knowledge or experience, San Marcos offers numerous yoga training and retreats for both experts and beginners. Great places for this are The Yoga Forest and Hostal Del Lago.
- Get natural healing treatments – there is a massive amount of healers and therapists in this town. Whether you want to be healed or learn about healing techniques, San Marcos is the right place to do it.
- Keith’s Cacao Ceremony – Keith the Cacao Shaman leads you through a group meditation and healing process that helps to boost your energy and mental clarity. If you visit the village, this unique experience is worth giving a try.
- Have a Shamanic reading – Shamanic readings are very interesting and insightful. It is a deep analysis that will help you have a better understanding of yourself and your life – and even your past lives!
- Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve – this small nature reserve is the perfect spot for hiking, swimming in the lake, kayaking, and jumping into the water from a seven-meter-high platform.
- Hostal Del Lago events – this hostel is also a well-known social spot that hosts regular activities and events such as parties with live music, karaoke nights, yoga classes, and more.
Tip: There are many Community Boards spread throughout San Marcos. Make sure to check them out to stay up to date with available classes, workshops, and events in town.
Where To Eat in San Marcos
If you’re into healthy food and a vegan diet, you’ll love the incredible amount of options this village has to offer.
Hotels In San Marcos
- Budget ($) — Eagle’s Nest Atitlan
- Best Value ($$) — Lush Atitlan
- Luxe ($$$) —- The Yoga Forest
- Unique ($-$$$) —- Baraka Atitlan
How Long To Stay In Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is not a place that you can visit in a hurry. If you really want to take your time and see all the towns around Lake Atitlan (and trust me, once you’re there, you will), you should at least stay three days and three nights.
If you’re short on time, consider joining a guided tour that takes you on a full-day adventure around the lake and different towns. They also include transport from your hotel in Antigua and take you back at the end of the day.
Can You Swim In Lake Atitlan?
Swimming in Lake Atitlan is generally safe as long as you stay away from areas with boat traffic. You may also want to avoid swimming around the larger villages since there can be a lot of pollution in the water.
Nevertheless, many hotels and smaller villages have safe swimming areas. One of the best Lake Atitlan villages to swim in is San Marcos, where the water is very clean.
Last Thoughts About Lake Atitlan Villages
Now that you know a bit more about the most popular towns around Lake Atitlan, you’re ready to plan your next adventure. Hopefully, this post helped you find the ideal village for your stay in Guatemala.
Some Lake Atitlan villages might seem more attractive than others, but remember that this is just a brief overview and it could never compare to the actual feeling of being there. So try to leave aside any prejudices and experience every location by yourself. Those towns you had low expectations for may end up being your favorite ones!