If you’ve ever heard of Panajachel, Lake Atitlan you probably know what a fantastic destination this village is. Not only is it one of the most beautiful and visited towns in Guatemala, but it’s also a place with multiple resources that allow you to travel on a budget – while it’s popular among digital nomads, it’s not a popular tourist destination YET.
If there’s something I’ve learned as a part-time digital nomad, it’s that traveling can actually be pretty affordable if you know how to do it. You don’t have to go to some awful town with nothing to do or stay in the tiny room of a gloomy hostel with zero views.
All you need is a good plan and the right Lake Atitlan travel guide to make your trip effortlessly cheap.
How To Visit Panajachel Lake Atitlan On A Budget
When planning a trip, it might be overwhelming to decide on convenient means of transportation, a decent hotel, where to eat, what to do and when, and so many other things – and on top of that, try to stick to a tight budget!
Fortunately, this ultimate Panajachel travel guide has everything you need and more so you don’t have to worry about anything.
Panajachel, Lake Atitlan (or Pana for locals) is an incredibly popular village that has become the favorite hotspot for backpackers and digital nomads, and for good reason. Besides the growth and development this town has experienced over the years with restaurants, hotels, and shops to attract tourists, Panajachel is continuously adding essential facilities like:
- Banks with ATMs
- Reliable WiFi
- Daily transport
- Spanish schools
Pana is one of the most touristy villages around Lake Atitlan. This means that the place is constantly receiving new visitors and expats from different countries or regions of Guatemala that come either to enjoy a short vacation trip or to live temporarily. This contributes to a nice and lively atmosphere to be around.
In addition, this village is well-known for its breathtaking nature which features clear skies, turquoise waters, and surrounding mountains and volcanoes – practically everything you could hope for on your trip!
Is Panajachel, Lake Atitlan Budget-Friendly?
Guatemala is known for being an affordable country. In fact, you’d be surprised at how little you can spend in a week in comparison to other destinations. Basic needs like food, accommodation, and transportation are at least 50% less expensive than in the USA or Europe – and you’ll find hostels and restaurants of great value!
Suggested Budget For Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
The currency in Guatemala is called Quetzal, and 1 USD equals 7.8 Quetzals. With this exchange rate, you’re already at an advantage. However, I suggest you get Quetzals in cash once you’re in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan since most hotels, restaurants, and activities are cash-only. You can find many banks and ATMs fairly spread throughout the town where you can exchange your money.
You can expect to spend 60-150 USD in a decent hostel and 8-15 USD on a great meal. And believe it or not, street food is the BEST food you’ll try in Pana for as little as 5-20 Q (between 6 cents to 3 dollars).
It all depends on how many luxuries and treats you like to have on trips. The important thing is that you certainly don’t need to spend more in order to enjoy good-quality products and services.
Tip: If you go off-season, between May and October (Guatemala’s rainy season), you’ll find even lower prices and a less crowded village.
Panajachel, Lake Atitlan Travel Guide
Now that you know what an amazingly cheap country Guatemala is, let’s make it even cheaper! Keep reading to find some tips that will help you stick to your budget no matter how small it is – and without giving up comfort and enjoyment.
Sounds good? Find out more ways to travel anywhere on a budget!
Interested in other villages around Lake Atitlan? Check them out here.
You might also like my ultimate Antigua, Guatemala travel guide for first-timers.
If you’ve already bought your plane tickets to Guatemala, congratulations! Now, you just have to figure out how to get to Panajachel and get around the village in a way that saves you time and money.
How to Get to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
Panajachel, Lake Atitlan is about 85 miles (113 km) away from Guatemala City and the ride can take 2-3 hours depending on traffic. Below I’ve listed some of the most common options with prices. Make sure to consider how many of you are traveling to see which one is the most convenient for you.
- Taxi or Uber – the fastest way, $30-35.
- Tourist shuttle – You can pre-book a tourist shuttle online and they pick you up directly from the city or airport. Public shuttles are about $30 per person, while private ones are usually $30-40 more, but it’s a good choice if you’re in a big group.
- Rented car – you can rent a car from the Guatemala City airport for $25/day.
- Public transport (‘Chicken bus’) – only 4 Q (less than a dollar) and you can find them at the bus station in Guatemala City. However, I’d recommend them for shorter trips since they’re usually cramped and it can get really uncomfortable after 3 hours on the road.
How To Explore Other Villages Around Lake Atitlan
Despite being one of the largest towns around the lake, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan is small enough to be able to walk everywhere, which will significantly reduce the cost of daily transportation. If you want to visit nearby villages, it might be more convenient to pay for a shuttle.
The most expensive means of transport are boats (called lanchas). These lanchas can take you anywhere around the lake if you want to visit other villages and you can take a public ride with (up to 20 people), or private rides which will cost you more.
If exploring other towns across the lake is not a priority for you, you can stick to tuk-tuks, pickup trucks, or the chicken bus to visit neighboring towns like Santa Catarina Palopó or San Antonio Palopó. These are much cheaper options and they’re also a lot of fun!
Prices per ride:
- Pickup truck – 2 Q
- Chicken Bus – 4 Q
- Tuk-Tuks – 5-10 Q
- Public Lanchas – 25Q
Where To Stay In Panajachel On A Budget
If you’re going to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan on a budget, you’ll surely benefit from staying at a small hostel instead of a hotel. You can find a great selection of hostels at low prices since Pana regularly receives backpackers and tourists that are just passing by. Many of these hostels are located near Calle Santander (Panajachel’s main street) and will provide you with really nice views, a room with a private bathroom, hot water, and fast WiFi.
Budget Hostels In Panajachel
Hostels In Panajachel are usually $60-150, but you can find some pretty decent ones for much less than that, especially if you travel off-season. Here are a few I would recommend:
- Hotel El Sol ($24) – a little far from the city center (20 min walk), and it has more of an old house feeling than a hostel, but you’re guaranteed impeccable service, extremely friendly staff, and the cheapest rooms in the village.
- Dreamboat Hostel ($45) – located in Calle Santander. It’s not exactly a place to relax, but you’ll have a lot of fun socializing with the other guests and staying up until late in the bar and parties on the rooftop.
- Posada De Los Volcanes ($51) – located in Calle Santander. It’s a small but comfortable hostel with balcony views, an amazing breakfast, and free parking.
- Selina Atitlan ($54) – this bohemian-style, pet-friendly hostel is so lovely and complete that you’ll feel as if you were in a resort. During your stay, you can enjoy beautifully decorated, spacious bedrooms, free parking, a bar by the lake, yoga classes, an outdoor pool, and so much more!
Tip: if you’re really broke but you refuse to let that stop you, you can check out websites like StayList or HostelWorld where you’ll find dorms for as little as $8. If you show up personally, you can negotiate with the owner to get a better deal. These are mostly guesthouses that don’t have a website and with little to no reviews, so keep in mind that it might be a bit risky.
Where To Eat In Panajachel
Although restaurants and cafes are generally cheap in Panajachel Lake Atitlan, the cost of your trip might increase if you’re planning on eating out for each meal. If you’re staying in an apartment or a room with a kitchen area, you can buy some fresh groceries in the local market to make your own food and this will significantly reduce your expenses. Food options in Panajachel are endless and there’s something for every budget.
Tip: you’ll get great meals for lower prices at local places and shops that are not in Calle Santander. The restaurants along this street tend to charge more since it’s the first place most tourists head to.
Restaurants In Panajachel
- Flor de Cafe – A beautiful cafe/brewpub in Garden Hotel where you can have great-quality coffee and desserts for only 15Q. There’s garden seating with views of the lake and volcanoes.
- The Little Spoon – the perfect place for a healthy breakfast or brunch on the rooftop for 15Q.
- Taquero Mucho – delicious tacos and burritos from 10Q ($1,28).
- Katan Pe – sandwiches for 10Q.
- Azul Rosa – Meals and cocktails from 15Q ($1,92). This bar by the lake has nice views and turns into a party club at night.
- Street Food – street food in Pana is incredibly good and affordable, you’ll find many food stands and vendors on the street and at the local market.
Affordable Things To Do In Panajachel
Being the most touristy town around Lake Atitlan, Pana has a lot of exciting activities and interesting places to explore – and most of them are budget-friendly.
Go For A Hike
Hiking is one of the best things you can do in Panajachel Lake Atitlan for free. It gives you the chance to get to know every corner of the village and to admire the beauty of its nature from different angles.
Although you can go on a day hike by yourself, it might be a good idea to book a hiking tour with a guide to avoid getting lost on going down dangerous trails.
There are various places to rent kayaks and paddle boards around the lake and it generally costs around 10Q per hour. This is a good activity to enjoy early in the mornings when the water is still calm. So, if a boat ride is a bit too expensive, this is another way to experience the beautiful lake.
Panajachel’s market along Calle Santander is full of little shops, food stands, and vendors selling all kinds of products, like colorful textiles, handicrafts, pottery, fresh foods, and so much more. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, it’s an interesting place to see.
Visit Nearby Villages
One of the best things to do in Panajachel Lake Atitlan without spending a lot of money is to visit other villages around the lake. If you’re in Pana, the closest village is Santa Catarina Palopó. Getting to this charming, colorful town only takes a 10-minute Tuk-Tuk ride. You can also check out this Lake Atitlan Villages Tour that takes you from Panajachel to various villages while learning from guides familiar with the different locations.
You can find out more about Santa Catarina Palopó and other Atitlan villages here.
This old church is free to visit and is a beautiful spot to take photos. If you’re lucky, you may even see some celebration going on since it’s common for locals to celebrate Saints.
The Museo Lacustre de Atitlan has a small but interesting collection of Mayan stone artifacts found through excavations done both on land and underwater. There’s also information about the history and geology of Lake Atitlan. The entrance fee is 35Q ($4,47).
A tour from Pana to the Iximché Mayan Ruins is the perfect opportunity to learn about Mayan culture. This can be a bit pricey for a low budget, but if you already saved a lot in accommodation and food and want to spend a little more on activities, it will be worth it.
Check out the Iximché Mayan Ruins Tour from Panajachel
And voilà! You can finally forget about working restlessly all year so you can save enough money for a two-week vacation. This simple but efficient guide will hopefully save you a lot of time (and some headaches) when you start planning your trip to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan – and now you know that it’s completely possible to travel without having to empty your bank account.
Traveling on a budget is a true learning experience that will teach you so many things like managing your money responsibly, setting priorities, and adapting to different situations. But most importantly, you’ll learn that money is the last thing you need to have a great time with the people you love and to create unforgettable memories.