October 20, 2016 - Kate
Last Updated On 9/16/2020
When traveling to a new place, one of the biggest challenges can be making sure you fit everything you want to do and see into your plans. We’ve learned the hard way that, often, trying to do it all in one trip can even detract from the experience – it’s tiring and overwhelming to stretch ourselves too thin during a trip. Sometimes, it’s best to think about the kind of experience you’d like to have and what makes you happiest as a traveler, and build your trip plans around that.
One of the places we’ve been that offers a variety of experiences for different types of travelers is Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Lake Atitlan, a volcanic lake in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range, is rich in culture, stunningly beautiful, and tourist-friendly. A number of small villages encircle the lake, each offering its own unique cultural experiences.
If you’re planning to travel to Lake Atitlan in Central America, but don’t know where to get started, here’s our guide to one destination in five ways:
Where to Stay
Anywhere | If you’re looking for adventure in Lake Atitlan, you can really stay in any of the villages located around the lake. Most of the biggest adventures require you to hop on a bus, which pick up passengers from all around the lake, and head away from the villages, so anywhere you choose to rest your head in between will be great.
How to Spend Your Day
Going on a Sunrise Volcano Hike | If you love a good sunrise (who doesn’t?!), you won’t want to miss this. Sign up for a sunrise volcano hike at any of the main villages, and then head straight to bed – you’ll need to be up at around 3:30am to prep for your bus ride to the start of this hike, which will end at Nariz del Indio, or Indian’s Nose, where you’ll watch the sunrise over Lake Atitlan and Volcano San Pedro. Horseback Riding: Get on a bus, a tuk tuk (a small motor cab that you’ll see driving up and down almost every street), or a shuttle boat (which will pick you up from almost every village and take you to your destination), and head to San Pedro for this adventure. Once you get there, head to the water, where you’ll find a number of travel guides who can point you in the direction of a horseback riding guide. The guides can take you to a variety of amazing destinations, from a coffee tour to the base of Volcano San Pedro!
Cliff Jumping in San Marcos | This is the one adventure activity that requires you to be in a specific place on the lake – San Marcos. At the main docks on the lake, follow signs for Cerro Tzankujil. You’ll enter a park, where you’ll have to pay a small fee to get in and about ten minutes from the town center, you’ll find a cliff jumping spot. The jump is about 30 feet, and it is both thrilling and breathtakingly beautiful – well worth the pre-jump jitters! Make sure you purchase a travel insurance policy before your trip in case you get an injury while cliff jumping –it could reimburse you for any medical expenses you pay to receive care.
Where to Stay
San Marcos | Known for its focus on holistic healing, yoga and meditation, San Marcos is the ultimate spot for travelers seeking a zen vacation. Equally as marvelous as Lake Atitlan’s other villages, San Marcos is less focused on the party scene, and more on personal well-being and connection.
How to Spend Your time
Relaxing at a Health Center | There are so many options when it comes to receiving a spa treatment in San Marcos. Simply walk down the main street, and you’ll see signs for holistic healing centers everywhere. Many of the spas and health centers offer unique treatments such as reiki and color therapy. Check out your options before you settle on a classic massage!
Public Meditation Classes | One of the centers, the San Marcos Holistic Center offers public meditation classes for anyone who would like to join. You’ll likely take part in the experience alongside seasoned yogis and the center’s fellows, and have a chance to connect with them after the fact as well.
Where to Stay
San Pedro | If you want to avoid the more touristy areas of Lake Atitlan, check out San Pedro. This village is smaller, with fewer places for tourists to set up camp. You’ll have to travel a bit to get to restaurants and markets, but you won’t have any trouble finding a quiet spot in San Pedro.
How to Spend Your Time
Shopping | There are different scales and types of outdoor markets all around the lake, with the biggest being at San Pedro and Panajachel. That said, the biggest market in the area is at Chichicastenango, a short journey away from the lake. The market takes place on Thursdays and Sundays, and it is an incredibly exciting experience you’ll want to enjoy on your trip.
Taking a Boat Ride | At Lake Atitlan, renting out your own boat is fun and inexpensive. Whether you decide to try a more adventure-friendly kayak or canoe, or opt for a boat guide, you can take in so much of what the lake has to offer while you’re actually on the water.
Infinity Pool in Jaibalito | If you’re looking for a low-key way to relax, try the infinity pool at Club Ven Acá in Jaibalito. You can access Jaibalito by shuttle boat, bus, or tuk tuk, and take time during the day swimming up to the bar and taking in the views.
Where to Stay
San Juan | The village of San Juan is known for its community of artists, specifically weavers. When you wander the streets in San Juan, you’ll feel a different vibe than that of the other villages – quieter and less touristy.
How to Spend Your Time
Peruse Textiles | While you’ll find beautiful handmade weavings all over Guatemala, many of them are made with industrial cotton and synthetic dyes. In San Juan, however, female-run weaving co-ops use methods passed down from generation to generation, using local cotton and natural dyes.
Check Out Pottery | To get to this one, you’ll have to journey outside of San Juan to San Antonio Palopó. A few towns over from San Pedro, San Antonio Palopó is home to the makers of incredibly unique pottery. While pottery making is a part of Mayan culture, this pottery is unique because it’s technique is a combination of the traditional pottery making and a technique brought over by renowned American potter Ken Edwards in the 1990s.
Weaving Tour | In San Juan, you can stop into a free weaving tour during the day to see it firsthand at one of the co-ops. During the tour, they’ll walk you through the whole dying and weaving process, and even give you a chance to try it yourself!
What kind of traveler are you? No matter what category you happen to fall into, be sure to keep yourself and your belongings safe while you’re traveling abroad. Find the insurance that’s best for you with help from our guide.