- Visited January 2019
Described as the closest place to Eden on Earth, Lake Atitlán, the mystical and mysterious lake that fills a large volcanic crater in Guatemala’s Southwestern highlands is considered by many to be the must-see destination of Guatemala. The lake itself is vast, with a luminescent beauty that can calm the soul of some and evoke weird dreams in others. It is certainly a peaceful place that provides an opportunity for travellers to unwind, contemplate life and reconnect with themselves if that’s what they’re looking for. Amongst the tranquility though, travellers can also find a good time in a few well-known party hostels. The lake is surrounded by villages that offer different experiences to travellers so consider what you want from your visit before booking your accommodation. Most travellers will arrive by shuttle into Panajachel, a busy town with plenty of places to shop and eat, before travelling on by boat to their chosen village.
Here is a summary of the key villages to help you make your choice:
- Santa Cruz La Laguna: This was the village I chose to stay in and was by far my favourite of those I visited. Two hostels are based here and both offer excellent views of the lake. Both provide family dinners (a three-course meal for a fixed price) as there are limited eating options in Santa Cruz. Iguana Perdida, where I stayed, has better accommodation options though, with dorms and luxury private rooms available. Free Cerveza has a treehouse dorm and tents for ‘glamping’ but a friend stayed there and showed me pictures of black mould in the tent he stayed in. Not nice. Free Cerveza also has an age restriction for guests – no over 40s allowed. As their name suggests, they give you a free beer on arrival and two hours of free beer between 5 and 7 pm if guests sign up for the family dinner. As attractive as free beer sounds, I’ve been told that it is common for travellers to spend a night at Free Cerveza and then move over to the Iguana. Other food options in Santa Cruz include Cafe Sabor at the top of the hill, run by local students and providing good food with a spectacular view; Holy Tortillas which does a tasty breakfast; and Arca de Noé which is next to the Iguana. All three places have WiFi which is handy as the Iguana has a no WiFi policy (but does have a computer room for guests) and Free Cerveza charges for WiFi.
- San Marcos – this hippy Mecca consists of yoga retreats, holistic centres, and cafes/restaurants catering to the gluten-free vegan crowd. It has one main street leading up from the dock with some pretty street murals. In San Marcos you can partake in a cocoa ceremony that claims to open up hearts, enhance meditation, give energy and encourage creativity. Circles Cafe has lovely but expensive smoothies and I hear it does good food. I thought I would like San Marcos more than I did – I personally found it quite pretentious.
- San Pedro – the party village of the lake. Travellers come here for a good time. There is lots to do here so if somewhere like Santa Cruz is too quiet for you, then San Pedro might suit you better. Its view of the lake is not as nice as Santa Cruz though.
The main way to get between villages is by boat. There are public and private boats. Public boats run fairly regularly until 7pm – so keep that in mind if you head to San Pedro to party but have accommodation booked in another village. Don’t ask the boatmen how much the boat costs when taking the public boat because you will end up paying more than you should. For example, the boat from Panajachel to Santa Cruz costs 10 Q but I have heard of travellers being charged up to 25 Q for the journey. Santa Cruz to San Marcos should be between 15 to 20 Q and Santa Cruz to San Pedro should be between 20 to 25 Q.
*Just a note if you get seasick. Make sure you bring your medication with you. Most of the lake crossings I made were fine but one day the lake was very choppy even though it was a beautiful sunny day and I had a very rough ride to San Pedro and back.
The hostel I stayed in in Santa Cruz can arrange Spanish lessons, weaving and cooking classes, hiking, yoga, kayaking and has a dive centre for those looking to dive in the lake. It is a cheap place for beginners to learn to dive but perhaps not the easiest place to do it for the first time. Many divers come to the lake for altitude diving. Other than that, the lake is a great place to hang out in a hammock, enjoy a beer and watch the sun go down.
Selection of pictures from my stay: