The best things to do in Panajachel while traveling through the magical Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
Panajchel is the perfect starting point for a trip to Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
It is easily accessible from other nearby cities in Guatemala, such as Antigua, Guatemala City or Xela, and you can easily catch a local boat from here to the other charming towns of Lake Atitlán.
Known as Pana to the locals, this town is the most developed and one of the most touristy in Lake Atitlán, so it is a great place for meeting other travelers.
Even though Pana is packed with backpackers and expats, the indigenous Mayan culture is still alive and well. You can try locals foods, observe the gorgeous Mayan weaving techniques and practice your Spanish with the locals.
So for any travelers planning a trip to Panajachel in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, here are 15 of the best things to do.
1.Visit The Local Market
I listed this first because this is my favorite thing to do in Pana. Of all the towns around Lake Atitlán, Pana has the largest central market. There is an entire indoor section selling clothes and home supplies in addition to food, and the outdoor section next the the street sells delicious local produce.
This is a great place to practice Spanish with the local vendors and buy fresh fruits and vegetables for cooking. My favorite purchase here is the huge peeled papaya slices for only 2 Quetzales ($0.23).
2. Paddle Board On Lake Atitlán
Stand Up Paddle Boarding, also known as SUP, is an amazing way to exercise while enjoying the beauty of Lake Atitlán. It is best to paddle earlier in the day while the water is still smooth and calm, and you cannot beat the 360 degree view of the landscape that you get while paddling.
GuateSUP is the best company in Pana for doing guided paddle board tours around the lake. You can do sunrise tours, night tours with LED lights under the boards, wake-surfing, and SUP yoga with GuateSUP. Experienced paddlers can rent boards in exchange for a donation to a local cause.
3. Go Paragliding
To experience Lake Atitlán from the sky, try paragliding. This thrilling activity involves getting strapped to a secure harness with a parachute and soaring through the air over the lake. A bit less intense than skydiving or bungee jumping, paragliding is actually quite peaceful once you are up in the air, as you are far above civilization.
Real World Paragliding is the best paragliding company in Pana. They have excellent customer reviews and take safety and security very seriously.
4. Check Out The View From Ente Restaurant
Though Ente Restaurant is actually 5km outside Pana, this is a lovely place to treat yourself to some high quality food and enjoy an amazing view over the lake. They have a nice rooftop for relaxing and drinking cocktails, and a cozy hammock to relax in while taking in the views (The cover photo for this post was taken at Ente Restaurant!).
5. Shop For Local Handicrafts
Pana is full of colorful, local handmade goods that make awesome travel souvenirs and gifts. The main tourist street, Calle Santander, is completely lined with shops and stalls selling traditional Mayan clothing, jewelry, shoes, bags, hats, accessories, pottery, and any other little trinket you can imagine.
While shopping in Pana, try bargaining the price. Locals almost always state an overly expensive price at the start, but will lower the price significantly if you walk away. This is another great way to practice Spanish and get beautiful souvenirs for decent prices. Just be respectful when haggling and try not to ask for a price so low that the locals don’t profit at all.
6. Learn About Mayan Weaving
Back Strap Weaving is an important aspect of indigenous Mayan culture. The locals weave all their own clothing using thread dyed with natural elements like berries, roots and fruits. You’ll notice the local women wearing a similar outfit of long, patterned skirts called cortes and gorgeous multicolored shirts called huipiles, all sporting vibrant colors and decorations.
Ethical Fashion Guatemala is a company based in Pana that offers classes, demonstrations and workshops in traditional Mayan weaving. They also offer tours across the lake to places like San Juan La Laguna to visit weaving cooperatives.
7. Relax In A Cafe
Calle Santander is packed to the brim with trendy, western-style cafes with a Latin American twist. Some cafes are locally owned and some are run by foreigners. Either way, relaxing in a cafe with a cup of fresh coffee and a snack is a lovely way to chill out during the day and people watch in the busy street.
8. Explore The Atitlán Nature Reserve
Located less than 3km away from the town center of Pana, the Atitlán Nature Reserve allows travelers to escape the city and immerse themselves in nature. It costs 70 Quetzales to enter, which is about $9.
Inside the Nature Reserve there are hiking trails, suspension bridges, zip lines, a Butterfly Geodome and lots of wildlife including monkeys and coatis. This is the perfect place for bird-watching as well.
9. Watch The Sunrise or Sunset Over The Lake
A wonderful way to witness the natural beauty of Lake Atitlán is to watch the sunrise or sunset. Just head down to the waterfront, or up to Ente Restaurant if you want an aerial view, and wait for nature to work its magic. Sunrise and sunset times will depend on the time of year, so check the times before you go.
10. Party With Other Backpackers
Anyone looking for the real backpacker experience will most likely indulge in a few wild nights. Pana is full of travelers and expats, so a fun night out is a great way to meet new people in the area.
The best party hostel in Pana is Dreamboat Hostel which has different theme nights and crazy parties. Atlantis Restaurant and Bar on Calle Principal plays lots of Latin music and Reggaeton for those who want to dance to some local tunes.
11. Hike The Surrounding Mountains
Pana is surrounded by mountains and hills covered in lush green jungle You can climb up these mountains for free, simply by picking one of the dirt trails that branch off from the main road that heads up to Ente Restaurant. The trails can sometimes be hard to find so just ask locals for advice.
Once you find the trail, hiking up is strenuous but worth it. At the top you’ll find yourself hiking through cornfields and farmland, with the stunning Lake Atitlán and sprawling city of Pana in the distance.
12. Take A Mayan Cooking Class
Experience local food in a hands-on way by taking a cooking class. You can take a guided trip to the central market with locals, learn how to make traditional Mayan dishes, and devour all the delicious food. Some Mayan classics you may cook include tortillas, Mayan sauces with veggies, tamales or pepian, a hearty Guatemalan stew.
The most popular cooking schools are outside Pana, but you can book day trips to the other towns for the best Mayan cooking experience. Some recommended cooking schools include Mayan Kitchen and Ixiim Cooking School, both in San Pedro La Laguna.
13. Do Yoga
Over time, yoga has has started to explode in Lake Atitlán with all the backpackers that have moved here and opened up studios. Now, yoga centers and retreats are scattered all around Lake Atitlán, and the peaceful scenery creates an ideal atmosphere for trying some yoga.
In Pana, Casa De Arte has lots of weekly yoga classes for all levels available. You can easily drop in to one of these classes regardless of your previous yoga experience. The SUP company I mentioned earlier, GuateSUP, offers yoga on the lake while paddle boarding if you want to take your practice to the next level.
14. Visit The Local Waterfalls
During rainy season (May through October), Pana has two awesome waterfalls. The first is hard to miss, as it thunders down literally right next to the main road that leads into Pana. After a storm, this waterfall will get very powerful and spray the cars that drive past.
The second waterfall doesn’t have an exact location on Google Maps, nor does it have a name. The Rio San Fransisco runs along the east side of Pana, and if you drive along the road adjacent to the river you’ll see the waterfall. Again, the falls are more impressive when there is lots of rain. The owner of GuateSUP, JC brought me to these falls so if you plan on finding them I recommend asking a local exactly where they are.
15. Take A Day Trip To Another Town On Lake Atitlán
Every village around Lake Atitlán is unique. You have to visit at least a few different towns to get a true understanding of the culture here, so I recommend spending at least 3 days in Lake Atitlán.
If you have at least a week in Lake Atitlán, you can stay in different towns all over the lake however you please. If you only have a few days, I recommend basing yourself in Pana and taking day trips to the other towns. This saves you a lot of moving around, and Pana has the biggest selection of services and basic amenities around the lake.
Local boats, known as lanchas run frequently between Pana and the other villages. Here are the costs for the boats to other towns:
Santa Cruz: 15Q
San Marcos: 25Q
Santiago Atitlán: 25Q
San Pedro: 25Q
From San Pedro, you can then take a boat to San Juan for 10Q.
To read about more of my travel adventures in Latin America, check out these articles: