A brief overview of the towns around Lake Atitlán, including the best things to do in each place and basic travel tips.
Lake Atitlán is a must-see while traveling in Guatemala.
From the natural beauty, to the endless fun activities available, to the affordable and charming culture, Lake Atitlán really hits all the requirements for an amazing Central American travel destination.
Figuring out where to stay in Lake Atitlán is the most confusing part of planning a trip here.
There are 13 towns in Lake Atitlán, each with its own unique vibe. Most towns have a thriving indigenous Mayan culture, but there are special qualities that differentiate each place.
So for travelers unsure of where to go in Lake Atitlán, here is a list of the most noteworthy towns and the best attractions in each place. I will also include some general travel tips for Lake Atitlán at the end of the article.
I’ll be listing the towns of Lake Atitlán in clockwise direction starting on the north of the lake.
Commonly known as Pana, this town is the most developed in all of Lake Atitlán. It serves as a great starting point for a trip around Lake Atitlán, because it directly connects to the main road and there are lots of public transport options. There are direct shuttles between Pana and other popular Guatemalan towns such as Antigua and Xela.
Pana’s dock has frequent boats venturing to all other towns around the lake, so you can easily visit any other village from here.
So I recommend beginning your Lake Atitlán trip in Pana. If you only have a few days in the area, I recommend staying in Pana and doing day trips to the other towns of Lake Atitlán.
Calle Santander is the main tourist street in Pana, full of trendy cafes, local restaurants and stands selling colorful souvenirs. The central market, located on Calle Principal, is massive and perfect for buying cheap local produce. For a fun day out on the water check out GuateSUP, a local company offering stand up paddle boarding and yoga tours.
Check out my article specifically for Pana: 15 Best Things To Do In Panajachel, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Santa Catarina Palopó
Heading clockwise around the lake, this tiny local town is just 4km from Pana. There aren’t many tourists here so you can meet lots of locals. This village is known for its traditional artistic design that covers many of the buildings here.
Blue paint, colorful patterns and captivating designs are plastered across town walls, which makes for an incredibly scenic visit. The paint is all eco-friendly and part of a community project known as Pintando Santa Catarina, which aims to empower the locals and attract tourists to the town.
San Antonio Palopó
Next to Santa Catarina Palopó is San Antonio Palopó, a small uncrowded village with an inspiring local charm. The locals here are Kakchiquel, one of the many indigenous ethnic Mayan groups of Guatemala. Traditional clothing and lifestyles thrive in this town, and you’ll notice the locals are always decked out in colorful woven garments.
The shoreline bordering San Antonio is lined with beautiful swimming waters, big rocks for cliff jumping, and local kids bathing and playing around in the lake. There are very few tourists here so you can have a more authentic and peaceful Lake Atitlán experience.
Hotel Terrazas Del Lago is a beautiful hotel and restaurant overlooking the lake. The empanadas they serve here are the best I’ve ever had!
San Pedro La Laguna
This is the most popular backpacker town in Lake Atitlán. Full of backpacker lodges and hostels, cafes, restaurants, bars, yoga studios, massage studios, Spanish schools, traditional textile shops and a local street market, San Pedro pretty much has everything a tourist could want in Lake Atitlán.
As soon as you step off the boat dock, you’ll find yourself in the midst of Gringo central with red tuk tuks lining the streets offering you rides and highly developed restaurants and shops everywhere. As you head up the hill away from the water, you’ll find the more local side of town.
For a panoramic view of the town and the lake, hike up to El Mirador (Lookout point, most towns around Lake Atitlán have one). Felipe is the friendly local who built the entire hilltop wooden structure and lives up there with his family. To enter the lookout, you have to pay Felipe’s family a small fee of 5Q.
You can also hike San Pedro Volcano, with or without a guide. This can be done in one day, you just have to pay the 100Q entrance fee.
Another hiking option is Indian’s Nose trail, a small mountain that is easily accessible from San Pedro and San Juan. The mountain is named “Indian’s Nose_ because its shape resembles a person’s face if they were laying on their back, nose facing upwards.
San Juan La Laguna
Just a 5 minute boat ride away from San Pedro, San Juan is one of the most beautiful towns in Lake Atitlán. San Juan is known for its artistry and traditional handicrafts. The Tz’utujil Mayan people live here and sell their stunning artwork to tourists for fair prices.
From gorgeous paintings to beaded jewelry to patterned clothing and textiles to other typical souvenirs, San Juan is a lovely place to shop for memorable and unique gifts. Some clothing cooperatives offer free demonstrations, showing how the locals make their dye using natural ingredients.
Wandering the side streets that branch off of the main road will reveal some of the most incredible street art and murals. Captivating depictions of local culture are plastered all over building walls around town, so walking around becomes a sort of scavenger hunt for the next amazing piece of street art.
You can also pay 10Q to hike about 15 minutes uphill to the El Mirador. From here you have an incredible view of the bright blue lake, the surrounding volcanoes and villages, and the sprawling green of coffee plantations and maize fields below.
Check out my San Juan specific article: San Juan La Laguna Photo Diary.
San Marcos La Laguna
With its reputation as the hippie mecca of Lake Atitlán, San Marcos is a lovely small town for backpackers who love to experiment and get in touch with spirituality.
Walking through the streets you’ll find yoga studios, massage centers, Reiki healing centers, vegan cafes, health food stores, Astrology readings, tarot card readings, chakra cleansings, herbal remedies, crystal healings, ecstatic dance centers and street art revealing mystical practices and fantasy creatures.
San Marcos is also full of backpackers hostels and luxury eco-lodges alike. Despite all the dreadlocked backpackers, locals still thrive in their Kaqchiquel Mayan culture. You can find lots of local food as well, including handmade corn tortillas sold from stands in the street for extremely cheap.
My favorite part of San Marcos is the Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil, A Nature Reserve where you can hike through the jungle and swim in the refreshing turquoise waters. It costs 15Q to enter the Nature Reserve. Visit the “Trampoline”, a 12m high wooden platform where you can catapult yourself into the lake.
Santa Cruz La Laguna
Santa Cruz has two parts: the touristy part and the local part. As soon as you step off the boat, you’ll find yourself in tourist Santa Cruz. The nice backpacker hostel La Iguana Perdida sits right in front of the dock, and little tiendas and tuk tuks fill the road.
There is one road leading up to the local, hilltop village. Follow this road for about 15 minutes and you’ll find yourself wandering through a maze of traditional Mayan homes full of stray dogs and happy children running around.
The town center has a basketball court, a tiny church, and some amazing street art. As Santa Cruz is only accessible by boat, the village remains very isolated and free from tourism.
There isn’t much to do here, but I recommend stopping by just to walk around and see how the locals really live away from the tourists.
San Jorge La Laguna
Another small, non-touristy town of Lake Atitlán, San Jorge is located only 7km west of Pana.
Mirador San Jorge is a lovely lookout spot on the edge of the main road (Route 1 that leads from Sololá down to Pana) where you can enjoy a gorgeous aerial view of Pana on one side and San Jorge on the other.
The Mirador is the most noteworthy part of this residential town, so you don’t even really need to venture down the hill to the village. But if you do, you’ll find the Church of San Jorge La Laguna to be the center of the town. Around the church is mainly homes and local tiendas.
Other Towns in Lake Atitlán:
There are a few towns in Lake Atitlán that I didn’t mention yet because I haven’t had the chance to visit them.
San Lucas La Laguna, Santiago Atitlán, San Pablo La Laguna, Tzununa and Jaibalito are the five remaining towns around the lake that I didn’t go, but I wanted to mention them as they are part of the Lake Atitlán community. These villages don’t have many tourist attractions so they are often overlooked by travelers.
I’d say out of these five towns, the most visited is Santiago Atitlán. As one of the largest and most traditional towns around the lake, the Mayan culture is very strong and untouched by tourism here. For more information about this town’s heritage and lifestyle, visit this website.
Boat Prices between the Towns of Lake Atitlán:
Known as a lanchas to the locals, boats are the easiest, quickest, safest way to travel between the towns of Lake Atitlán.
Here is a list of the standard boat prices between the towns of Lake Atitlán. They all cost generally between 10Q and 25Q (between $1 and $3.25).
Also you may notice that locals pay less. Yes, us gringos are charged a tourist price for the boats in Lake Atitlán, but you just have to accept that. Locals take the boats more frequently than we do, so they don’t have to pay full price.
Don’t let any locals take you to the docks from inside the villages. They will charge you a higher price for their service of walking you there, which isn’t necessary. Just find the dock yourself and you shouldn’t be charged any more than 25Q.
Boat prices between the towns of Lake Atitlán:
Panajachel to San Pedro: 25Q
Panajachel to San Marcos: 25Q
Panajachel to Santa Cruz: 15Q
Panajachel to Santiago Atitlán: 25Q
San Pedro to Santiago Atitlán: 10Q
San Pedro to San Juan: 10Q
San Pedro to San Marcos: 10Q
Santa Cruz to San Juan: 20Q
Travel Tips For Lake Atitlán:
When To Visit Lake Atitlán
The climate in Lake Atitlán is very desirable, with average temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees Farenheit. Its tropical location brings lots of warmth and rain, but its high elevation also brings cool breezes and drier air.
Though the temperature is pretty consistent, rainy season lasts from roughly May to October. During these months, the weather is usually beautiful all morning with a downpour in the afternoon. Occasionally there will be huge thunderstorms and maybe even hurricanes or monsoons.
Windy season starts in November and lasts until about February. The only effect this has on your trip to Lake Atitlán is that boat rides may get a little choppier and water sports like paddle-boarding or kayaking may become harder or easier depending on the wind direction.
You can experience nice weather in Lake Atitlán year-round, so there isn’t a bad time to go. People tend to aviod rainy season, but that is when you’ll find less crowds.
Safety in Lake Atitlán
Lake Atitlán is very safe for tourists. Travelers bring a lot of money into the communities, and the sheer number of travelers here means locals are used to foreigners. Some say you shouldn’t walk on your own in between the towns, as muggings and theft have been reported in the remote roads outside the towns.
To avoid any unnecessary problems, just take boats in between the towns rather than going along the road. The boats are way faster and safer.
Try not to travel alone, especially at night, and don’t venture too far outside the touristy spots unless you have a trusted local with you. Just use common sense and you’ll be fine in Lake Atitlán.
Bargaining with the Locals
With so many local markets, shops and street vendors, there are lots of opportunities for buying souvenirs and also negotiating the price.
Tourists are definitely overcharged for things in Guatemala. Sometimes just walking away from a vendor will cause them to lower the price by half. So try practicing your Spanish with locals by haggling the price and you’ll get amazing deals on souvenirs.
Just keep in mind, these people most likely have less money than you so always be respectful and fair when bargaining. Know that whatever you pay will benefit a local family in need.
Stray Dogs in Guatemala
You’ll notice very quickly that Guatemala is full of stray dogs. Many locals and expats adopt stray dogs as pets because there are so many that don’t have homes. Some locals treat dogs very well and feed them, others don’t like them and kick them, but mostly people just don’t pay much attention to them.
Use your judgment and try to avoid petting stray dogs, especially if they look a bit off. But if a sad looking dog approaches you and you want to help, just give it a bit of food. Don’t be surprised if it follows you after that.
Some stray dogs are aggressive and bark a lot to defend their territory, so just be safe and walk the other way if there’s barking dogs in your path.
Traveling to Guatemala?? Visit iVisa.com to see if you need a visa.
To read about more of my travels in Latin America, check out these articles: