Lake Atitlan is considered to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and for good reason. When you visit, these are the 9 best things to do in Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan is a large lake situated in the Highlands of Guatemala. Surrounded by 11 towns, towering mountains, and 3 volcanoes, this lake is truly stunning with plenty to do.
We recently visited Lake Atitlan and were in awe of the views from every direction. We quickly ran out of time to do everything we wanted to do but I have outlined the best things to do in Lake Atitlan for your visit!
We’ll cover the best things to do in Lake Atitlan, swimming in Lake Atitlan, the best Lake Atitlan towns for you, Lake Atitlan hotels, the best views of Lake Atitlan, and more!
This post is all about the best things to do in Lake Atitlan.
Things to Do in Lake Atitlan:
Explore the Towns by Boat
This is the number one thing to do in Lake Atitlan. There are public ferries hopping between each of the towns around Lake Atitlan every 20-30 minutes and are relatively cheap – around Q25 per person per one-way trip. This was probably our favorite part about exploring Lake Atitlan. On a sunny day, it can be so refreshing to get the mist from the boat speeding across the lake. At one point, we were on such a packed boat we got to stand at the back with the captain and got insane views the whole way. It’s amazing to see the towns and volcanoes from the water.
A few tips for you. You simply say where you are going and the guides will direct you to the right boat. Just be sure that you say “publico” (public) boats only. There are a ton of private boat operators as well. Be sure to have exact change as it’s pretty quick on and off the boats. You usually pay at the end. The boats stop at quite a few stops each so be sure you get off at the right stop. And lastly, know when the last boat runs because you could have to book a private boat back if you miss the last public one!
Enjoy the View
We took our first boat ride from Panajachel (aka Pana) to Santa Cruz and fell in love with this so-called “vertical town.” It’s a steep hike from the boat docks to town so we opted for a tuk-tuk (Q10 each way for 2 people). Once you get up into town, you can spot some gorgeous views over the lake and of the surrounding volcanoes. Here you can visit the “oldest church” in Guatemala, or so they claim.
To truly get the best views like in the photo above, check out the rooftop cafe at Cafe Sabor Cruceño in the CECAP building (give this as your destination for the tuk-tuk). The panoramic views are stunning and the food was delicious!
Cliff Jump in San Marcos
After heading to Santa Cruz, we boated over to San Marcos to explore some more. San Marcos is filled with ex-pats and hippies. It’s a very relaxed town and is known for its wacky activities. However, they are also home to the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. For a small fee (Q20 per foreigner), you can walk through the various trails overlooking the lake. It’s truly stunning here. The real draw is the “Trampoline” jump. It’s a 12 meter (30 foot) platform that you can jump off into the lake. We didn’t see anyone jump off and were too scared to do it ourselves. There was a smaller rock platform off to the right that a family was using to jump in.
As a note, you can’t swim everywhere in the lake. Unfortunately, it’s not the cleanest lake (although it has been considered one of the most beautiful) in the world. But the reserve is one of the few places it’s safe to swim!
See Sunrise Over the Lake
We finally were able to get up for sunrise on our last day and we are so glad we did. It was a cotton candy sky reflected perfectly on the still waters of the lake. Since we were staying in Pana we just walked down to the boat docks to get a nice view over the water.
Try Water Activities
There are plenty of ways to get out on the water in Lake Atitlan. Whether you are looking for more of a thrill and want to try jet skiing or opting for a more serene experience with SUP, you will find this a great location to do so. There is also kayaking, canoeing, and much more. We found a few of the lakefront hotels and hostels in Santa Cruz offering rentals and a few stands in Pana as well.
Hike Indian’s Nose
This is the most popular hike in the region and for good reason. Most commonly hiked at sunrise, Indian’s Nose offers panoramic views over the lake with a gorgeous vantage point for the sunrise. We read of many groups hiking it solo but found there to be plenty of guides offering their services as well. Indian’s Nose is located in between Santa Clara and Santa Juan. It got it’s name Indian’s Nose because it looks like the nose of an Indian (check out the photo above). If you are going for sunrise, boats don’t start running until 6:30 am you will need to book with a guide to arrange transportation or take a chicken bus over to San Juan around 4 am.
We didn’t get a chance to do it as we planned too last minute and were a bit worried about the claims of robbery and banditos. Most people say it’s fine, especially with a guide but we weren’t informed enough to make a decision (especially with the economic results of the pandemic).
Summit San Pedro Volcano
Another more strenuous hike is to summit up the San Pedro volcano. A full-day trek of steep hiking will get you some incredible views. This 4-mile out and back hike is definitely not for the faint-hearted or the light hikers. It’s a hard hike, as are most volcano treks, and we recommend booking a tour or a guide to lead the way and help protect against any possible banditos.
Shop in Panajachel
With traditional Mayan weaving still a very common practice throughout the Highlands of Guatemala, you will find some great shopping opportunities in Panajachel. This is likely where you will be staying during your time in Lake Atitlan and the main street, Calle Santander, is within walking distance to most hotels. The entire street is lined with vendors and artisan shops. You will find anything from handmade tapestries to craft chocolate to traditional Mayan textiles and clothing. Prices are quite affordable and remember, you can negotiate almost anything.
Walk Along the Water
We found that taking a peaceful walk around portions of the lake was sometimes all we needed. There is a great pathway that is flat and just along the side of the water in Santa Cruz. If you head left from the boat docks when you are facing the town you will find a narrow pathway that leads towards the Isla Verde hotel. There were some nice walls to sit on and watch the boats go by and the flowers along the way were gorgeous. You can also spend time walking through the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos.
How to Get to Lake Atitlan
You will likely be coming from Antigua Guatemala to Lake Atitlan as that is the most common path for travelers to take. Since it is a popular route, it is extremely easy to book transportation to Lake Atitlan. Simply talk to your hotel or hostel in Antigua to book your one-way ticket to Lake Atitlan for around (Q140 per person). They will book your spot for you and you can usually do this up until the day before your trip. On busier holidays or weekends, we recommend a few days’ notice, just in case.
There are usually 4 or 5 shuttle times per day (8:30 am, 12:00 pm, 3:00 pm, 7:00 pm). They will pick you up and drop you off at your hotels so no need for a cab or walking through town. Just tell the driver where your hotel is when you start to reach Panajachel. If you are not staying in Panajachel, ask to be dropped off at the boat ramp to take a boat to your town.
The shuttles are roomy and can hold your luggage. The drive really wasn’t too bad even though it was quite windy. All the roads seemed like they had been recently repaved, so it was a pretty smooth ride for Central America.
Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan
Now, for where to stay in Lake Atitlan. You likely will stay in Panajachel, the main touristy town around Lake Atitlan and where most hotels and hostels are located. However, this is definitely not your only option. There are some BEAUTIFUL homes around the lake that are for rent so be sure to check out some of the truly spectacular homes. You can also find some awesome yoga retreats in San Marcos to truly unwind. We searched through quite a few of the hotels and these are a few of the best we found.
Budget | Hospedaje El Viajero – This location is perfect in Panajachel and will get you a room for less than $30 per night. It has great reviews online and is a perfect location to save a few bucks.
Mid-Range | Selina Atitlan – We always love booking private rooms (and bathrooms) at Selina’s around the world. They have a great location in Panajachel close to the boat launch and shopping in Pana.
Luxury | Villa Santa Catarina – This property is located in the next town over from Panajachel in Santa Catarina. This cute artsy town is a great location to make a home base, especially with this gorgeous property. The pool has beautiful views over the lake and volcanoes.
For more options, look for your accommodations on Booking.com!