Lago De Atitlan, or Lake Atitlan, sits at the gateway to the Maya
region of Guatemala, an hour from the city of Antigua.
Eighty-five thousand years ago a huge volcano exploded here,
wiping out much of life in Central America. The result is one of
the world's most stunning geographic formations - a huge lake
surrounded by mountains, valleys and dormant volcanoes. The
villages tucked into the rim of the lake offer some of the
most spectacular views anywhere in the world.
Travelers with limited time, base yourself in Antigua and take
day trips to the lake and the markets at Chichicastenango.
Alternatively, fling your luggage onboard either on an old
Partridge Family school bus with the locals, or a private
shuttle with the well heeled, and within four hours find
yourself aboard a small boat heading out of the major town, Panajachel, or "Gringotenango" as the locals call it, towards
one of the smaller lakeside villages.
One of the most popular towns is San Pedro, sitting at
the base of Volcano San Pedro. Cheap accommodation, beautiful
views, and a number of language schools are just part of the
attraction. It also provides the ideal place to base yourself
for daytrips to the other villages.
The perfect way to start the day around Atitlan is to crawl
crawl out of bed onto your hotel porch to watch the sunrise
over the lake. The mountains are wrapped in a steamy yellow haze
while the water surface is almost perfectly still, disturbed only
by the gentle ripples from the tiny canoe paddles of the local fisherman.
A fabulous afternoon activity for any stressed out city
slicker is reclining with a drink at a lakeside restaurant.
You can't help but float into a state of total relaxation as
village life drifts by. Anyone who spends more than a week in
San Pedro, seems to speak like a 45 record spinning at 33
revs per minute.
One of the highlights of our trip was a five-hour trek around the
lake to the village of San Miguel. It's wise to start out early
and avoid the midday sun, particularly along the steep tracks up
to the small mountain village of Santa Clara. The town is
relatively untouched by the local tourism market, so it provides
a rare opportunity to experience the warmth of the Mayan people
without venturing to the secluded villages in the northwest of
The view from the mountain top is breathtaking, and more stunning
new perspectives open up as you wind your way down the roads
through San Pablo and on to peaceful San Marcos, famous for Las
Piramides meditation centre located right on the lakes edge.
Las Piramides rooms have been inspired by, you guessed it,
the Egyptian pyramids. The centre offers yoga, meditation
massage and metaphysical courses.
I was intrigued to find out what went on after dark at this
hippie haven. Unfortunately, you need to book in advance, so we
hopped in a little ferry boat out front and made our way back to
San Pedro, waving goodbye to the cast of Hair as they floated
back between the rows of huts like levitating sphinxes.
The perfect way to end a day of Atitlan trekking is to submerge
into a lakeside hot tub at San Pedro's Thermal Waters. Arriving
around 6pm, we immersed our weary bodies into the bubbling warm water just as the sun settled down behind the mountains and before
long we were bathing under the stars. The manager drifted out of
his office, placed some candles in the ground around our tub, and left us with the keys. Yes, I'm wondering why I came home too.
There are plenty of strenuous activities to experience at Atitlan
including mountain biking, horse riding to the top Volcano San
Pedro, kayaking, and even water skiing. For bargain hunters,
some of Guatemala's best markets for textiles and clothing
are at Santiago Atitlan, and Panajachel.
An hour away by road is Chichicastenango, Guatemala's largest
indigenous markets. Here you can pick up carved wood masks,
ornate blankets, clothing,local jewellery and a bag to carry
it all in, at very good prices. As always, once you're back
home you'll wish you had bought more, so go crazy.
With time on your hands, you can also explore more traditional
Maya villages and towns in the Western Highlands around Nebaj,
Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, and Todos Santos.
Our final night in Atitlan was spent in Guatemala's most
beautifully positioned hotel, La Casa del Mundo Hotel & Café at
Jaibalito. The hotel is accessible only by boat or on foot, and
sits right on the cliff face overlooking the lake. The evening
started with a pre-dinner drink at the hotel bar proving the
ideal position to soak up the vibrant colours of our last Atitlan
sunset as it faded behind Volcano San Pedro.
Guests gather for dinner at one long table where wining, dining,
and refining of exaggerated travel tales abound. After the meal, frustrated by allegations that perhaps I hadn't ridden through
North Korea by yak, I headed out to the balcony, rolled into a hammock and watched the amazing shooting star performance overhead.
It was the perfect way to say "hasta luego" to one of the most stunning places I have ever experienced. They do say href='http://www.getthere.com.au/guatemala-photos'>photos never lie.