• Lake Atitl¨¢n, Guatemala - Hasta Luego haven

  • 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 country.

    The view from the mountain top is breathtaking, and more stunning Lake Atitl¨¢n, Guatemala - Hasta Luego haven

    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.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    released by Simon HillierSimon Hillier is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. His company, Get There, provides copywriting, travel writing, feature articles, scripts and ebooks that leap out of the mundane masses to do cartwheels for your audience. For more artic
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