The Area

Lake AtitlanThe Lake Atitlan area is amazing. It offers great weather, great views and great people.

With the lake as a moderating factor, temperature extremes are, well, not extreme. Expect them to always be in the range of 10C to 30C, day and night throughout the year. While it certainly rains in the rainy season, there is seldom a day without at least a few hours of sunshine. In the dry season (November to May) it almost never rains.

Here are some pages that address specific questions.

Around the lake are lots of communities with different flavors. Some you can only get to by boat.The map shows where we are relative to the communities on the lake.

San Antonio Area

We offer lodging in San Antonio Palopó.

Panajachel

Outside the public market in Panajachel.

Outside the public market in Panajachel.

Typically referred to as Pana, it is the major gateway to the area. Buses (public and shuttles) arrive here from Guatemala City. Many people come to Pana and they catch a boat to one of the other communities on the lake such as Santa Cruz or San Marcos.

While far from a real city, Pana has a lot of services you would not expect to find in a town of only about 12,000. Lots of restaurants and some stores that sell what we can call International Food. People from other communities come to Pana to shop and bank. In fact, Pana has six banks which more than in Estelí Nicaragua, a city of close to 200,000. Walking and bicycles are the most common transportation methods with motor scooters being number three.

 

San Antonio Palopó

00o0o_7aBgaeiJyYN_600x450While only 10 km from Pana on a decent road along the lake, it is a very different kind of community. Almost everyone is indigenous in San Antonio and “night life” is not much beyond watching the sun set over the lake. While Pana may be where you want to be to have a drink with some Gringos, San Antonio is where you want to be if you want to escape from noise and even people.

Note that while San Antonio looks pretty built up in the photo, Casa Colonial is beyond (on the right) of the area covered by the photo.

While just chilling out is popular, there are lots of outdoor activities available. They include:

  • Hiking around San Antonio or up to Aguas Escondidas.
  • A boat trip to San Lucas and possibly continuing around the lake by a combination of boats and chicken buses.
  • A pickup trip to Panajachel.
  • A pickup and bus trip to the market in Sololá. (Friday is a big day.)
  • Hanging out on the lake shore or going swimming in the lake.
  • Visit the ceramics factory.

Our Learning about San Antonio page offers more factoids.

This map of the lake shows the major communities but there are many more. Each tends to have its own personality. Some are easy to get to by chicken bus, others only by boat. Here are some basic descriptions.

San Lucas Toliman

The beach in San Lucas where you get off the boat from San Antonio.

The beach in San Lucas where you get off the boat from San Antonio.

Mostly local community — that is with little Gringo population. The public market there (big days are Tuesday, Friday and Sunday) offers fresh ocean fish at good prices as it is the first lake community on the road from the coast. Easy travel to the coast or Santiago Atitlán by chicken bus.

From San Antonio Palopó it is a short and beautiful boat trip to San Lucas. While some of the boats stop at the dock just down from Casa Colonial, it is worth walking to the main dock near the soccer field so you are not the last to get on a possibly full boat. The boat trip is Q5 for locals but non-locals paying Q10 is typical. In any case, it’s cheap.

If you are looking for fish from the ocean, it is worth leaving on the 8AM boat on Sunday. There are return boats at 10:30 and noon. It is a walk of a few blocks from the dock to the market.

The population is around 25,000.

Santiago Atitlán

The population is over 46,000. I have only been there once but I found it full of tourist hotels, “cute” cafes and lots of shops.

San Pedro La Laguna

While there is a large indigenous population, it is close to the hippy community here. Particularly near the public dock you will find vegetarian restaurants, lots of Spanish schools and an health food store. Many people, particularly those non-locals you meet on the street, speak English. The population is about 10,000.

San Juan La Laguna

Not shown on the map but between San Pedro and San Marcos. It is billed as “the cleanest community on the lake”. The population is about 10,000.

San Marcos La Laguna

The new age community on the lake. One of the things I really like about Panajachel is that Gringos, locals and tourists live in the same area. San Marcos is about as segregated as you can get. Total population is about 2200.

Santa Cruz La Laguna

There is an indigenous community up the hill (a steep walk but TukTuks are available) with tourist hotels and restaurants along the shore. There are quite a few internationalistas living in and near town. The total population is about 6000.

Security in the area

Even before I moved to Guatemala people would ask “is it safe”? Statistics don’t adequately answer that question. While no place is 100% safe, this area is very safe for the tourist and, in general, for anyone who is not sticking their nose in the wrong place.

If you lived anywhere for a long time you will recognize what and where is safe. If anything, that is more so in Guatemala. Competing with organized crime or getting into politics are dangerous occupations. Being a tourist and spending your money in rural Guatemala is not. I have told many people the most dangerous thing in Panajachel is walking barefoot outside the “bar area” late on a Saturday night — because you might cut your foot on a broken beer bottle.

Now, someone is going to say “my friend got robbed in San Pedro” or whatever. Yes, it can happen. I personally got robbed in Seattle Washington, a few blocks from my house. But, in general, don’t stand out and you are pretty safe.

I just re-read that last paragraph after a few weeks and laughed. How does a Gringo in shorts with white legs and bad Spanish not stand out in an indigenous community where most people are in traditional dress? What I mean is doing act like a dumb Gringo. Here are some dumb Gringo actions you should avoid.

  • You may love your big diamond ring or gold chain. Great but don’t wear them here.
  • Don’t just starting taking pictures of people or their kids. Ask first and be OK with them saying no. (One lady I asked said “is this just for you personally or for Facebook?” Personally was fine with her.
  • Don’t “buy the drunk a beer”. He doesn’t need it and it just helps add the “sucker” tag to you.

Most people are very open and friendly. Even with bad Spanish, try your best to, well, act like an ordinary person.


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