At A Glance
Official Name: Lago De Atitlan (Lake Of Atitlan)
Name Meaning: At The Water (Nahuatl)
Guatemalan Department: Solola
Notable Towns: Solola (city), Panajachel, San Pedro
Language(s): Spanish, Kaqchickel, Tz’utujil
English Speakers: Low
Currency: Guatemalan Quetzale (“Q”)
Lake Atitlan Map
Alexander von Humboldt, the first European explorer to arrive called it the most beautiful lake in the world. Renowned author Aldous Huxley exclaimed it “…really is too much of a good thing.”
What Makes Lake Atitlan So Special?
Lake Atitlan is a 5 star feast for all the senses. Turquoise waters and mammoth volcanoes overwhelm the eyes. A melange of tropical flowers and coniferous pines arouse the nose. The spring climate invigorates the body. Waking up to the cheerful laughter of the Maya people tickles the ears. And hot tortillas with your 2$ breakfast tipico delights the tongue as well as the budget.
There’s just something about being 5000 feet/1500 meters above sea level that makes you feel on top of the world. When the sun sets it literally shines upwards, highlighting the lake’s three volcanoes, Toliman, San Pedro, and Atitlan. Add this to the fact that you’re actually in the crater of what was once one of the world’s largest super volcanoes and it’s almost difficult to take it all in.
Some people claim that the true magnificence of the lake resides in those things that can not be seen; the deep waters, the vast magma chamber below and powerful geomagnetic fields. It’s because of these known and unknown phenomena that many believe the lake to be a source of a sacred energy, the likes of which can cause vivid dreams, altered thought patterns, and an attraction to the lake itself.
Whatever the case, Lake Atitlan is one of the most captivating destinations on the planet, and it’s no wonder why so many people end up calling it home.
The Towns Of Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan consists of many unique big little cities and villages. Among these, 5 places really stick out. They are Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos, Santa Cruz, and Jaibalito. Here you’ll find thriving expat communities, backpacker hostels, hippie hangouts, remarkable volcano views, epic sunsets, heaps of adventures and of course, the tremendous cultures and traditions of the local Maya people. For a complete run down of all the towns on the lake, check out The Towns Of Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan offers everything from luxurious 5 star 500$/night suites to simple yet comfortable 15$/night hotels. If you’re on a serious budget, you can find dorm beds and budget rooms for as little as 4-8$/night.
If you’re looking unique short and long term rentals, there are quite a few listings on AirBnb these days. However, many listings tend to be overpriced. If you haven’t signed up for AirBnb yet, you can earn 25$ by signing up through our link here, GET 25$ Credit On AirBnb (No Catch, Just Free Money!)
For our top picks of hostels ad¥nd hotels, check out Where To Stay On Lake Atitlan.
Within each of Lake Atitlan’s unique towns reside a people whose languages and traditions have survived millennia. Although Catholicism, the Spanish language and other Spanish influences is evident throughout the highlands, many Maya continue to maintain their traditional languages and religions. Many also continue traditional livelihoods based on hand crafts and agriculture.
In many ways, the Maya are very similar to the Japanese. Most people are friendly enough to foreigner travelers but often prefer to keep a comfortable distance. More, public displays of emotions, particularly anger, is perceived as weakness and often met with smiles and laughs in embarrassment. Harmony in the home and community is a pillar of daily life and society. Finally, similar to the Japanese, although many people practice Christianity, the ancient animistic traditions remain strong. For more information about the Maya, check out A Travelers Guide To The Maya Of Lake Atitlan (Coming Soon!).
Lake Atitlan is home to a considerable expatriate community. The majority hail from the USA & Canada but there are quite a few from around Europe as well, most notably Norway. These expats range from senior snow birds and year round business owners to travelers selling jewelry and travelers who got stuck and became home owners.
Although expats can be found in every town around the lake, the majority are based in Panajachel and San Pedro. In Panajachel the majority of the expats flew down in the 1960’s in search warmer weather ‘greener’ fields and never flew back.
For the most part, expats live in symbiotic relationship with the locals. They run a variety of business from hotels and restaurants to humanitarian organizations and other NGOs. There’s a strong degree of mutual respect between expats and locals, and this enables everyone to enjoy the lake in harmony. To find out what kind of people live on the lake, check out our section called The People Of Lake Atitlan. (Coming Soon!)
Getting to Lake Atitlan is much easier than you might think. It takes just 2 1/2 hour to fly from Ft. Lauderdale to Guatemala city. Not only that but with budget airlines like Spirit Air and Jet Blue, it often costs around 100$ one way. Then it’s just a 2 1/2 hour shuttle or taxi to the lake. For more detailed information, refer to How To Travel To Lake Atitlan.
The fastest and cheapest means of transport around Lake Atitlan is by boat or “Launcha.” Just be sure to travel before noon because afternoons can get windy and waves uncomfortably high. After Launchas, it’s all about the Indian imported Rickshaw, better known as a Tuk Tuk. For more information, refer to Transportation Around Lake Atitlan.
Cost Of Living & Travel
Although tourism has driven up prices around Lake Atitlan, it continues to remain extremely cheap. For a complete overview or prices and how to budget your trip, check out The Cost Of Living On Lake Atitlan.
Lake Atitlan Price Index
Currency Name: Quetzales “Q” (GTQ)
Average Rate: 1$ = 7 Q
- Budget Hotel: 100-150 Q
- Dorm Bed: 30-70 Q
- High-end Meal: 120Q
- Coffee: 8Q
- 3 Tacos: 15 Q
- Private Boat Service: 150Q-250Q
Why Lake Atitlan?
Lake Atitlan is a destination for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in Maya culture. It’s for backpackers who want to explore their spirituality in San Marcos or party hard to the beats of San Pedro. It’s for people who want to escape the winter and live amongst a vibrant expat community in Panajachel. It’s for the special few who want to hideaway in the foothills of Jaibalito, Tzunua and Santa Cruz. And it’s for anyone looking for new experiences in a heavenly land among a unique melange of people and cultures.