The combination of Lake Atitlan´s natural beauty and Mayan culture provides stimulation, recreation and relaxation, depending on your mood. Atitlan is a beautiful, 1,000 foot deep lake nestled against three 10,000 foot volcanic peaks - Toliman, Atitlán and San Pedro. Along the shores of Lake Atitlán are a dozen Indian villages where life and customs have changed little over the centuries.
Though the lake area offers adequate transportation to and from all of the surrounding villages, it is quite possible that local inhabitants will spend most of their lives in the village of their birth and may not even travel to other villages across the lake. As evidence of this relative isolation, there 3 different native languages spoken around the lake, and each village has their own accent within their indigenous language. Some of the villagers, more often women who may not work outside their homes, do not speak Spanish. All of the villages are relatively small, and material comforts and healthcare are limited. Most of the villages are connected to the outside world only by boat. Nonetheless, each village offers a rich and varied tapestry of food, color, language and culture. Because of the prevalence of tourism, there are a variety of jobs in addition to agriculture and fishing and many people make crafts to sell. Each village has its own traditional attire - brightly colored woven and embroidered clothes, belts, and hair bands and clothes, setting them apart from the neighboring villages.
Sololá, has long been a market town, even before
the arrival of the Spaniards or the tourists. Twice per week on Tuesdays
and Fridays, they have an excellent market with traders coming from
far to sell their wares to locals and tourists alike. It is a very
nice and less touristed alternative to the long touted Chichicastenango
Panajachel, with an estimated population of 14,000, is the largest and most touristy of the villages. It has a reputation as a hippie hangout, dubbed "Gringotenango". Most likely you will pass through en route to other villages which have retained their indigenous charm despite decades of tourism.
Santa Cruz, with it´s village perched high above the lakeshore, offers a great selection of nearby hotels, each with unique offerings of food and beverages at their respective restaurants. The village itself is fairly lively with local activity, but most tourists prefer the ex-pat owned offerings along the shore.
Jailbalito. This small village is accessible by boat only and truly offers the most authentic peak at indigenous Guatemalan life.
Tzununa, set back in the ravine is another very quiet village, with very little tourism.
San Marcos La Laguna has become a center for meditation, holistic health, massage, Reiki, and other spiritual activities. The meditation center, Las Piramides, is a focal point of town offering a one-month personal development course beginning every full-moon.
San Pablo is set high above the lake and connects easily to neighboring villages, San Juan, from here you can take a jaw dropping ride winding up and up and to Santa Clara on your way to the Interamericana.
San Juan de Laguna is a very small village known for the use of natural dyes in their textiles. Winding through the streets you will also discover some terrific folk art murals on several of the village buildings.
San Pedro la Laguna, located at the base of the Volcano San Pedro is filled with budget ¨backpacker¨ accommodations. This is where climbs of San Pedro begin. The climb itself is steep, strenuous and gorgeous. It begins in coffee and corn plants and at the top there is a stunning view of the crater and the lake. Be sure to bring plenty of water, and be aware of altitude sickness!
Santiago Atitlán one of the bigger villages on the lake, this is a shopper's haven. Winding your way up to the historic cathedral, shops and vendors are inescapable. Here you will be asked if you want to visit Maximón, a very ¨colorful¨ pagan saint.
San Lucas, tucked into the corner of Lake Atitlan is a quiet village surrounded by coffee plants and beauty of nature.
San Antonio Palopó has both women´s weaving cooperatives and pottery to lure the tourist. San Antonio is virtually ¨at the end of the road¨ and offers the most stunning view of sunset from the gleaming white church in the center of town.
Santa Catarina Palopó is a charming village with a women's cooperative that supports the school. As in all villages, you are met at the dock with women and children selling their wares.
Guatemala is called the "Land of Eternal Spring" because the average annual temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit (a bit cooler, especially in the evenings around Lake Atitlan, 5,000ft elevation). While June through August see the most tourists, April, early May and November for gorgeous weather and smaller crowds. The rainy season lasts from May to October, typically beginning each day wioth clear skys and clouding up and rains beginning after mid-day. The Semana Santa (Easter week) proceedings in March or April are very popular and bookings need to be made far in advance. High season rates apply for most hotels both During Semana Santa and the Christmas/New Years seasons.