4 Best Experiences To Have On Lago de Atitlan
Wild, jungle-blanketed volcanoes tower skywards, surrounding a large crystalline expanse of water. Its surface is unbroken except for the occasional wake of a passing ferry boat. The songs of tropical birds fill the pure air, and a lone fisherman floats in his homemade boat in the peaceful waters of Lago de Atitlan. In the evening he will return to one of the many small villages which cling to both the mountain's sides and the water's edge.
This gorgeous paradise is tucked away in a quiet corner of Guatemala’s highlands. Local Guatemalan heritage lives on here in the form of food, clothing, and religion. Lago de Atitlan is the perfect place to travel if you want a taste of the traditional Guatemalan lifestyle.
Lago de Atitlan, home sweet home!
Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/krlitoxgt/2354023903
One of the unique facets of Lago de Atitlan is that it is the perfect place for both the traveler looking to meet other tourists, as well as the traveler looking to escape the crowds. The larger towns such as Panajachelle, Santiago, and San Pedro are known for being the tourist towns. As a result you can find larger markets, available transportation, and cheap hotels. There are many other towns where life is quieter, tempting the backpacker whose reservations about large crowds of tourists lead him to avoid the larger towns. There are often hostels if you are staying for only a night or two, but I would recommend renting a house if the attractions of the lake convince you to stay longer.
But what entertainment does Lago de Atitlan provide? Here are four things that travelers from around the world have enjoyed doing on the lake:
1: Take A Boat
The best and most commonly used form of transportation around the lake’s little towns are the boats. Long motorboats, painted white and blue, zip across the lake’s surface to stop at one of the docks. Locals and tourists alike pile in, passing their payment to the driver as they enter. Bundles are set in the front, people in the back. I’ve seen all sorts of things go on the boats. Chickens, dogs, gigantic baskets of clothing, etc.
Be careful! Unless you want to be wet, take the boat in the morning when the water is calm. At noon every day, a predictable wind blows in over the volcanoes. This wind is called the Xocomil (pronounced choco meel) and can make boat travel very rough and unpleasant.
2: Ride To A Coffee Plantation
Touristy? Yes. Expensive? Usually. Worth it? Absolutely. Taking a guided horse tour up the volcano to one of the many coffee plantations is one of the only ways to see how the Guatemalan coffee is grown and harvested. The guide takes you up a beautiful mountain path, with jungle on either side. If you look closely, you may be lucky enough to see the rare Quetzal bird! Upon your arrival at the plantation, he will show you how to tell which beans are ripe, and allow you to pick a few while he explains the entire process, from the plant to your cup! The best town for this excursion is San Pedro, as it offers the greatest variety in tours.
Coffee beans... red are ripe, green are not
Photo courtesy of flickr creative commons: flickr.com/photos/zeepack/2798816475/
3: Jump Off A Cliff!
Wait... what? You heard me. One of Lago de Atitlan’s greatest attractions is the cliffs of San Marcos. This town is quiet, and relatively unvisited by the regular tourist, so there is no charge to go jump off the cliff! A dirt path leads up the side of the mountain to a platform that extends a few feet out, at a height of around thirty or forty feet above the cool waters of the lake. Taking that wild plunge can be frightening at first, but it is a feeling of exhilaration you will never forget!
4: Listen To Some Live Music
San Marcos also sports some of the best live music on the lake. This is where many of the expats choose to live, and many backpackers spend months at a time here. It is the main center for meditation. Thus, it is a very peaceful village. In the day, all is quiet. Guatemalans and expats alike go about their day calmly. But at night, it is a different world altogether. There are five or six bars, and often as many or more musicians. In the evenings the musicians meet in one or two of the bars and hold jam sessions. The result? Some of the most beautiful sounds on the lake. One of the bars is most famous for the musicians it has hosted. Patrons of Blind Lemons have had the opportunity to listen to some of the great names of jazz and blues, including Peter Van Gelder, Walter Szymanski, and Barbara Martin.
With all of these great activities, Lago de Atitlan is the perfect place to spend anywhere from a day to a year. There is something for everyone there. Whether you are on a quick vacation, or a worldwide traveler, this piece of Guatemala will delight you. Idyllic, calm, home of both adventure and peace, Lago de Atitlan is the ultimate travel destination.
Hannah Miller is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program.
Photos courtesy and copyright Hannah Miller, except where noted
Feature photo: San Marcos cliff jumping