10 best things to do at Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular places to visit in Guatemala because of the clear blue lake, surrounded by volcanoes, mountains and charming villages. This beautiful landscape offers fun activities on the lake, unique and beautiful hotels and hostels, and great places to relax by the water. Read this blog for the best things to do at Lake Atitlan and our practical tips for the best villages to stay and how to get around the lake.

Lake Atitlán Guatemala

How to get to Atitlan in Guatemala

Lake Atitlan is located in western Guatemala. Its location makes Atitlan easy to fit into any Guatemala travel itinerary with other popular destinations like the colonial town Antigua also located in this part of the country.

How to get to Atitlan

The easiest way to travel around Guatemala is with the minivans that run like shuttle buses for travelers between the most visited destinations. You can easily book these vans at your hotel or any travel organization. Even easier and often not even much more expensive if you travel with two or more people is the Uber.  If you don’t have an Uber account yet, we recommend signing up with this Uber link for a discount on your first ride. There is also the option of using the cheap, local chicken bus for an authentic experience. These buses are a great option for short distances, as they travel very slowly and you often have to change buses several times for longer distances.

Most visitors travel from Antigua or Semuy Champey to Lake Atitlan. The lesser-known destination Quetzaltenango, worth a visit for its authentic Guatemalan experience and volcanoes, is located in this part of the country and is close to Lake Atitlan. There is even a three-day guided hike that you can do to get from Atitlan to Quetzaltenango – or vice versa. Quetzaltenango is definitely worth visiting because of the non-touristy atmosphere and the beautiful natural surroundings with volcanoes.

How to get around at Atitlan

Almost all travelers arrive at Lake Atitlan at the main village of Panajachel. Some transport companies might have other villages around the lake as their final destinations, but we believe it has its charm to arrive at Panajachel and then cross the lake by the boat ferry to the village where you’re staying.

Although the villages around Lake Atitlan can be reached by car, the boat is the fastest and most fun mode of transportation around Atitlan. They work like a kind of bus connection across the lake. Almost all villages are visited several times an hour by one of these bus boats and you will be taken to the next village for 10 to 20 Quetzal. You can simply walk to the jetties at Panajachel (or the other villages) and ask which boat is the first to leave for your destination.

Lake Atitlán Guatemala

The best villages around Atitlan

Most travelers choose the villages of Panajachel, San Pedro or San Marcos as a base to explore the famous lake, as these villages are packed with great restaurants and hotels. But there are also smaller villages around the like, such as Santa Clara or San Juan, for a more local experience and even more great places to stay at Lake Atitlan. We chose to spend some nights in San Marcos, which we think is the best village on Lake Atitlan to stay, and then picked a stunning hotel in a more remote location to experience both.


Panajachel is the largest and busiest town on the lake. Most buses and minivans arrive in this village. Especially during the weekend, it is pleasantly busy in town and the main street is packed with souvenir stalls. To us, the village is a bit too busy and lacks the charm other villages have. Panajachel doesn’t have the picturesque atmosphere you’ll find in other places around the lake, so we wouldn’t recommend using Panajachel as a base to explore Atitlan.

Panajachel also lacks those special, beautiful places to stay that Atitlan is known for. A good alternative? Right next to Panajachel is the cozy and incredibly colorful village of Santa Catarina Palopó, where you can experience a quieter atmosphere and beautiful places to stay.

San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro is known for affordable hostels and backpackers’ parties, attracting mainly young backpackers. The village has a relaxed atmosphere and is packed with restaurants and bars. San Pedro is also the best base if you want to climb the San Pedro volcano which is located directly next to the village. Although the village is often referred to as the best village in Atitlan, we ourselves are not big fans of the backpacker and party atmosphere of San Pedro. We therefore prefer to visit it for the day instead of choosing it as a base for Atitlan. Right next to San Pedro – and a short walk away – is the smaller San Juan, known for its colorful main street lined with umbrellas.

San Marcos La Laguna

San Marcos is a relaxed, tiny village that is often described as the ultimate hippie village of Guatemala. The atmosphere is extremely relaxed. Although the village is very small, it is packed with great restaurants and things to do. Yoga, massages, reiki and sound healing are offered. There are vegetarian restaurants with hip, Western dishes and the souvenir shops sell handmade jewelry and colorful sarongs.

Read more: why San Marcos is the best village at Lake Atitlan

Graffiti | San Marcos | Lake Atitlan | Guatemala

Where to stay at Atitlan

Most travelers choose the villages of Panajachel, San Pedro or San Marcos as a base to explore the famous lake, as these villages are packed with great restaurants and hotels. But there are also smaller villages around the like, such as Santa Clara or San Juan, for a more local experience and even more great places to stay at Lake Atitlan. We chose to spend some nights in San Marcos, which we think is the best village on Lake Atitlan to stay, and then picked a stunning hotel in a more remote location to experience both.

The best hostels and hotels near Atitlan:

#1 Selina Atitlan (Panajachel) for a trendy and stylish hotel on the waterfront of Panajachel. The hotel has everything guests could wish for with its own swimming pool, restaurant and garden. There are both dormitories for a hostel atmosphere and private rooms with ensuite bathrooms.

#2 Balam Ya (between Panajachel and Santa Catarina Palopó) for beautiful lodges right on the lake. You can grab kayaks and SUPs for free and with an on-site jetty you can get straight into the lake from Balam Ya.

#3 Tzampoc Resort (Santa Catarina Palopó) for a beautiful resort on the shores of the lake. With an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, gardens and terraces, sauna, restaurant and bar, this is the perfect place to unwind by the lake.

#4 Eco Hotel Uxlabil (San Juan) for a great eco-hotel on the lake with a swimming pool and beautiful gardens. Free kayaks are available at the private dock for guests to take out on the water. All rooms have a balcony overlooking the lake.

#5 Lush Atitlan (San Marcos) for one of the most beautiful hotel options at Atitlan. The hotel offers a phenomenal view of the lake and is beautifully built from natural materials and with calm tones.

#6 Eagle’s Nest Atitlan (outskirts of San Marcos) for a hippy-style eco-resort located just outside San Marcos, built against the rocks like an eagle’s nest. The view over the lake and the volcanoes is phenomenal. There are mountain huts, dormitories and apartments. A booking is always all-inclusive, so with three meals a day, yoga classes and a sauna.

#7 Atitlan Sunset Lodge (near Santa Cruz) for one of the most famous hotels on Lake Atitlan. You can only get to Atitlan Sunset Lodge by boat and that remote location adds to the magic of this special place to stay. There are free kayaks to go out on the lake.

Lake Atitlán Guatemala

10 best things to do at Lake Atitlan

Lago de Atitlán is the perfect place to do absolutely nothing. Enjoy the beautiful hotels on the lake, enjoy the many restaurants, watch the sunset with a cocktail and do nothing. Atitlan makes a great place to plan in some rest in your Guatemala itinerary. But if you’re like us and you find it difficult to sit still for a few days, there is plenty to do on and around the lake. Continue reading for the best things to do in Atitlan.

#1 The villages of Atitlan

We already mentioned the many villages around Lake Atitlan and one of the best things to do is a day trip to one or more of these towns. We recommend that you plan for one or two days to soak up the atmosphere in the picturesque villages around Atitlan. Take the bus boat from your base to the villages and discover how they each have their own character. The three most famous villages of Panajachel, San Pedro and San Marcos have the most to offer travelers, but the smaller towns are also nice to visit.

#2 The hip hotspots on the lake

The villages around Lake Atitlan are packed with trendy hotspots. Almost all villages – and certainly the three most popular places Panajachel, San Pedro and San Marcos – have many cozy restaurants, coffee shops and cafes where you can enjoy delicious meals, cocktails during happy hour, nice breakfasts and perfect coffee. Our days in Atitlan therefore consisted largely of trying out the hip hotspots, with San Marcos La Laguna standing out for us because of the many choices. A selection of our favourites:

  • Deli Jasmin (Panajachel) for tasty meals in a beautiful courtyard
  • Café Loco Coffee Roasters (Panajachel) for a Western coffee shop
  • Idea Connection Italian Restaurant (San Pedro) for Italian paninis and pizza
  • Kamui (San Pedro) for Japanese food
  • Hummus-Ya (San Pedro) for delicious pita bread
  • Sababa (San Pedro) for great food in a hip hot spot overlooking the lake
  • Pita Saby (San Pedro) for delicious pita bread
  • Maloca (San Marcos) for vegetarian meals on lounge cushions (tip: choose the buddhabowl)
  • Circles Cafe & Bakery (San Marcos) for the best coffee, cookies and sandwiches
  • Pitta Gordita (San Marcos) for pita bread with hummus and falafel and Israeli shaksuka
  • Shambala (San Marcos) for healthy breakfasts
  • Comedor Konojel (San Marcos) for local meals at a low price

#3 SUP, kayaking and canoeing

With a beautiful blue lake as the main attraction, getting out on the water is of course one of the most popular things to do in Atitlan. Whether you opt for a sup, kayak or canoe, we absolutely recommend that you spend a morning on the water.

Trips are offered by several organizations, where you start at one of the villages and sail along the coast. But there are also many hostels and hotels on Atitlan, where there are sups, kayaks or canoes at a jetty that you can use for free. Like Eco Hotel Uxlabil, Balam Ya and Atitlan Sunset Lodge, three popular and unique places to stay at Lake Atitlan.

#4 Hike from Santa Cruz to Jaibalito and San Marcos

From Santa Cruz you can take a beautiful walk to Jaibalito or – for the fanatic – all the way to San Marcos. You hike almost the entire route along the coast and have beautiful views of the lake and the surrounding hills and volcanoes. The distance between Santa Cruz and Jaibalito is not very big and you can do this walk in 30 to 45 minutes. The hike is also mostly flat, making this a not too strenuous activity. If you want to make it a heavier hike, you can hike all the way to San Marcos. This takes about 2 hours.

#5 Massages and yoga in San Marcos

As small as San Marcos is, the village is full of great restaurants and fun activities. Spend a day in San Marcos and let the hippie vibe surprise you. That hippie vibe can be seen in the San Marcos’ murals, buddha bowls and shops with knitted tops, but also in an extensive range of yoga, sound healing, massages, reiki and more. We recommend you to go for at least one of the many activities in San Marcos to immerse yourself in what is called the ultimate hippie village of Guatemala.

#6 The viewpoints in Cerro Tzankujil

Right next to San Marcos is the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve, a nature reserve that is right on the water and runs up against the cliffs. The park has jetties and decking on the lake, where you can relax. A popular spot is the meter-high jumping platform. If you have the energy, you can also climb all the way up to a Mayan altar in this natural park.

#7 Volcano San Pedro

Guatemala is known for its impressive volcanoes and there are three of them around Lake Atitlan. Every view of the famous lake is therefore dominated by a beautiful view of these volcanoes. The most famous is the San Pedro volcano, located next to the village of the same name. A popular activity at Atitlan is climbing this volcano.

Because we had already climbed the Acatenango, Pacaya and Santiaguito volcanoes, we skipped this activity. We hear varying stories about the possibility to climb the volcano yourself without a guide. The hike up would not be too strenuous and long, making it perfectly possible to undertake this yourself. But we also hear that there are many robberies along the hiking trail, so it is better to do this with a guide for safety reasons.

#8 The sunrise from the Indian Nose

The Indian Nose is one of Lake Atitlan’s most famous landmarks. It is a mountain on the west side of the lake near the villages of San Pedro and Santa Clara. From the top, you have the most beautiful viewpoint over Atitlan. A platform offers a phenomenal view over the deep blue lake and the surrounding volcanoes. The hike up is quite tough. In the beginning the path is still fairly flat, but in the end it is a fairly steep climb.

Especially early in the morning – or rather at night – the Indian Nose hike is very popular, as many hikers come up here to watch the sunrise from the viewpoint. We also hear varying stories about this hike, whether you can do it on your own or better with a guide for safety reasons.

#9 The market in Panajachel

The main street of Panajachel is a kind of tourist mecca with endless rows of shops with souvenirs. Although that doesn’t sound too cozy and authentic, a visit to this market in Calle Santander is one of the best things to do in Atitlan. A visit gives you an impression of the much busier Panajachel, which is the largest village on the lake. It makes a great place to find low-priced souvenirs to bring home because of the large selection of shops and souvenirs. From colorful fabrics to handmade jewelry to traditional Mayan items, you can find pretty much anything at the Calle Santander market.

#10 Day trip to Chichicastenango

If you want to visit Guatemala’s most famous market, you should be in Chichicastenango on Thursdays or Sundays. Chichicastenango – or Chichi for short – is located north of Lago de Atitlán. This makes Atitlan the easiest place to visit the famous market of Chichicastenango from. You can visit the market with an organized tour or on your own with the local chicken bus.

Chichi is said to have the largest and most colorful market in all of Central America. A visit to this famous market is therefore not something you can do in half an hour. You can wander endlessly between the shops and stalls without getting bored. Have you lost your way in this colorful chaos? Don’t worry, because the market centers around the white church Iglesia de Santo Tomas as the central point.

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