Lake Atitlan and the surrounding villages (11 – 16 December)

After we left Antigua, we decided to spend the rest of the week by infamous Lake Atitlan. This crater lake which, is surrounded by volcanoes, is referred to one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. To get there we needed to take a 3 hours bus ride. We took a local “chicken bus” to Panajachel (cost about 35Q (USD 5) pp) and not the transfer bus which is more expensive (USD 12-15 pp). Chicken buses are old USA school buses which are sold in auctions after their life becomes to the end in the USA. The buses are colored to as colorful as possible. The ride itself was quite an experience. It was like being on a roller coaster and thereby at some point it did not feel particularly safe. In curves, we had to hold on to the chairs in order not to bounce to the other side of the bus. We, however, got to see a lot of the small villages and everyday life there during the course of a journey.
In every bus, there is a luggage guy. The job of this guy is to collect the ticket money and to help put larger pieces of the luggage on top of the roof :S Jaanus was constantly checking out from the back window to ensure our backpacks will not fell off. For most of the ride, the luggage boy either stayed on top of the roof or was hanging on the ladder outside the back of the bus. When bus slowed down, he slipped himself in from the back door and started collecting the ticket money from new passengers. Safety first… well, not in Guatemala I guess. Check also our instgram story of Lake Atitlan

Also, it is totally normal to go and refuel the bus during the course of the journey.

We were also the only tourists on that bus. We understood that most of the tourists take the shuttle or transfer bus because it is not that much expensive and is more convenient. However, we also read from some of the blogs that some years back some of the shuttle buses were robbed because only tourist ride with them making it a good target. Thereby we felt quite safe taking the local chicken bus instead because we think chances are slim that locals rob locals from who there is nothing to take.

After the bus ride, we had to take a local launch boat lancha across the lake to our village San Juan La Laguna, which was our home for the next 5 days. We had an Airbnb place booked there at local Mayan family. You can read more about our stay there in a separate blog post by clicking here.

Atitlan lake is a volcanic crater lake located in south-west Guatemala. It is the deepest lake in Central – America having a depth of 34 meters. There are 3 volcanos surrounding the lake – San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan. There are also several small villages around the lake. We visited 5 of those during our stay there. Traveling between the villages is easy and arranged with local launch boats which cost very little. Depending on where you need to go about it is about 10-25Q pp (USD 1.5-2.5 pp)

Our hometown San Juan la Laguna is considered as a most traditional village in the area. There are relatively few tourists and local customs and culture are well preserved. Tourism is however still the most important source of income. San Juan was small and lovely but to be honest, bit boring for us. We managed to walk through the village and all the sights there with only a half day. The prices for different tours were quite cheap but considering our budget we only decided to take the hike on top of San Pedro volcano. Other options would have been hiking on top of Indian Nose mountain, Spanish language course, Dyeing the fabric course, Cook School or renting a kayak. You can read more about our hike on top of San Pedro volcano from our separate blog post by clicking here.

Next, to San Juan, there is San Pedro la Laguna – a town right next to the volcano. This town is famous for tourist being a party town where prices are relatively low and in many bars, there are happy hours for drinks. We, however, were impressed by the central square. In addition, we enjoyed some local food in a bar next to the lake. We witnessed how locals were doing laundry in the lake. It is advised not to swim in the lake because the water is not considered particularly clean. So we did not go swimming ourselves as well and we also did not see any other people swimming.
San Pedro is in walking distance from San Juan but the road is uphill and dusty. Thereby normally people take Tuc-Tuc to cover that distance. We decided to save lunch money a take a walk. Some people were giving us a strange look like we were crazy people.

On the other side of the lake, there is the village of San Miguel la Laguna, which we visited one day. This village is famous for its’ hippie vibe and a place for vegetarian food and yoga enthusiast. On the west side of the village, there is a natural reserve area which is the perfect place to relax, meditate and have some time for your own thoughts while enjoying the beauty of volcanos across the lake. When we were writing our names in the guestbook of the Natural Reserve Park, we were pleasantly surprised to find a name of another Estonian. From all the villages around the lake, we liked the San Marcos the most. It was a stress-free atmosphere where nobody is rushing and everybody are smiling.

The other day we visited a village called Santa Cruz la Laguna. We read from one blog that there is a nice bar where you can have a spectacular view of the lake and the volcanos. We did not have to disappoint – it really was so-called million-dollar view. It also seemed to us that the whole place (hotel and the bar) is for sale, so if there is anybody interested in some real-estate project then go for it.

The city center of that village is locating further from the shore and we had to walk uphill. Again tuk-tuk drivers were surprised that we do not want to take tuk-tuk and torture ourselves by walking uphill with that heat. When we reached up, we were looking for some places to eat. To be honest this village seemed dead and there were only a few overpriced places with no people in there. So, we decided to buy a street food which was much more affordable – fried chicken and fries. We sat and eat on the pavement and observed the locals.

We also read from one blog that there is a little trail from Santa Cruz to Jaibalito. It was a 20-minute walk with nice views. This seemed a walk worth to take and we did not disappoint. There were supposed to be a nice pool bar on Jaibalito where you can enjoy the drink in the pool and observe the lake and the volcanos.

When we made it to Jaibalito there were local kids ready to help us find the bar. They were very happy to show us the way and we also gave them some coins for their good job. Kaija made some pictures and video of them and they were very confused and stunned to see all this modern technology. We soon learned that this pool bar is very expensive and you need to spend a certain amount to be allowed to go in the pool. This, however, was over our budget limit so we decided to skip. At least this time 😊

Later on, when we were looking for a cafeteria to have some coffee, we met one Canadian. He invited us to the hostel he was staying instead to have a coffee there. He made the coffee himself and from the local freshly roasted beans. He said it is the best coffee in the world and Jaanus was also convinced that this is probably the best coffee he has ever had.

With that our tour around the lake Atitlan became to the end. Little travel tip for those who plan to take lancha to visit different villages – sit behind the boat if possible. Otherwise, you may get a free shower 😊 especially if there is wind and waves.

Next day we took lancha to Pana and chicken bus to Antigua and from there on to Guatemala city to a hostel for one night before our flight to Costa Rica. Good bye San Juan la Laguna, our Mayan host family and Guatemala

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