While Lake Atitlán isn’t necessarily known for being a popular digital nomad destination, it’s no stranger to tourists and backpackers alike. And we all know that where tourists go, so do the coffee shops with internet, coworking spaces, and traveler-friendly accommodation options, go as well. (Ya know – things that digital nomads can hardly go without!)
If you are wondering what life is like in Lake Atitlán for 1, 2, or 3 months (the maximum amount of time you can spend in Guatemala without renewing your tourist stamp), then read on!
In this guide, I’ll be sharing all my tips and experience after living in Lake Atitlán as a digital nomad this year. In it, I’ll share my recommendations for which lakeside Maya town is most suitable for nomads, Lake Atitlán’s internet speeds, how to find long-term accommodation, fun things to do, my favorite places to eat/drink, and more.
Here’s everything you need to know about living the laptop lifestyle in Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala!
The Digital Nomad’s Guide to Lake Atitlán
Cost of Living in Lake Atitlan as a Digital Nomad
We found it fairly affordable to live in Lake Atitlan as digital nomads. Ultimately, though, your monthly cost of living in Lake Atitlan will depend on your lifestyle. On average, we spent around $1100/month as a couple.
During the week, we cooked at home most days and ate out at least 2-3x either for lunch/dinner or to grab a coffee and work at a cafe for the afternoon. There are things to do in Lake Atitlan in terms of tours and activities (both free and paid), so we spent most of our weekends exploring around and checking off the bucket list.
Here’s the breakdown of our living costs:
- Rent: $720/month (private tiny home via Airbnb)
- Organic market: $100/month
- Local market: $50/month
- Cafes/restaurants: $50-75/month
- Activities/tours: $40-80/month
1 USD is around 7.75 Quetzals (GTQ) and 1 EUR is about Q9 (we always rounded up to Q10 for easy calculation). Just to give you an idea of everyday costs, here are some examples of the types of prices you’ll see for food/drink, monthly rent, and transport:
- Cup of coffee – Q20
- Beer – Q20-40
- Restaurant meal – Q60-120
- Budget eats: Q30-60
- Expat rent: Q5000+
- Local rent: Q3500
- Boat fare: Q5-25/person
- Tuk-tuk ride: Q5-10/person
- Shuttle to Antigua: Q100/person
Costs will vary depending on if you are traveling often between the lakeside towns, how much you eat out, and your living situation!
Best Time to Travel to Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlán, and Guatemala in general, is known as the “place of the eternal spring.”
You can expect spring-like temps nearly year-round in Lake Atitlán, with fresh and sunny days during the dry season from November to March or mid-April.
The rainy season might start early, in April (as it did for us), and if you’re there during the rainy season you’ll have colder mornings and evenings with frequent showers.
Since Lake Atitlán is in the highlands, in the Sololá department, it’s not as humid or hot as we expected! For warmer temps, head north to the El Petén department or to the south coast.
Transportation – Getting Around the Lake
Getting around Lake Atitlán might seem confusing at first. There are around a dozen lakeside towns around the lake and boats have daily routes that stop at each one.
Since you will most likely be arriving in Panajachel, the bustling gateway town to the lake, you will depart from here via boat to get to one of the other towns (unless you are planning to base yourself in Pana, of course).
Boats depart from popular towns such as San Pedro La Laguna, Pana, and San Marcos La Laguna frequently – about every 5 to 15 minutes or so.
From Panajachel, you will ride the boat in a counterclockwise direction. So, if your final destination is San Pedro, for example, you will first stop by the docks of Santa Cruz La Laguna, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos La Laguna, San Juan La Laguna, and then San Pedro.
The stops are brief and are only to quickly pick up or drop off riders. Sometimes, if a town will get skipped if no one is getting off or waiting to be picked up.
Getting around the lake by boat varies in price, but for foreigners, it will cost between Q10 and Q25 per person. Try to have exact change.
Once in the towns, though, you’ll get around via a red tuk-tuk and that costs always Q5 or sometimes Q10.
Best Towns to Live in as a Nomad
As I mentioned before, Lake Atitlán has about a dozen municipalities. Most of them are home to Tz’utujil Maya, but you will also hear and see Kaqchikel and Kiche Maya populations. Each town has its own character and I highly recommend trying to visit most, if not all, during your trip!
That said, not all of the towns around the lake are suitable for digital nomads. The most developed towns, ideal for nomads who need stronger wifi and a few creature comforts, are:
- Panajachel – has lots of hotels, cafes, and conveniences, including the Selina coliving/coworking space
- San Pedro La Laguna – features good cafes, activities, and accommodation options, popular among backpackers
- San Marcos La Laguna – attracts nomads who are passionate about new-age health and wellness, meditation, etc
Towns such as Santa Catarina Palopó and Santiago Atitlán are more traditional towns where you can find men and women wearing their unique typical dress in addition to artisanal markets, art galleries, and local attractions.
San Juan La Laguna, the town right next to San Pedro, is an up-and-coming spot for nomads, I think. A lot of expats live there. It has cheaper housing options and already has a few great coffee shops where you could easily pop a squat and slip out your laptop.
Finding Long-Term Rentals in Lake Atitlán
It was a challenge to find a long-term rental in Lake Atitlan, especially one that was pet-friendly (since we travel with our cat Yoda). That said, here are my tips for finding housing in Lake Atitlán for 1-3 month periods.
Airbnb is where we usually start our search. Prices displayed will be more expensive, but we always try to reach out to the owner to negotiate a deal off the platform. It’s just easier to set up a payment that way and to haggle for a price that’s more appropriate for long-term stays. This is how we found our tiny home in San Pedro.
Always join the local Facebook group for your destination (here’s the one for San Pedro) to search for local housing opportunities and offers. It’s a hit or miss with this strategy. Sometimes you’ll find a gem in the rough or nothing at all! In any case, it’s helpful to be a part of the local Facebook group to stay updated with events, news, and local happenings during your stay.
Sometimes, hostels will offer reduced monthly or extended stays. I know that Zoola and Selina Atitlan do this, for example. As a couple, we never take advantage of this option because we prefer private accommodation. Hostels tend to not be pet-friendly, either. But if you’re a solo female traveler or a backpacker passing through, this option could work out great for you. Our Italian friend did this in Chiapas, Mexico and only spent around $150-200 USD per month.
Lake Atitlán attracts many visitors in search of sharpening their Spanish language skills. If that’s you, then why not consider staying with a local family? This option ideal for individuals (or even couples) because you get to pick up the language and expedite your language learning in as little as 4-8 weeks. You can find such opportunities through the local schools. For example, homestays through the San Pedro Spanish School cost $114/week in addition to a learning plan ($114-$188/week).
Lake Atitlan Internet Speeds + SIM Cards
Internet speeds vary around the lake. You can expect the wifi at most hotels and restaurants to be no more than 5-10 Mbps. But, if the person you are renting from is willing to upgrade for a fee of Q500/month ($50), then you can have up to 20 Mbps.
This was enough for both Paul and me to work online every day. I upload photos/videos frequently and had little trouble except for the times where our internet was down due to random cut-outs, scheduled maintenance days, and storms.
That said, we always supplement our wifi with local data. We purchased a TIGO sim card in Panajachel and were able to use our data (8GB per month for Q100) as a hotspot when wifi wasn’t working.
Coworking Spaces in Lake Atitlan
Unfortunately, there is only one coworking space (Selina Atitlan) in Lake Atitlan and it’s located in Panajachel. Since we were based in San Pedro, a 30-minute boat ride away, we never got to go. If you’re in Pana, though, you’re in luck!
Alternatively, you can go work at one of the cafes in your town of choice if the wifi is ever down where you are.
Best Cafés Around the Lake with Wifi
To make life a little simpler, here are the best cafes in Lake Atitlan with wifi for those days where wifi at home just isn’t going to cut it.
- Idea Connection – Italian bakery & garden cafe (San Pedro)
- Sababa – chic, open-aired restaurant by the lake (San Pedro)
- Café Cristalinas – coffee shop up the hill in town (San Pedro)
- Circles – cute cafe and bakery (San Marcos)
- Shambala Café – homemade cafe and tea shop (San Marcos)
- Cafe San Juan – spacious and bright coffee shop with strong wifi (San Juan)
- Flor del Café – upstairs cafe overlooking the lake, has sockets for charging (San Juan)
- Selina – if all else fails, try Selina’s coworking space in Panajachel!
Grocery Shopping & Local Markets
There isn’t really a large supermarket where you can do all your grocery shopping in one go. Instead, you’ll need to stop by a few local shops to gather what you need.
Most of what you’ll find are little tienda/markets and roadside fruit stands. In San Pedro La Laguna, there is an organic health food store called Salud Para Vida where you will find all sorts of organic goods, snacks, and international products. It’s expensive, but worth it if you are in search of specific organic or healthy foods.
Otherwise, market days and locally-owned produce stands (la fruteria) are your best bet to affordable groceries. We would typically stock up on fruits and veggies for Q150-250 per week (or $15-20 USD).
If you’re based in Panajachel, there is Chalo’s Grocery, Sandra’s Health Food Store, Los Almendros, and the everyday local market (el mercado). In San Marcos, there are little shops on the Main Plaza in addition to a small health food store.
Then, if you want special products like tortillas (tortilleria), bread (pandaderia), cheese/dairy (lacteos), head to the smaller stores around town. There’s a guy named Jaime in San Pedro who makes the best French bread ever. (Really, ever.) You can find him located to the left of Tony’s Book Store on 7 Avenida street.
Favorite Lake Atitlán Restaurants
We’ve eaten a few times in San Marcos and Panajachel, but we mostly ate our way around San Pedro. I wrote a guide about my favorite places to eat in San Pedro, but here are just a few to look out for around the lake!
- Yakitori de Cava – little slice of paradise with a simple but delicious Japanese lunch menu (San Pedro)
- Deli Jasmin – tropical breakfast/brunch cafe with quality food and smoothies (Panajachel)
- Arca de Noé – hotel and garden restaurant with an awesome view of the lake and volcanoes (Santa Cruz)
- Allala – fresh Japanese and Asian cuisine and sushi (San Marcos)
- Crossroads Cafe – a sweet and cozy international cafe with baked goods and strong coffee (Panajachel)
- Sababa – came here many times for their fresh salads, wraps, pasta, and lava cake (San Pedro)
The list of restaurants around the lake is always growing and changing! What’s certain, though, is that there’s a diverse array of food choices here. You can have Mexican one night, Japanese another, then Italian the next day, and so on!
Healthcare in Lake Atitlán
There are small medical clinics in most of the towns around the lake, but if you have a big accident then you’ll likely need to visit the private non-profit Hospitalito Atitlan located in the largest town of them all – Santiago Atitlan. The best hospitals in the country will be in Guatemala City, which is a few hours away.
Quick emergency numbers in Guatemala to keep handy:
- National Police – dial 110
- Police, Fire Dept, Ambulance – dial 1500
- Local vet in San Pedro (Vetitlan) – call +502 4676 5729
Travel Medical Insurance
To ensure you’re covered while abroad, I’d recommend signing up with SafetyWing – a travel and medical insurance specially made for digital nomads. It only costs $40 for 4 weeks and is so easy to sign up. I’ve been using it for going on 3 years now ever since I first moved to Mexico as a digital nomad.
Languages You’ll Hear Around the Lake
While Spanish is the most dominant language in Guatemala, there are over 22 different Mayan languages spoken. You’ll hear mostly Tz’utujil, Kaqchikel, and Kiche Mayan being spoken around the lake. A few long-time expats have even picked up Tz’utujil Mayan.
Do you need to speak Spanish to visit Lake Atitlan? Not necessarily, but it’s a big help! I highly recommend practicing the basics before you come here.
Fun Activities to Do in Lake Atitlan
Between all the lakeside towns and outdoor adventures, there are so many epic things to do in Lake Atitlan. Some of my favorite activities that we got to do while living there are:
- Touring a women-led weaving cooperative
- Hiking up to Indian Nose with a geologist
- Bathing in heated thermal springs
- Going on a tuk-tuk history/culture tour in Santiago Atitlán
- Visiting the Tzununa Museum in San Pedro (in addition to these 20+ things to do in San Pedro!)
- Climbing up to Cerro de la Cruz in San Juan La Laguna
- Shopping on Calle Santander in Panajachel
- Discovering the painted village of Santa Catarina Palopó
- Horse riding to coffee farms and a black sand beach
- Hiking the Lower Mayan Trail (among other hikes around Lake Atitlan)
- Sunrise paddleboarding on the lake
Whether you love the outdoors, partaking in meditation/yoga retreats, or learning about other cultures, there is something for everyone to do in Lake Atitlan!
Is Living in Lake Atitlan Good for Digital Nomads?
I think Lake Atitlan is a good short-term destination for digital nomads in need of some downtime. I don’t think I would’ve liked staying there more than 2+ months, but am really grateful for the slow down.
I loved the tranquility of the lake and its lakesides towns, but I quickly became tired of my schedule. In that time, we had eaten out at nearly every restaurant in town (in San Pedro, at least) more than a few times and had done pretty much all we wanted to do (except for hike on the volcanoes).
After spending two months in Lake Atitlan, and one month in Antigua as a digital nomad, I’d say I prefer Antigua. There’s just more happening. And even though it’s a city, it doesn’t really feel like one. We couldn’t even make it through the endless list of cafes or restaurants there. Plus we still got to have fun outdoor adventures (like our sunrise hike to Pacaya Volcano), something I really loved about Lake Atitlan.
Overall, I’d say Lake Atitlan definitely is an amazing place to explore. You may initially come for tourism, but you’ll want to stay for the people and chill vibes.
That said, would I go back to the lake as a working nomad? Yes, but not for the long term. Just because the wifi situation was kinda annoying due to the cutouts and general unpredictability. I would go back to Antigua, though!
If you have any questions about digital nomad life in Lake Atitlan, feel free to reach out! In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Instagram for daily life and check out my other Guatemala travel guides!
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