Lake Atitlán is home to about a dozen charming villages belonging to the Tzu’utujil, Kiche, and Kaqchikel Maya, three peaky volcanoes (Tolimán, Atitlán, and San Pedro), and an immense amount of colorful flora and fauna.
But did you know?
This giant crater lake formed tens of thousands of years ago after the then-existing mega volcanoes erupted (spreading ash from Ecuador to Florida) and collapsed, leaving a massive caldera 11 miles wide that eventually filled up with rainwater and sediment. Today, Lake Atitlan is renowned for being both the deepest and highest-altitude lake in Central America.
So as you can imagine, Lake Atitlan is a sacred and popular Guatemala destination for both nationals and foreigners coming to explore its lakeside towns, trek on its volcano slopes, birdwatch in its tropical forests, or go scuba diving in its high-altitude, temperate waters.
Here is the ultimate Lake Atitlan itinerary!
The Complete Lake Atitlán Guatemala Itinerary
How Many Days Do You Need in Lake Atitlan?
I would recommend at least one week in Lake Atitlan, if not more. I understand most people visit the lake on a weekend trip or even a full-day trip from Antigua, but I would encourage you to slow it down even more.
I had the opportunity to live in Lake Atitlán as a digital nomad for two full months before moving on and spending another month in Antigua. Even with all that time, I didn’t get to fully check off my Lake Atitlan bucket list — but I got close!
That said, if you are coming to the lake for only one, two, or three days, know that you won’t get to see and do everything you may want to. Slow travel is the best way to discover the lake as well — rushing through it will take away from the experience.
Best Activities to Do With 2-3 Days in Lake Atitlan
In any case, whether you’re here for just a few days or several weeks, here are activity ideas for what to do! You can read all 20 things to do around Lake Atitlan here.
- ☀️ Do a sunrise hike up to Indian Nose
- 🥾 Hike the scenic Lower Mayan Trail (here are the best hikes around Lake Atitlan)
- 🧘♀️ Meditate in the hippie town of San Marcos La Laguna
- 👛 Shop on Calle Santander in the gateway town of Panajachel
- 🛁 Sit in hot thermal bathtubs
- 🎒 Explore the backpacker town of San Pedro La Laguna
- ⛰ Climb up to the panoramic viewpoint of Cerro de la Cruz in San Juan La Laguna
- ☁️ Paraglide over Lake Atitlan
- 🎨 Visit the painted village of Santa Catarina Palopó
- 🤿 Scuba dive at altitude (recommend only if you have one week or more here)
- 🛶 Kayak or stand-up paddleboard in Santa Cruz La Laguna
- 🚕 Take a tuk-tuk tour around the traditional town of Santiago Atitlán
Looking for the best places to stay around the lake? I would highly suggest basing yourself out of either San Pedro or San Marcos during your time here (if you are wanting to be in the more popular/developed towns with plenty of restaurants and hotels). Here are the coolest hotels in San Pedro and a fun San Pedro foodie guide. Otherwise, the super unique hotel near the town of Jaibalito called La Casa Del Mundo offers extremely impressive views of all three volcanoes and Lake Atitlán.
Day 1: Arriving in Lake Atitlan
Now let’s put all (or at least a few) of these fun things to do on a trip to Lake Atitlan together to create an adventure-packed itinerary!
Main boat dock in Panajachel
The majority of people arriving in Lake Atitlán will arrive by shuttle, chicken bus, or car in Panajachel. Guatemala City is 2h 45m away and Antigua is 2 hours. You can even take private transport to Pana from Chiapas, Mexico! That’s how we traveled over the border into Guatemala — you can read all about that in this guide: San Cristobal de Las Casas to Panajachel.
Pana is the gateway town of Lake Atitlán — most travelers come through here. While this town isn’t the biggest around the lake (Santiago Atitlán is), there are plenty of things to do. Amenities — i.e. restaurants, hotels, cafes, etc — are aplenty, so there’s little you’ll be longing for.
Once you’re in Pana, you can go paragliding (reserve ahead), sunrise kayaking, shopping for textiles on Calle Santander, and more. The butterfly reserve nearby is a beautiful place to visit. You should also try to squeeze in a day trip to Santa Catarina Palopó (exceptional for its painted houses) and San Antonio Palopó (renown for its pottery and ceramic artisans) — both are but a 10-15 minute tuk-tuk ride away.
I would recommend staying overnight and spending one full day in Panajachel exploring its environs.
Best Hotels by Budget:
- Backpacker ($) — Hospedaje El Viajero (where we stayed!)
- Boutique ($$) — Selina Atitlán, Regis Hotel Spa
- Luxe ($$$) — Posada de Don Rodrigo, Porta Hotel del Lago
- Unique ($-$$$) — Reserva Natural Atitlan, Villas Balam Ya
Day 2: Exploring the Maya Towns Around the Lake
Arriving in Santiago Atitlán
In some cases, you may want to arrive and immediately head to the destination you came here for — bets are it’s either San Marcos or San Pedro La Laguna. At least 9/10 travelers visiting Lake Atitlán arrive in Panajachel wanting to take the boat ferry the same day to get there. We get it! We did the same thing when we moved here.
In any case, I highly recommend including more than one town in your Lake Atitlán itinerary — several, if possible! Here are the 10 best towns to visit around Lake Atitlan.
To take the boat across Lake Atitlan costs between Q5 and Q25 per one-way trip, depending on your origin and destination. The price goes up Q5 about every additional stop you make. For example, from San Pedro to San Juan it costs Q10 (Q5 for locals) because it’s right next door. From San Pedro to San Marcos (after San Juan) it costs around Q15.
Day 3: Sunrise Hike Over Lake Atitlan
Indian Nose mountain (view from San Pedro)
Atop Indian Nose overlooking Volcán San Pedro and the towns of San Juan and San Pedro
One of the most popular activities to do on a short trip to Lake Atitlán is to do a sunrise hike up to Indian Nose summit, where you can watch the sunrise come up over Lake Atitlan and its wild volcanoes and cute lakeside towns.
Tours include transport from San Pedro La Laguna to Santa Clara La Laguna, where you’ll begin your hike early in the morning. The hike itself is only 30-45 minutes from the base of Santa Clara La Laguna. If you opt to do the long hike (like we did), you’ll begin your hike from the bottom of San Juan La Laguna.
Save time & the hassle of booking when you arrive — reserve your sunrise hike tour here!
Whether you do the sunrise tour and head back to San Pedro or cross San Juan, you’ll be nearby the artsy town of San Juan La Laguna at some point during your trip (it’s just a 5-10 minute tuk-tuk ride from San Pedro), and it’s worth exploring around. Grab lunch inside the cozy terrace at El Gato Negro and coffee at Maria’s. Don’t miss out on the panoramic views from Cerro de la Cruz and the natural-dye weaving cooperative at Casa Flor Ixcaco.
If You Have More Time in Lake Atitlán…
With more time in Lake Atitlán beyond a couple of days, you’ll have the opportunity to knock off quite a few of those bucket list items — plus more!
For those with their PADI certification, why not explore what lies below the lake surface with a scuba diving tour? Apparently, you can dive down to see submerged balconies at La Casa Del Mundo and cook a raw egg over the heat from thermal vents.
Cooking classes (try Mayan Kitchen in San Pedro), sacred fire ceremonies, and 8-hour weaving workshops learning how to make your own scarf using the traditional backstrap loom, are also unique and memorable experiences to include in your Lake Atitlan itinerary.
So tell me, how long are you planning to be in Lake Atitlán? Drop your thoughts below and feel free to reach out with questions or suggestions!
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