Top 10 Things to Do in Panajachel – The Gateway Town to Lake Atitlán

by | Last updated Jul 7, 2021 | Guatemala | 0 comments

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Panajachel (or locally known as simply Pana), being the popular gateway town to Lake Atitlán as it is, buzzes with life. Street vendors haggle with tourists to sell their colorful textiles, coffee aromas fragrant the air, and boat captains hoist guests onto the next boat for imminent departure.

That said, there are plenty of fun things to do in Panajachel that you can’t miss out on! So before you make your way to one of the other towns around Lake Atitlán, why not stay a while and enjoy the views?

Not only is Pana one of the more developed towns, but it’s also one of the most diverse with both indigenous locals and international expats. You’ll find both traditional flavors and shops here as well as international cafes, hotels, and services. Many backpackers and digital nomads like us also make their way to Panajachel to steep in the relaxed vibes here before making their way to either San Pedro La Laguna or San Marcos.

So whether you are visiting Panajachel on a day trip from Antigua or are coming here to live, study Spanish, or meditate lakeside for a few weeks, then read more below for the top things to do including where to eat, stay, and play.

Here are the best things to do in Panajachel in Lake Atitlan!

10 Best Things to Do in Panajachel, Guatemala

1. Go Shopping on Calle Santander

calle santander in panajachel lake atitlan

handmade baskets on street in panajachel lake atitlan

Calle Santander is the most popular street in Panajachel – and for good reason! Dozens and dozens of roadside stalls filled with colorful textiles and souvenirs line the streets while nearby cafes and restaurants buzz with chatter.

This street in Panajachel is pedestrian-friendly, but you still have to watch out for the passing cars at times. While the shopping section is concentrated more toward the lakeshore, Calle Santander actually starts all the way at the back of Pana.

Along this long, bustling street are hotels for all types of travelers and budgets, restaurants both local and international, interesting local museums, painted murals, and more! For shopping, you’ll probably get better prices here than in other towns around the lake.

That said, haggling is common but please barter respectfully with the locals – a practice that is part of being a responsible traveler.

2. Paraglide Over Lake Atitlán

guatemalan flags waving with paraglider in the air in background

busy street in panajachel lake atitlan

Where else can you paraglide over the deepest lake in Central America that just so happens to be flanked by three ancient volcanoes?

If you have an adventurous spirit, a fun and exciting thing to do in Panajachel is going paragliding. There are several adventure sports operators in the area, so do some research to pick which best suits you! Realworld Paragliding is one option and often the most popular choice among tourists. Their office is located down on Calle Santander inside the Centro Commerical San Rafael.

You can also check out Aguilas En Velo Pana. They are really well-rated with a large Facebook followership. You can fly side-by-side together in two paragliders if you’re traveling as a couple too, which is pretty cool!

Not a big fan of flying and prefer to explore on the ground? Then you might enjoy this ATV tour around Lake Atitlan instead that also departs from Pana.

3. Kayak or SUP at Sunrise

stand up paddle board lesson on lake atitlan with San Pedro Paddle

Kayaking or paddleboarding is a must while visiting Lake Atitlan! Sunrise is the best time to go because you’ll have calm, glassy water undisturbed by the morning and midday boats.

There are several DIY kayak/SUP shops in Panajachel where you can rent and explore as you go. Another option is to combine your activities with a kayak + hiking tour that includes a professional guide (ideal if you’d like to learn more about the lake, etc).

Then there’s the possibility to go kayaking or paddleboarding from one of the other towns around the lake. We went paddleboarding at sunrise and kayaking at noon out of San Pedro La Laguna.

4. Grab a Coffee at Crossroads Cafe

woman holding guatemalan espresso in a cafe in lake atitlan

If you can’t start your day without coffee, then make sure you swing by the international coffee hub in Panajachel called Crossroads Cafe.

The owners have created an awesome little community around their homegrown and roasted coffee here in Pana; so much so, that many travelers and backpackers inevitably pass through here on a trip to Lake Atitlan.

Watch out, though – the coffee is strong! They also whip up fresh, homemade pastries, cinnamon rolls, pies, and more, to pair perfectly with a cup of pure Guatemalan coffee. You can find Crossroads Cafe tucked away off the street at Calle de Los Arboles in Panajachel.

5. Explore the Iximché Mayan Ruins

The Ixchime Mayan Ruins, located just outside of Panajachel (in Tecpán), once thrived as the capital of the Kaqchikel Maya kingdom from 1470-1524. In Mayan, it signifies “Place of the Maize/Ramon tree.”

You can explore these ruins on a day trip tour from Panajachel. During your visit, you’ll explore the ancient city’s pyramid structures, Mayan ball courts, royal palace ruins and plazas for two hours with a guide before departing for the return trip back to Pana.

6. Visit the Nearby Village of Santa Catarina Palopó

woman on the plaza principal in santa catarina palopó guatemala

kaqchikel maya woman from santa catarina palopó in lake atitlan, guatemala

Located just 10 minutes away from Panajachel are two endearing villages – Santa Catarina Palopó and San Antonio Palopó. The latter of which attracts all those who love handmade ceramics and pottery, since that’s the town’s special feature.

Santa Catarina Palopó is the village we were able to visit, and it’s the town in which all the local houses are painted in vibrant colors.

If you have time, I’d highly recommend visiting both. But if not, Santa Catarina will be the closest to you from Pana as it only takes a speedy 10-minute tuk-tuk ride to get there. You can also get there by riding in the back of a pickup truck with other locals for just Q5 per person.

An alternative option is to go on this fun bicycle tour which includes visits to both towns on a 16-km ride. The road from Pana to both towns is really well-kept, paved, and so incredibly scenic – perfect for biking adventures!

Read my travel guide to Santa Catarina Palopó for things to do there (i.e. natural hot springs!!) and for more tips on transportation.

7. Tour the Lucustre Atitlán Museum

mayan artifacts in museo lucustre in panajachel guatemala

If you are interested in history and Mayan artifacts, then you’ll enjoy a brief visit to the Museo Lucustre Atitlán.

You might also see it called the underwater museum and that’s because most of the artifacts on display were actually retrieved from Samabaj – the submerged Mayan archaeological site found near the Cerro del Oro volcanic cone in Lake Atitlan.

You’ll also learn about the geology and history of the lake during your short visit. It’s a great introduction to the area which is why it’s a small but fun thing to do while in Panajachel!

How can you visit?

  • Location: Calle Santander inside the Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo
  • Cost: Q35 per person (you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel, so don’t be shy to walk up!
  • Hours: Open from 8 am – 6 pm.

✨ Read more about Samabaj and the treasures of Lake Atitlán inside the Lonely Planet Guatemala guide!

8. Visit Butterflies Inside the Atitlán Nature Reserve

The Atitlán Nature Reserve is an inspiring nature preserve, wildlife sanctuary, and hotel resort all in one! It features a butterfly garden, nature trails, waterfalls, extreme ziplines, a coffee grove, an on-site restaurant, and more! It’s truly a little oasis and respite from the busy market streets in Pana.

It’s open daily from 8 am – 5 pm, but if you’d like to stay past that time, you can stay overnight inside the reserve at the Hotel Reserva Natural Atitlan and enjoy a terrace overlooking the jungly mountain and forest.

Getting there from the town is fairly easy. Just take a tuk-tuk or taxi for Q10 to the address Antigua Finca San Buenaventura. You can also walk there from Panajachel in 12 minutes. The entrance fee costs Q70 for adults and Q40 for kids.

Whether you want to book a quiet retreat in nature or just visit the butterflies on a fun day trip from Panajachel, you can!

9. Take a Local Weaving Workshop

wooden holders for differnt threads used to make maya textiles at 13 batz cooperative in santiago atitlan guatemala

table covered in handmade maya textiles, bags, etc at Teixchel in San Pedro la laguna

maya woman handmaking blouse inside Teixchel Weaving Association

One of the best things to do in Lake Atitlán – and not just in Panajachel – is partaking in a local weaving workshop. Weaving, particularly via the backstrap loom, is a way of life around the lake.

Each town typically has its own weaving workshop you can visit. You can also do weaving workshop tours that allow you to learn how to work the backstrap loom and even make your own scarf by hand!

Here are some of my favorite weaving cooperatives to visit:

10. Go on an Epic Hike

man hiking on trail in lake atitlan guatemala

The hikes around Lake Atitlán are arguably some of the best in the world. Some of them lead to black sand beaches while others skirt through maize and coffee fields, across hills and Mayan towns, and some even up the steep slopes of an ancient volcano.

One of my favorite hikes to do is called the Lower Mayan Trail which begins in Santa Cruz La Laguna and ends over in Tzununa or San Marcos La Laguna. (You can also hike this route in the opposite direction.)

Since Santa Cruz is located just one boat ride over from Panajachel, you should consider setting out early in the morning for a fun 2-3 hour hike! You will be blown away by the views.

If you don’t want to go on your own, there is a well-rated Lower Mayan Trail Hiking Tour from Panajachel you can take. You’ll get the added benefit of having a guide for learning and security purposes as well as a visit to a painting coop, weaving coop, and medicinal herb coop, each located in the different towns you’ll pass through during the hike.

Bonus – Stroll the Boardwalk

boat dock in panajachel

boardwalk market in panajachel

Panajachel’s boardwalk is a popular area crowded with street stalls selling everything from toys and clothes to ice cream and spicy micheladas.

The main boardwalk leads straight to/from the main boat pier in Panajachel. Since there are two, make sure to not meander off to the smaller one tucked off the street (the dock where boats depart to San Pedro and other towns).

The boardwalk area in Panajachel is completely pedestrian-friendly, so no cars or motos are allowed.

Strolling down here is a fun and free thing to do in Panajachel (unless you buy something!). Next time I go, I’m definitely stopping for a big michelada – they look so good here in Pana!!

Places to Stay in Panajachel

shops on santander street in panajachel

Panajachel, thanks to all of the things to do and see here, is a great town to base yourself in while traveling around Lake Atitlán.

Keep in mind that Pana is one of the busier towns, though, so if you’re looking for a more mellow yet equally popular place to stay then check out these cool hotels in San Pedro La Laguna as alternatives.

In any case, here is a quick list of some of Panajachel’s best accommodation options based on your budget and travel style:

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

Visiting Other Lakeside Towns From Panajachel

aerial view of San Pedro La Laguna, a Tz'utujil Maya town around Lake Atitlan Guatemala

street in san juan la laguna guatemala

Visiting beyond Panajachel and giving some love to the other towns around the lake is a must!

If you hadn’t guessed it by now, the main mode of transport is by boat! Locals and tourists use the boats to reach the other lakeside towns and villages. The cost depends on your final destination, but expect to pay between Q5 for short (1 stop) trips up to Q25 to cross the lake.

Towns you absolutely have to put on your bucket list are:

Don’t forget about San Marcos for all things wellness/meditation, Santa Cruz for kayak/SUP and glamping, Santa Clara for the Indian Nose hike, and others!

If you plan on staying around the lake for a while then you might find my digital nomad guide to Lake Atitlán helpful. Lastly, if you have any questions about traveling in Panajachel, feel free to drop a comment below!

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Hi, I’m Bri! I’ve been slow traveling around the world in search of new adventures since 2013. I have lived in 8 countries on 4 continents including Nepal, Mexico, Colombia, and parts of Europe! I created this blog to inspire others to live a life of adventure, seek out meaningful experiences, and to travel slowly and mindfully. Join me on this journey and let’s tick off our bucket lists! Read my story here.

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