Flanked by towering, peaky volcanoes, and lakeside towns bursting with history and culture, Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) is perhaps one of the most beautiful destinations not only in Guatemala — but in the world!
Between hiking on ancient volcanoes and strolling around colorful Maya towns, you won’t find yourself running out of things to do in Lake Atitlán anytime soon.
No matter what you’re looking for, Lake Atitlán has both off-the-beaten-path and popular activities.
So whether you’re coming to the lake to do a meditation retreat in San Marcos or to party it up in the backpacker hostels in San Pedro, you can do that and plenty more.
After living here for two months, and getting to explore the vast majority of the cute towns around Lake Atitlán, I wanted to compile this ultimate bucket list so you can enjoy your time here to the fullest!
Here’s my ultimate guide to things to do in Lake Atitlan in Guatemala!
Best Things to Do in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
1. Hike on an Ancient Volcano
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Tolimán, San Pedro, and Atitlán are the three volcanoes that mark the skyline and make Lake Atitlán so special. These volcanoes formed around 80,000 years ago after an even larger volcano exploded and collapsed, forming the massive caldera that is now known as Lake Atitlán.
And yes, you can actually hike on ALL three volcanoes… if you are up for the challenge, that is!
Volcán Atitlán is the tallest and most challenging of them all and the most popular is none other than Volcán San Pedro.
Please note: There have been a few reports of robberies on such hikes, though, so if you do set out to hike up one of the volcanoes in Lake Atitlán, it’s best that you go with a proper guide and keep valuables at home.
If you’re not quite ready to take on a volcano hike, the next best thing to do while in Lake Atitlán is to hike up to Indian Nose (Rostro Maya) mountain summit at sunrise (more on this later). Then there are the other hikes around Lake Atitlán that are suitable and safe you can do as well!
2. Relax in Heated Thermal Baths
Whether your muscles are achy from hiking all day or because you just love a hot bath (like me), lounging in the heated outdoor tubs at Los Termales is one of the best things to do in San Pedro La Laguna (and in Lake Atitlán in general).
Here, you can bathe in large outdoor pools with a view of the lake while having a drink with friends. There are five pools in total so spots can fill up quickly. Don’t forget to make your reservations via WhatsApp at least 30 minutes – 1 hour in advance so the local owners have time to heat and fill your tub!
3. Take a Weaving Workshop
There’s no better place to take a weaving workshop than in the towns around Lake Atitlán.
Whether you’re in Santiago Atitlán, San Pedro La Laguna, or Panajachel, there are places to go where you can find weaving demonstrations, workshops, and museums.
Here are some of my favorite weaving initiatives around the lake – all of them are unique in their own way!
- San Pedro La Laguna – Teixchel Women’s Weaving Association
- Santiago Atitlán – 13 Batz’ (13 Threads) or the Cojolya Museum
- San Juan La Laguna – Casa Flor Ixcaco
Depending on where you go, you can make your own scarf using the backstrap loom technique (San Juan) or participate in natural dye workshops that use natural plants and ingredients to dye clothing (San Pedro).
4. Climb the Stairs to Mirador Cerro de la Cruz
If you’re looking for the best viewpoint in Lake Atitlán (other than atop a towering volcano), then adventure to the colorful town of San Juan La Laguna where you can hike 15-20 minutes up a painted set of stairs to reach Mirador Cerro de la Cruz.
Once at the top, you can marvel at the lakeside towns from a wooden viewing deck with a cross in the middle. On the lower deck, there’s a lovely colorful mural peering up at you and is representative of the artistic style of San Juan.
The views from up here are simply breathtaking on a clear day! And if you are wanting to stretch your hike to 2-3 hours, this is where the hike to reach the Indian Nose summit forks off and continues up the mountain.
5. Visit the Painted Village of Santa Catarina Palopó
The small municipality of Santa Catarina Palopó is one particular town around the lake that you cannot miss out on! Thanks to the initiative Painting Change, the town now pops with color!
All of the houses have been painted in hues of green, blue, and purple, and decorated with traditional Maya motifs, animals, and geometric shapes (as chosen by each family). The result is simply beautiful.
The locals are predominantly of Kaqchikel Maya origin and proudly wear their elaborate traditional clothing (especially the women) that sparkles with embroidery and jewels of rich blues and deep purples.
Beyond the mesmerizing painted houses and quaint plazas and streets, there are also natural hot springs you can dip your toes in.
And if you’re wanting to stay somewhere special around the lake, there are extremely unique hotels perched on the hillside above the town here that don incomparable views of Lake Atitlán and the three volcanoes.
6. Kayak or SUP at Sunrise
You can’t come to Lake Atitlán and not go kayaking or SUP’ing!
The best time to go is in the mornings when the water is calm and not yet choppy from the wind or by speeding boats. The peaky volcanoes create the most picturesque background and the towns dotting the lake all make for an epic experience and view!
There are several options for kayaking and SUP sessions. For the best views, head to the town of Santa Cruz La Laguna. You can rent kayaks/paddles here from the eco-glamping hostel Free Cerveza or from Los Elementos Adventure Center.
If you’re based in San Pedro La Laguna, however, I would highly recommend taking a SUP sunrise session with Lauren from San Pedro Paddle.
7. Take a Spanish Class or Do a Homestay
Lake Atitlán attracts visitors from all over the world to learn or improve their Spanish. That’s because Guatemalans have a somewhat neutral, easy-flowing, and clear Spanish compared to other Latin American countries.
Not to mention, taking Spanish classes in Guatemala is far cheaper than you’d find in Europe or North America.
While you can practice your Spanish in virtually all the municipalities dotted around the lake, the best-known town for that is none other than San Pedro La Laguna.
There are several Spanish schools to choose from in San Pedro. Here are two of the most notable!
- Semilla Spanish School – I had a private tutor, named Billie, who works with this school. She was amazing. If I remember correctly, I paid around Q600 for 5 days of 2-hour lessons (approx. $75 USD). Her mother, who works with San Pedro Spanish School, offers homestays.
- San Pedro Spanish School – perhaps the most popular choice among tourists as they’ve been in business for nearly 25 years.
Every language school varies in program, style, and budget, so you just need to reach out to each one and see which one is best for you.
Some offer 1-on-1 tutors, group classes, short-term lessons, discounted long-term courses, or affordable homestays.
8. Hike Up to Indian Nose Summit
The Indian Nose mountain summit (also known as Rostro Maya or El Nariz del Indio) is a popular sunrise hike activity to do while in Lake Atitlán!
Although most travelers opt to do the early sunrise hike (aka the short 35-45 minute version), you can also hike Indian Nose from San Juan.
The longer hike, which takes around 2-3 hours and involves steep inclines, trails through coffee and maize fields, is also awesome and worthwhile.
And if you book the tour with a geologist (as we did), you’ll even get a whole geology spiel about how Lake Atitlán and the volcanoes in Guatemala formed!
9. Glamp Lakeside in Santa Cruz with Free Beer
Glamping? Free beer? If that combination sounds perfect to you, then you’ll want to experience the eco-glamping hostel known as Free Cerveza, located on the lakeshore beside Santa Cruz La Laguna.
Here, you can stay in a large tent with direct access to the lake with kayak/SUP boards and get the best views of Lake Atitlán.
Oh, and not to forget, every guest gets free beer with their dinner! Yep, the hostel even boasts a full restaurant and bar with a large outdoor terrace.
If the glamping tent doesn’t interest you, maybe the lakefront glass-windowed cabana would? Imagine falling asleep with a view of the volcanoes and stars (and yes – there are curtains for privacy!).
10. Visit a Mayan Deity in a Local’s Home in Santiago Atitlán
For culture and history buffs, head to the traditional Tz’utujil Maya town of Santiago Atitlán. Here, in this large bustling town of 70,000, you can witness syncretism — the mixing of two or more religions. In this case, Mayan and Catholic beliefs.
There is a Mayan Deity (god) named Maximón, or El Gran Abuelo, whose figure takes up residency in a local family’s home for one year.
The location of the deity, therefore, changes each year on May 8th, when a big procession and vote takes place to decide which family of the council will host Maximón for the next year.
During this year, the family must receive guests from the town who come to the home to give blessings to the deity. Visiting the local’s home is an experience you must have while in Santiago Atitlán!
11. Paraglide in Panajachel
Want to experience Lake Atitlán and its three volcanoes from the skies? If so, then head to the office of Realworld Paragliding located in the busy town of Panajachel to reserve your trip.
On a clear day, you’ll be able to see not just the volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlán, but even Volcán Pacaya, Volcán Fuego, and Volcán Acatenango over by the city of Antigua about 1.5 hours away!
12. Go Horseriding to Coffee Farms
If you prefer to explore with your feet on the ground instead of the sky, then a horseback ride in Lake Atitlán might be a better adventure for you.
Luckily, there are quite a few horseback riding tours you can do that are affordable.
You have several options here as well when it comes to the type of ride/experience you’d like to do:
- Horseback ride to a black sand beach outside of San Pedro
- Combining a horseback ride with a tour of a local coffee farm (Cafe Cristalina’s)
- Riding the trails between San Pedro and San Juan La Laguna
While we were in San Pedro, we rode horses on a popular hiking trail, that led to several viewpoints and a black sand beach (with a bit of walking).
We just saw a local girl trotting with her two horses one day and asked for her number. If you’d like her contact, let me know!
13. Go Birdwatching for Quetzals
Image credit: Atitlan Adventure Tours via Viator
Did you know that quetzals are Guatemala’s national bird? They also inspired Guatemala’s currency – the Quetzal (Q)!
These birds are so beautiful and unique, with bold and majestic colors. They live in humid highland climates, so Lake Atitlán is actually a great spot to birdwatch for quetzals.
You can go birding in the forest by Santiago Atitlán, on the slopes of Tolimán volcano, with a professional birding guide.
14. Learn the History of Lake Atitlán at the Tzunun’Ya Museum
Touring the small and colorful Tzunun’Ya Museum is probably one of the first things you should do when arriving in Lake Atitlán. That’s because this museum will walk you through the geology, history, and cultures you’ll encounter around the lake.
In particular, you’ll get to watch a 1942 video reel of San Pedro La Laguna and how it’s changed over time. You’ll also learn about the geology of the lake, such as how the volcanoes came to be today and what type of rock is present here. In the last showroom, you’ll get to learn about the Tz’utujil Maya (who make up roughly 95% of the town’s population) and observe a series of photographs and artifacts.
The museum only costs Q35 to tour and takes around 20-30 minutes, so it’s both a quick and budget-friendly thing to do in Lake Atitlán – and one that offers so much value, too! As a bonus, you’ll receive a printed letter indicating your Maya symbol, based upon your birthdate according to the Maya calendar.
15. Jump Off the Dock in San Marcos
Image credit: FannyZs via Tripadvisor
San Marcos La Laguna is one of the most popular towns around Lake Atitlán for travelers seeking healing and a like-minded community. As you meander the streets in this town, you’ll cross paths with plenty of healers, yogis, hippies, and generally, those who identify with the New Age movement.
In any case, this town is great for swimming in Lake Atitlán, particularly thanks to the natural reserve beside the town which features a near 10 m (30 ft) jump off a wooden platform. Would you jump?
The price to enter the Cerro Tzankujil Natural Reserve is only Q15 ($2), so it’s not like this adventurous activity will break the bank!
16. Hike Between Villages via the Lower Mayan Trail
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlán because there are SO many awesome trails here! One of my favorite hikes around Lake Atitlán is actually a 2.5-hour hike that skirts the lake and passes over the hills between the two towns of Santa Cruz and San Marcos.
Not only do you get to have epic views of the lake with the volcanoes in the background, but you also get to traverse several of the cute and sleepy Mayan towns (like Jaibalito or Tzununa) on your way from one point to the other.
Overall, the Lower Mayan Trail is awesome and fairly easy to do for beginners or advanced hikers. The trail begins just left of the dock in Santa Cruz, right past the hotel and restaurant Arca de Noé.
The hike lasts for 2-3 hours all the way to San Marcos. But you can take a break once in Tzununa and hire a tuk-tuk for the ride back to San Marcos. Once there, a good way to cool off would be to jump in the lake from the wooden dock I just talked about above!
17. Swim at a Black Sand Beach
For even more water adventures and fun day trips, head to the black sand beach that’s located outside of San Pedro La Laguna. This is an extremely popular spot among locals, so please visit with care!
To get to the black sand beach in Lake Atitlán, take the Finca road outside of San Pedro. Past the basketball court is a dirt trail that begins and continues all the way around the slope of the San Pedro volcano. About 25-minutes in, take the left trail at the fork that leads down to the shore. From here, it’s about another 20-minute hike to reach the beach. You’ll pass an abandoned coffee farm, and then just after a local’s home to get there (don’t worry – they’re used to it).
The water is great for swimming here and, as a bonus, you have unhampered views of Cerro del Oro and Tolimán and Atitlán volcanoes!
18. Experience a Mayan Fire Ceremony at the Sacred Caves
Participating in a traditional Mayan fire ceremony inside the Sacred Caves is one of the tours you can do while visiting Lake Atitlán. And although I haven’t experienced this one myself, I have only heard good things about it!
A little info about the tour: These caves have been used by the local Mayans for centuries. During the tour, you get to hike to the Sacred Caves and then partake/witness a 2-hour fire cleansing ceremony as performed by a local shaman. Your guide will explain the history and significance of the ritual taking place.
For those interested in learning more about Mayan spirituality, this will be a memorable thing to do while in Lake Atitlán. The tour is operated by Los Elementos Adventure Center. You can book online here.
19. Shop for Art & Textiles
As many other people would say, you simply cannot come to Lake Atitlán without doing a bit of shopping! Guatemalan and Mayan textiles and art are on FULL display around the lake. There are large markets bursting with color in just about every one of the municipalities.
The best place for shopping for such items will probably be down Calle Santander in Panajachel. But don’t overlook what the other towns have to offer!
It may seem like all the markets are one and the same, but the towns actually specialize in their own type of art and textile work, with differences in technique, patterns, colors, etc.
My favorite towns for shopping:
- San Juan La Laguna – oil and acrylic paintings, naturally-dyed textiles and handmade clothing
- Panajachel – everything and anything at a good price
- San Pedro La Laguna – traditional and modern clothing, souvenirs, handmade shoes and jewelry
- Santa Catarina Palopó – weaved blouses, huipiles, traditional clothing handmade with the backstrap-loom
- San Antonio Palopó – handmade ceramics and pottery
- Santiago Atitlán – handmade and manufactured souvenirs, bags, clothing, table runners, blankets, etc
20. Explore Other Towns Around the Lake via Boat
Once you’ve checked off all the other activities mentioned above, the last thing to do in Lake Atitlán would be to finish visiting all the towns you haven’t yet been able to explore.
Getting around Lake Atitlán by boat is fairly easy and boats depart quite often from all the docks (about every 5-15 minutes), so you shouldn’t have a problem visiting SEVERAL towns on a trip to Lake Atitlán.
That said, I hope you enjoyed reading this post with my recommendations on top things to do in Lake Atitlan! I know that your Lake Atitlan itinerary will be packed and full of adventure with this ultimate bucket list!
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