10 Amazing Towns to Visit Around Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Last updated May 24, 2021 | Guatemala | 0 comments

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For many who visit, it’s the rich history and cultural diversity of the dozen or so towns around Lake Atitlán that make this popular Guatemala travel destination so fascinating. The cultures and languages you can see and hear around the lake in the towns are predominantly Tz’utujil Maya with a smaller population of Kaqchikel and K’iche Maya.

That said, each municipality has its own character and charm with varying traditions, trajes (clothing), and mannerisms, which is why visiting not just one, but several of the towns around Lago de Atitlán is a must!

From wandering between the colorfully-painted houses of Santa Catarina Palopó and shopping for traditional Maya textiles in Santiago Atitlán, to partaking in a backstrap loom weaving workshop and hitting up the backpacker bars in San Pedro La Laguna, there is so much to see and do in these vibrant lakeside towns and villages where tradition intertwines with modern society.

Plus, not only is visiting several of the towns in Lake Atitlán doable on a short or long trip, but it’s also fun since you get to skirt across the lake via boat – the local’s main mode of transport – and take in the mesmerizing views of the three volcanoes of San Pedro, Tolimán, and Atitlán marking the skyline.

Here are the most interesting and diverse towns to visit around Lake Atitlán in Guatemala! 

Top 10 Incredible Maya Towns Around Lake Atitlán

1. San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro La Laguna main dock, a town around Lake Atitlán

We were lucky enough to have lived in San Pedro La Laguna – the popular backpacker town on the lake – for two months, which is why it’s at the top of my list! There are simply so many awesome things to do in San Pedro La Laguna that you can’t miss out on!

Lounge in heated thermal pools at sunset? Yep! Go horseback riding to coffee farms? Why not! Take a cooking class and visit a women’s weaving workshop? Definitely! Hike up San Pedro volcano? Maybe!

Not to mention, of all the towns around Lake Atitlán, San Pedro probably has the best choice when it comes to where to eat and where to stay. There seems to be food from all corners of the world – Israeli, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Italian (to name a few) – and a handful of budget-friendly hostels as well as more boutique and luxurious resorts.

You will be at the heart of the activity in Lake Atitlán if you come to San Pedro! Getting there from Panajachel (the gateway town to the lake) only takes 30 minutes by boat and costs Q25.

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Sababa Resort ($$$) – a popular boutique resort and hostel with one of the coolest pools in Lake Atitlán.

Zoola ($) – party it up in this hip backpacker’s hostel that features a cool restaurant, full bar, outdoor pool, and terrace overlooking the lake.

2. Santa Catarina Palopó

maya woman weaving in santa catarina palopó - a kaqchikel maya town around lake atitlan guatemala

Here’s why you should put Santa Catarina Palopó on your radar! For one, it’s perhaps one of the most colorful towns around Lake Atitlán, thanks to a project called Pintando El Cambio or Painting Change.

This initiative transformed the municipality into a colorful wonderland. All the 850+ houses are now painted in hues of green, blue, and purple and adorned with traditional Maya motifs you’d commonly find embroidered on their traditional clothing (huipiles). Each family decided on the color and symbols they wanted for their homes! The result is a spectacular scene. Now, the town and the people are practically glowing. The project’s mission was to use art as a tool for positive change and help bring tourism to the village (thus helping eradicate levels of extreme poverty in the town by bringing a new wave of economic activity).

Two, Santa Catarina Palopó is one of the few towns on Lake Atitlán where the Kaqchikel Maya are most present. Here, you can witness the women wearing their rich blue and purple clothing and headdresses while they make textiles using the backstrap loom. Three, there are also naturally heated water springs from the volcanoes.

Four, you can get a day pass to the pool at a lovely luxurious resort perched on the hillside. Five, you can climb up to an awesome lookout point over Lake Atitlán!

Need I say more? Now you’ve got yourself quite the itinerary to spend a day exploring Santa Catarina Palopó! To get there, simply take a tuk-tuk or hop in the back of a pickup truck from Panajachel (the drive takes about 10 minutes).

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Hotel Casa Palopó ($$$) – a luxurious hotel with one of the best views of Lake Atitlán plus ecotourism activities, fine dining, and more.

Villas B’alam Ya ($$) – a lakeside retreat with villa-style comforts and treehouse vibes located between Panajachel and Santa Catarina Palopó.

3. San Juan La Laguna

woman walking down Avenida 5ta in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Up next is one of the cutest of the towns in Lake Atitlán – San Juan La Laguna. This artsy Tz’utujil Maya municipality can be found via a 5-minute boat ride or a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from neighboring San Pedro.

Of all the things to do in San Juan, one of the most popular is to hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz for an epic viewpoint over the lakeside villages and peaky volcanoes. If you’re looking for an extra challenge, you can do the Indian Nose Hike to reach the summit referred to as “El Nariz del Indio” or Indian’s Nose. You’ll have even better views from up here! On a clear day, you can see up to 8 volcanoes stretching across the horizon.

San Juan also has an underrated art scene – from art galleries teeming with talented local artists to natural dye weaving associations where you can observe a free demonstration of how the locals naturally dye and weave textiles. Coffee tours are offered here as well and if you’re a coffee aficionado, you can’t miss out on Las Maria’s cafe and roastery!

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Eco Hotel Uxalib Atitlán ($+) – a lakeside eco-boutique hotel with a pool, free private kayaks, and breakfast with organic coffee.

Eco Hotel Mayachik ($) – minimalistic and rustic bungalows in nature with unhampered views of the surrounding mountains.

4. Santiago Atitlán

santiago atitlan boat dock

Visiting Santiago Atitlán means getting the opportunity to witness a more traditional town around Lake Atitlan. Here, you can see many of the men still wearing their traditional slacks with pinstripes, woven belts, and hats – something you don’t get to see in the other municipalities.

You can also visit Maximón (El Gran Abuelo), a Mayan deity who changes residency in a local family’s home each year on May 8. This is one of the only remaining places in Guatemala where you can observe syncretist religion – a mixing of traditional Maya beliefs with that of modern Catholicism.

RELATED: Visiting San Juan Chamula Church of Syncretism & Sacrifice in Chiapas, Mexico

The town of Santiago Atitlán receives more national tourists than foreign. It’s also the largest Maya town around Lake Atitlán with over 70,000 inhabitants. Seeing as it lies at the foot of two volcanoes (Tolimán and Atitlán), going hiking and birding are other activities you can do here.

When we explored Santiago, we took a 2-hour tour of the town via tuk-tuk and were able to visit all its top attractions, including a visit to the Parque de la Paz which served as a history lesson about the town’s tragic and bloody massacre that took place in December 1990.

If you get the chance to visit, don’t miss out on a mini day trip to Santiago Atitlán!

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Casa Josefa Hotel ($) – a modern apartment-style hotel featuring rooms with kitchens and private bathrooms plus a sauna and outdoor pool.

Hotel Tiosh Abaj ($$) – boutique hotel and spacious complex with a large outdoor pool, private beach area, and colorful rooms.

5. San Marcos La Laguna

maya women walking down street in san marcos la laguna town in lake atitlan

Ahh… now on to San Marcos La Laguna! San Marcos is, in addition to San Pedro, one of the better-known towns around Lake Atitlán. It’s super popular among the meditation + yogi crowd and it’s hard to ignore the New Age vibe when you stroll through its streets. Many would say that it’s become so “gringo-fied” that it’s somewhat drowned out the culture of the indigenous Tz’utujil Maya community.

However, I still believe there are ways to immerse yourself in local initiatives. One place that we enjoyed, in particular, was the Guatemalan restaurant called Comedor Konojel. Not only do they serve up hearty portions of typical Guatemalan and Mayan food, but they also dish out big portions of the proceeds to the community’s food program!

The attraction to San Marcos La Laguna’s laid-back vibe can be found by simply strolling around or finding somewhere to meditate. You’ll find an array of boho cafes, gelato shops, hidden hotels, health & wellbeing centers, and colorful Maya textiles spread out on the floor as you walk up from the main boat dock.

Swimming in San Marcos is popular too, thanks to the nearby nature reserve called Cerro Tzankujil which features several places to swim and a near 12 meter-high jumping dock.

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Hotel Casa Palopó ($$$) – a luxurious hotel with one of the best views of Lake Atitlán plus ecotourism activities, fine dining, and more.

Villas B’alam Ya($$) – a lakeside retreat with villa-style comforts and treehouse vibes located between Panajachel and Santa Catarina Palopó.

6. Santa Cruz La Laguna

bay of santa cruz la laguna in lake atitlan guatemala

The town on the hill… Santa Cruz La Laguna is one of the lesser-known destinations around Lake Atitlán. But nonetheless, this little place deserves a visit! The town itself is perched way up from the lake, so you’ll need to take a tuk-tuk into the town itself if you wish to explore around. However, if you want to stay by the lakeshore, there are plenty of things to keep you busy.

Most of all, Santa Cruz La Laguna offers the BEST views of all three volcanoes – Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro. On a clear day, you can see them perfectly in a row. One of our favorite places to grab lunch with a view is located just left of the Santa Cruz dock. It’s called Arca del Noé (after Noah’s Arc) and it doubles as a sweet little hotel and restaurant.

You can also rent SUP boards and kayaks just down the shore or go on an incredible 2-hour hike around Lake Atitlán that connects Santa Cruz all the way to Tzununa and even San Marcos!

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Casa Prana ($$$) – Rest like a goddess in this ultra-luxe hotel and soak in the amazing views of Lago de Atitlán from the pool!

Free Cerveza ($) – Eco-friendly glamping hostel, anyone? As the name suggests, get free beer with your stay – and free SUP too!

7. San Antonio Palopó

san antonio palopó town lake atitlan guatemala

credit: INGUAT

San Antonio Palopó, as you may have guessed already, is a town that’s right beside Santa Catarina Palopó. But while Santa Catarina may be the town to visit if you love color, San Antonio is the destination to go to if you enjoy ceramics and pottery.

The story behind how San Antonio Palopó became famous for its pottery art and ceramics is quite fascinating, but it began with an expat who immigrated to Lake Atitlán after living in Mexico for years!

The town, built up from the lake into the hills, teems with local life. Its white churches, sat on a lively street, face the lake with an amazing view of the volcanoes in the background. Here, you can go swimming nearby as well as take a stroll on its lakeside boardwalk.

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Hotel Nuestro Sueño ($) – a waterfront hotel with relaxed vibes and friendly staff!

Hotel Terrazas Del Lago ($) – enjoy panoramic views of Lake Atitlán and the volcanoes from this hotel’s garden and terrace.

8. Jaibalito

maya woman carrying basket on her head in the town of Jaibalito in lake atitlan, guatemala

Jaibalito is a teeny-tiny town on Lake Atitlán that most people don’t know about. If you’re riding the boat from Panajachel on your way to San Pedro or San Marcos, you’ll no doubt stop briefly at Jaibalito’s small dock. The town lies between Santa Cruz La Laguna and Tzununa. So, if you’re hiking the Lower Mayan Trail, you’re going to cross Jaibalito on foot!

Seeing as there are no roads leading to Jaibalito, the only way to get there is by hiking or by taking the boat. Once you’re in Jaibalito, life will slow down. There are hardly any tourists and you’ll only get to see locals going about their daily lives.

That said, there still are a few things to do in this tranquil little town, such as grabbing a dessert + coffee at The Thirsty Baker or float in the infinity pool at Casa Del Mundo. Jaibalito remains very untouched by international influence, there’s no beaten backpacker trail here. All the more reason to visit!

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Hotel y Café La Casa Del Mundo ($) – one of the prettiest hotels on the lake (in my opinion), perched on the rocky shores of Lake Atitlán facing the three towering volcanoes in the background. Enjoy a dip pool, botanical garden, cute terraces, private swimming area, and a delicious restaurant.

9. Tzununá

overlooking the town of tzununá in lake atitlan guatemala

Tzununa is a Kaqchikel Maya village. In Mayan, tzunun was Lake Atitlán’s name before the Spanish conquistadores arrived and called it Lake Atitlán. It signifies “hummingbird of the water” (or colibrí in Spanish). Many visitors who make the trip to Tzununá do so in order to learn more about sustainable permaculture with an organization called Atitlán Organics.

Overall, Tzununa is an adorable town around Lake Atitlán! We crossed through here on via the incredible Lower Mayan Trail and discovered that most of the town is set back off the lakeshore and nestled at the foot of the mountains surrounding it. The atmosphere was sleepy and tropical and tranquil!

This sweet little place is the perfect place to stay, seeing as it’s easily connected by road to neighboring San Marcos La Laguna. You’ll be in close proximity to all your conveniences without getting thrown into the San Marcos crowds.

WHERE TO SLEEP:

El Picnic Atitlán ($$) – enjoy sleeping under the stars inside your own eco-luxe tent/tiny house, complete with an on-site restaurant and bar, garden, and more!

Cabañas de Tzununá ($) – budget-friendly homey cabins with lake access and private dock, lush garden, and on-site restaurant.

10. Panajachel

boats at dock in panajachel lake atitlan

Finally, if you visit Lake Atitlán, it’s likely that your first destination will be none other than the “gateway” town to the lake – Panajachel.

Panajachel (or lovingly referred to as simply Pana), is where to go if you seek the hustle and bustle of a small city-like town. It’s one of the best places to go shopping for textiles, handicrafts, and souvenirs. The market scene down Calle Santander is vibrant and busy. You can’t miss it! You should also take a stroll down its boardwalk that is full of life with vendors selling micheladas, trinkets and toys, clothing, and much more.

Pana also has some of the best hotels, restaurants, and co-working spaces (like Selina) which make it an ideal destination for digital nomads coming to the lake. Then you also have interesting museums, artisanal cafes with great coffee, and you even have adventure activities like paragliding.

Whether you decide to stay a few days to kickstart or end your trip in Panajachel while visiting Lake Atitlán, you won’t be disappointed. It’s definitely less charming than the other above-mentioned towns around Lake Atitlán in my opinion, but that’s also what adds to its unique character.

WHERE TO SLEEP:

Selina Atitlán ($+) – a popular boutique hotel set in the heart of Panajachel. Ideal for digital nomads seeking wifi, community, comfort, and a co-working space.

Hospedaje El Viajero ($) – a no-frills choice for backpackers and travelers with comfortable yet simple rooms and a lush garden.

Final Thoughts

Have I convinced you yet to visit at least a few of the other towns around Lake Atitlan – if not all of them? You also have towns like San Pablo La Laguna and Santa Clara La Laguna (where you can start the Indian Nose sunrise hike) not mentioned above, but that are also worth checking out!!

If you have any questions about these municipalities or what it was like to live in San Pedro La Laguna as a digital nomad, feel free to reach out! For more inspiration and guides to help plan your trip, be sure to go through my Guatemala Travel articles.

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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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