Before we visited Lake Atitlan, I didn’t get how big it is or how much there is to see and do. I was looking for accommodation by typing ‘Lake Atitlan’, which was never going to work – there are lots of individual towns on the lake and each has its own vibe.
In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know; where to stay, eat and what to do. After reading this, you’ll be fully prepared for your Lake Atitlan visit.
Our Lake Atitlan Highlights
- Jumping in the lake off the private dock at Maya Moon Lodge. A secluded lodge that would normally be out of our budget, perfect for swimming and basking in the sun.
- Paddle-boarding on the lake. Our new favourite activity and the best way to see the lake.
- Indian Nose Hike. A short night-time hike to watch an incredible sunrise behind the volcanoes.
- Volcan San Pedro Hike. Difficult but rewarding, with spectacular panoramic lake views at the top.
Top Tips for Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Here are some of the main things I didn’t know before visiting the lake.
- There are eleven different towns on the lake. This confused me before we visited the lake – where should we stay? What’s the difference? Which is best? We’ll go through all of this.
- A couple of days won’t cut it if you want to see everything. People usually refer to Lake Atitlan as one destination, but each town has something different to offer. It’s worth spending time in each.
- ATM’s aren’t everywhere. San Pedro La Laguna and Panajachel are the best places to withdraw money. San Marcos La Laguna has one ATM that breaks down frequently. You won’t find a cash machine anywhere else.
- There’s something for everyone: budget, midrange and ballin’. All of the lakeside activities are doable on a budget but luxury accommodations with stunning views surround the lake too.
- Water taxis leave before sunset. Water taxis make town-hopping a cinch but take note that the last one is between 5pm and 6pm (it varies by town). Private boats are available later for a much higher price.
- The lake is at 1,500m altitude. This means sunny days, chilly nights and the best part – no mosquitoes!
A Guide to the Towns and Villages on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
First, the towns that are good to stay in (San Marcos, San Pedro and Santa Cruz).
San Marcos La Laguna
Best for: Chilled vibes, yoga and relaxing in a hippy town.
San Marcos La Laguna has an easygoing atmosphere. It’s perfect for relaxing and eating great food. You’ll find heaps of healthy options, yoga classes and massages.
Where to stay in San Marcos La Laguna
Maya Moon Lodge (our choice)
This amazing lodge is Lake Atitlan’s best kept secret. After a lucky recommendation, we booked this place for four nights.
What I loved most about Maya Moon was the private location – it’s tucked away in a little cove on the lake, thirty minutes from town. What does this mean? Clean water that’s perfect for swimming, less boat traffic and the feeling of having the whole lake to yourself.
Generally speaking, Maya Moon is a little more upmarket, with private cabins and a nice restaurant, but budget backpackers can book the Gecko dorm.
Big, comfortable beds with heavy blankets, an excellent shower and a hammock-lined balcony with a great lake view made this our favourite dorm experience on the trip.
Lush Atitlan (ballin’)
Maya Moon will always have our hearts but Lush Atitlan is the popular choice for supreme luxury. It’s an eco-friendly oasis in a great location right next to the Nature Reserve in town.
Cost: 800-1200Q / €90-130 in high season
Hostel del Lago (budget)
For something central, Hostel del Lago is a good option. It’s a big hostel with a dock on the lake (with morning yoga) and a restaurant serving big portions. The breakfast burrito looked excellent.
We visited and thought it seemed nice but heard from some travellers that the beds are uncomfortable. It’s a standard budget option that would suit solo travellers.
Cost: Dorms 90Q / €10
Things to do in San Marcos La Laguna
Cliff Jump at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
This 20 metre high cliff jump is not for the faint hearted. From the water it looks manageable but you feel every metre on the platform. Aside from the cliff jump, the nature reserve is nice for a walk around or relaxing with a book or coffee.
Stand-up paddleboarding with Venga Atitlan
One of our favourite activities on the lake was our early morning stand-up paddle boarding tour with Johan from Venga Atitlan. We were the only people on the glassy lake and got amazing views from the centre.
Tours leave from next to Hostel del Lago in San Marcos and can accommodate a maximum of six people. If there’s noone else on the tour, you can choose your own departure time and route. Just message in advance to sort out the details.
Yoga Classes / Yoga Retreats
San Marcos is the lake town famous for yoga, there’s even a noticeboard in the town centre with a yoga schedule. Multi-day retreats with The Yoga Forest are popular and some even have days of silent meditation at the end. If you’re looking for yoga, you’ll find it in San Marcos.
Get a Massage
Hand in hand with the yoga culture is an abundance of wellness, spa and massage centres. Book in for a cheap traditional or indigenous massage with any practitioner in town.
Get up to watch the best sunrise of your life
The sun rising up from behind huge volcanoes, casting amazing colours over this peaceful lake makes for one of the most striking views you’ll ever see. Maya Moon Lodge’s private dock is the perfect viewing point.
Restaurant Fé is one of the most upmarket spots in town and they offer Guatemalan cooking classes. They’re a little pricey at 200Q per person but seem worth it for 5 hours of lessons with tons of food and wine.
Where to eat in San Marcos La Laguna
You’ll find most restaurants on the main pedestrian street, which is more like a little lane that connects the town to the dock. Food in San Marcos is cheap, healthy and delicious – you’ll
l find most restaurants on the main pedestrian street.
We loved the burritos and juices at Moonfish and cheap lunches at Konojel (who work with local women’s rights corporations). For great falafel pittas, go to Restaurant Fé and make sure to try the banana bread at Circles. There’s also lots of artisan shops where we picked up delicious homemade peanut butter.
San Pedro La Laguna
Best for: Spanish classes, lots of accommodation and tour options, a central point to base yourself.
San Pedro is the most bustling of the lakeside towns. It was a little big and busy for us but it’s the best place to base yourself for excursions.
Where to stay in San Pedro La Laguna
We stayed in a basic Airbnb that we wouldn’t recommend. After asking around, these are some good options.
Hotel Sakcari (ballin’)
San Pedro is lacking in fancy hotels but Hotel Sakcari is the best of the lot. It has a gorgeous pool but gets mixed reviews – if you want proper luxury, we recommend checking out some of the amazing Airbnb’s at the lake.
Cost: 440Q / €50
Mikaso Hotel (budget)
Mikaso is right on the water but still close to the centre of San Pedro and it has a kitchen and a jacuzzi. If we’d known about this, we’d definitely have stayed here.
Cost: Dorms from 60-80Q / €7-9
Things to do in San Pedro La Laguna
Learning Spanish by a beautiful lake, surrounded by volcanoes? Sounds pretty amazing.
San Pedro is the most popular place for Spanish classes at Lake Atitlan, with excellent schools like San Pedro Spanish School. Classes cost $150-200 per week, with the option to stay with a Guatemalan family.
Want to know more about learning Spanish for travelling? Read our ultimate guide to learning Spanish for backpackers here.
San Pedro Volcano Hike
Volcan San Pedro is the biggest of the three volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. The 3000m stratovolcano is a challenging four to five hour hike to the summit, but is worth it for the unrivaled panoramic lake views.
Avoid bringing valuables, robberies have been reported.
When we did the hike, police were stationed on top of the volcano which made us feel safe but you can’t be too cautious.
Volcan San Pedro wasn’t the only volcano we hiked in Guatemala – read about our overnight trip hiking Volcan Acatenango here.
Indian Nose Hike
One of the easiest and most rewarding hikes to do in Guatemala, the hardest part is the 3AM alarm. The uphill hike isn’t too taxing and you arrive to a viewpoint on the hill that’s (questionably) shaped like a man’s nose to watch the sun rise over the lake.
Jump in the lake at Restaurante El Fondeadero
While it’s not a drop to rival the San Marcos cliff jump, El Fondeadero has a platform to jump into the lake for a swim. It’s a nice place to go as there are limited spots to swim in San Pedro, but the restaurant’s food is mediocre.
Where to eat in San Pedro La Laguna
San Pedro La Laguna is the most touristy town on the lake with plenty of choice. We really liked Cafe Atitlan; it has big portions and lots of options. Make sure to go to Idea Connection coffee shop for fantastic coffee, sandwiches and pan de chocolate. For veggie food, Shanti Shanti is great. There’s lots more, you won’t be stuck for options in San Pedro.
Best for: A cool glamping hostel, great brunch but not much else.
Santa Cruz is the smallest of the three main towns; it’s home to two cool hostels but few restaurants or activities.
Where to stay in Santa Cruz
Teepee (or is it tipi?) style tents and a relaxed, colourful common area are what Free Cerveza is all about. They have a deck overlooking the lake for workouts or morning yoga classes but we weren’t fans of the eco-toilets (basically drop holes) that stank terribly and attracted lots of flies.
Free cerveza – what’s the catch? You need to sign up to the family-style dinner (70Q) and then you can drink as much beer as you like from 5-7pm. And we did.
La Iguana Perdida
Right by the dock in the little village of Santa Cruz, La Iguana Perdida isn’t as popular as Free Cerveza but the food and accommodation are better. There’s no WiFi so prepare to disconnect if you stay here. If you’re staying at Free Cerveza, come here to eat for a change of scenery.
Things to do in Santa Cruz
Drink lots of beer at Free Cerveza
We spent three nights in Santa Cruz and didn’t find much to do. So we drank beer.
You can rent kayaks from Iguana Perdida or use them for free if you’re staying at Free Cerveza. Kayaking can be done from any town at the lake but since there’s not much else to do in Santa Cruz, here is a good option.
Where to eat in Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz is really just about Free Cerveza and Iguana Perdida, there’s few other options for food. The breakfast at Iguana Perdida is amazing, if you’re missing home food then try the piggy sandwich. We got proper homemade scones there too, so we were very happy.
Daytrips Around Lake Atitlan
You can easily go on daytrips by getting a water taxi to other towns on the lake. Here are some of our favourites.
Hike Tzununa to Jaibalito
Best for: Beautiful hike with stunning lake views, German bratwurst at the end, off the tourist trail.
Tzununa and Jaibalito are two of the smallest villages on the lake. From Tzununa, there is a 5-mile cliffside hiking trail to Jaibalito with gorgeous views of the lake.
Take a tuk-tuk or walk from San Marcos to Tzununa to begin the hike. When you get to Jaibalito, have lunch at the German restuarant Posada Jaibalito and then jump in a water taxi to get to your next stop.
Visit San Juan La Laguna
Best for: Art galleries, markets and souvenir shopping.
San Juan La Laguna is a short walk or even shorter water taxi from San Pedro. It’s smaller and sleepier and can be explored fully in a few hours. Wander around the art galleries, visit the church in the main square, drink a Guatemalan coffee and buy some souvenirs.
Souvenir shopping in Panajachel
Best for: A jumping off point for the lake, souvenir shopping at the market.
Panajachel is the lake town with the best transport links to the rest of Guatemala. The town itself isn’t the nicest but has cheap market stalls with a good selection of souvenirs.
If you’re feeling adventurous: Hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan with Quetzaltrekkers
We spent a week at Lake Atitlan and then went to Xela (or Quetzaltenango) for Spanish classes. From there, we hiked 46km back to the lake over three days, two nights with Quetzaltrekkers.
They’re a non-profit company that help lots of schools and families in need in Xela and the hike was amazing. We definitely recommend this if you have time.
How to travel around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
There are two main ways to get around Lake Atitlan: water taxis and tuk-tuks.
Water taxis are small passenger boats that leave from the main docks in each town every twenty to thirty minutes (or once the boat is full), from sunrise to sunset. You can also hail them down from private docks on the lake (we did this from Maya Moon Lodge and Free Cerveza).
The water taxis are great value but sometimes the drivers try to charge tourists more so it’s worth haggling a little. Here’s a price list between some of the main destinations:
- San Pedro – San Juan: 10Q
- Panajachel – San Marcos: 15Q
- San Marcos – San Pedro: 15Q
- Santa Cruz – San Pedro: 25Q
- San Pedro – Panajachel: 25Q
Tuk-tuks are a good option for getting around within town. If you want to get from San Marcos to Maya Moon or San Pedro to the base of Volcan San Pedro, you’ll find a ton of tuk-tuk drivers fighting for your business.
How to get to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
How to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan
The tourist shuttles beat the chicken bus; by bus, you need to change three times and don’t save much money. Book a tourist shuttle in any of the tour agencies in town.
When you arrive to Panajachel, get on a water taxis to reach your final destination.
How to get from Lake Atitlan to Antigua
Shuttles leave Panajachel at 8AM so you’ll need to catch an early water taxi from wherever you are on the lake (there’s no need to stay in Panajachel beforehand; water taxis start at 6AM).
How to get from Lake Atitlan to Xela
A chicken bus from San Pedro La Laguna to Xela leaves at 11AM daily. Get a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the bus stop as it’s hard to find.
Budget for Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is not an expensive place to visit. We’ve listed out some of the prices we paid throughout the post, but here’s a summary of what you can expect.
- Budget accommodation: 60-80Q / €7-9
- Luxury accommodation: 400Q+ / €45+
- Restaurant dinner: 60-80Q / €7-9
- Indian Nose or Volcan San Pedro hike: 100Q / €11
- Stand-up paddleboarding: 150Q / €17
Lake Atitlan was absolutely sublime and might be my favourite place on our trip so far. We hope that this post has inspired you to visit Lake Atitlan and given you a detailed guide on how to do it!
Let us know in the comments if you are planning to visit Lake Atitlan or if you have any other recommendations for things to do or places to stay at the lake.