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Introducing Panajachel

The busiest and most built-up lakeside settlement, Panajachel ('Pana' to pretty much the entire country) has developed haphazardly and, some say, in a less than beautiful way. Strolling the main street, Calle Santander, crammed with cybercafes, travel agencies, handicraft hawkers and rowdy bars, dodging noisome tuk-tuks all the way, you may be forgiven for supposing this paradise lost.

A hike down to the lakeshore, though, will give you a better idea why Pana attracts so many visitors. Aside from the astounding volcano panorama, the town's excellent transportation connections, copious accommodations, varied restaurants and thumping nightlife make it a favorite destination for weekending Guatemalans.

Several different cultures mingle on Panajachel's dusty streets. Ladinos (people of mixed indigenous and European heritage) and gringos control the tourist industry. The Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil Maya from surrounding villages come to sell their handicrafts to tourists. Tour groups arrive by bus for a few hours or overnight. This mix makes Pana a curiously cosmopolitan crossroads in an otherwise remote, rural vicinity. All of this makes for a convenient transition into the Atitlán universe – but to truly experience the beauty of the lake, most travelers venture onward soon after arrival.