Across the lake from Panajachel, on an inlet between the volcanoes of Tolimán and San Pedro, lies Santiago Atitlán, the largest of the lake communities, with a strong indigenous identity. Many atitecos (as its people are known) cling to a traditional Tz'utujil Maya lifestyle.
San Marcos La Laguna
Without doubt the prettiest of the lakeside villages, San Marcos La Laguna lives a double life. The mostly Maya community occupies the higher ground, while expats and visitors cover a flat jungly patch toward the shoreline with paths snaking through banana, coffee and avocado trees.
Santa Cruz La Laguna
With the typically dual nature of the Atitlán villages, Santa Cruz comprises both a waterfront resort – home of the lake's scuba-diving outfit – and an indigenous Kaqchiquel village, about 600m uphill from the dock. The cobblestoned road up is a route villagers customarily take lugging sacks of avocados or firewood.
This Kaqchiquel hamlet is only accessible by boat (a 20-minutes lancha ride from Panajachel or San Pedro, Q20), or on foot via a ridgeline trail from Santa Cruz La Laguna, 4km to the east (45 minutes). The equally picturesque hike west, to San Marcos (6km), is best undertaken with local guides, such as Jovenes Maya Kaqchikeles. There are several marvelous places to stay.
There was a Kaqchiquel town (called Tzoloyá) here long before the Spanish showed up. Sololá's importance comes from its location on trade routes between the tierra caliente (hot lands of the Pacific Slope) and tierra fría (the chilly highlands). All the traders meet here, and Sololá's market is one of the most vivid in the highlands.
San Lucas Tolimán
Further around the lake from San Antonio Palopó, but reached by a different, higher-level road, San Lucas Tolimán is busier and more commercial than most lakeside villages. Set at the foot of the dramatic Volcán Tolimán, it's a coffee-growing town and a transportation point on a route between the Interamericana and the Carretera al Pacífico.
Santa Catarina Palopó
On weekends and holidays young textile vendors line the path to the lakeside at Santa Catarina Palopó with their wares, and on any day you can step into wooden storefronts hung thick with bright cloth. In stark contrast to its humble surroundings stands Villa Santa Catarina, a luxury spread with an elegant restaurant, pool fringed by palm trees and sumptuous gardens.
San Antonio Palopó
San Antonio Palopó is a remote and captivating hillside village where entire families tend their terraced fields in traditional garb – women in indigo-striped huipiles (long embroidered tunics), dark blue cortes (long skirts) and sparkly headbands, men in traditional wool skirts. At the top, a gleaming white church forms the center of activity.