Welcome to Lago de Atitlán

Though volcanic explosions have been going on here for millions of years, today's landscape has its origins in the massive eruption of 85,000 years ago, termed Los Chocoyos, which blew volcanic ash as far away as Florida and Panama. The quantity of magma expelled from below the earth's crust caused the surface terrain to collapse, forming a huge, roughly circular hollow that soon filled with water – the Lago de Atitlán. Smaller volcanoes rose out of the lake's southern waters thousands of years later: Volcán San Pedro (today 3020m above sea level) about 60,000 years ago, followed by Volcán Atitlán (3537m) and Volcán Tolimán (3158m). The lake today is 8km across from north to south, 18km from east to west, and averages around 300m deep, though the water level has been on the rise since 2009.

Around 900 AD, when the Maya highland civilization was in decline, the region was settled by two groups that had migrated from the Toltec capital of Tula in Mexico, the Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil. The latter group settled at Chuitinamit, across the way from the present-day village of Santiago Atitlán, while the former occupied the lake's northern shores; this demographic composition persists to this day. By the time the Spanish showed up in 1524, the Tz'utujil had expanded their domain to occupy most of the lakeshore. Pedro de Alvarado exploited the situation by allying with the Kaqchiquels against their Tz'utujil rivals, whom they defeated in a bloody battle at Tzanajuyú. The Kaqchiquels subsequently rebelled against the Spanish and were themselves subjugated by 1531.

Today, the main lakeside town is Panajachel, or 'Gringotenango' as it is sometimes unkindly called, and most people initially head here to launch their Atitlán explorations. Santiago Atitlán, along the lake's southern spur, has the strongest indigenous identity of any of the major lake towns. Up the western shore, the town of San Pedro La Laguna has a reputation as a countercultural party center. On the north side, San Marcos La Laguna is a haven for new-agers, while Santa Cruz La Laguna and Jaibalito, nearer to Panajachel, are among the lake's most idyllic, picturesque locales.

The lake is a three-hour bus ride west from Guatemala City or Antigua. There is an ersatz town at the highway junction of Los Encuentros, based on throngs of people changing buses here. From La Cuchilla junction, 2km further west along the Interamericana, a road descends 12km southward to Sololá, and then there's a sinuous 8km descent to Panajachel. Sit on the right-hand side of the bus for views of the lake and its surrounding volcanoes.

Top experiences in Lago de Atitlán

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Lago de Atitlán activities

$49.99 Cultural & Theme Tours

Lake Atitlan: Mayan Ceremony at the Sacred Caves

Experience an important ceremony of the Maya people of Guatemala at the most sacred and holy location on Lake Atitlan.Transfer to the trail-head from Panajachel. Then, walk to the 1st cave (a maximum 20-minute hike). Named “Nimajay”, “San Simon”, “Enchanted” and “Colorado”, the 4 caves have been used by the Mayans for centuries for their Fire Cleansing and Protection Ceremony. The highland tribes travel for hours to visit the holy caves, and you will feel the energy and power as soon as you approach the cave entrance.Watch the shamans perform the ceremony (not guaranteed, but available on most days) and experience an authentic part of the living Mayan culture of the Guatemala highlands. Your guide will explain why the ceremonies are performed and teach you about the ritual and unique meanings of the Mayan calendar.Located 1,200 feet above Lake Atitlan, the caves offer panoramic views of the lake and caldera. Stand on top of Eagle Rock and marvel at how the earth drops hundreds of feet around you. Feel your spirit soar like a bird as you stand with nothing but air on all sides.You can also visit the shrine of San Simon/Maximon, the colonial church and a 200 feet waterfall.

$89.99 Day Trips & Excursions

San Pedro Volcano Hiking Tour from Panajachel in Guatemala

Meet your guide at your hotel in Panajachel or at the travel office. If you are not staying in Panjachel, meet your guide at the boat dock in San Pedro. Travel by boat across Lake Atitlan enjoying views of Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos, and San Pablo. Upon arriving in San Pedro, travel to the trail-head 1,000 feet above Lake Atitlan's shores. Check in at the visitor center, and start you hike up the 9,900 foot summit. The volcano has an altitude of 3,020 meters or 9,900 feet above sea level, with spectacular views of Lake Atitlan. San Pedro volcano is the most accessible volcano to climb near Lake Atitlan. Created 65,000 years ago, this volcano is geologically very young. It takes approximately 3.5-hours to climb to the top and 2.5-hours to come down.  Upon reaching the summit, enjoy a picnic box lunch (included in the package). Rest and enjoy the views before heading down to the base. Back at the San Pedro village, board the boat for your return ride home.

$73.95 Cultural & Theme Tours

Iximche Mayan Ruin from Panajachel

The late Post-Classic Maya ruins of Iximché was ruled by the Kaqchikel from the 12 - 15th century. Located in the municipal district of Tecpán, this archaeological site was the ancient capital of the Maya Kakchiquel Indians and Guatemala’s first capital “The Kingdom of Goathemala.” These well preserved ruins, located on a promontory in the higher and cooler Sierra mountains, surrounded by steep slopes and pine trees. The spectacular scenery is worth the visit alone.The architecture of the site included a number of pyramid-temples, palaces and two Mesoamerican ball-courts. At the time of the Spanish conquest Iximche, was the second most important city in the Guatemalan Highlands, after the K'iche' capital at Q'umarkaj. Conquistador Pedro de Alvarado was initially well received in the city in 1524 and the Kaqchikel Kings provided the Spanish with native allies to assist in the conquest of the other highland Maya kingdoms. Iximche was declared the first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala in the same year. Due to excessive Spanish demands for tribute the Kaqchikel soon broke the alliance and deserted their capital, which was burned in 1526 by Spanish deserters.Mayan rituals are still performed at this site on important occasions. Chances of witnessing a Fire Ceremony are good.The tour of the ruins usually takes around one-two hours.

$50 Outdoor Activities

Hike Around Lake Atitlan

Hiking at the shore Lake Atitlan is a unique experience.During this hiking tour you can see a lot of good place and amazing views of the three volcanoes. In addition to singular vistas of the lake and the volcanoes, you’ll witness superb views of the villages of Jaibalito, Tzununá and San Marcos.

$55 Outdoor Activities

Kayak and Hike Adventure Tour from Panajachel in Guatemala

Chose from full-day or half-day adventure tour package, both combining kayaking and hiking. Your tour begins in Panajachel where you transfer by boat to the remote village of Santa Cruz La Laguna. The village and lake shore are only accessable by boat, and feels as though you travel back in time to another era. Exit the boat at our exclusive adventure center and gear up to get in the water. Our qualified kayak instructors will size you up for the proper kayak and PFD gear. We have children's single kayaks and large double and triple seater kayaks especially for families. All the guides are experienced kayak teachers, and can show you basic paddling techniques. Once everyone is ready to go, paddle to one of our special cliff jumping areas. We have two areas for swimming and cliff jumping, and we will select the one most appropriate for your family. Either area has short jumps of 2 - 3 feet, and longer jumps up to 30 feet. All jumping areas are in deep landing water that has been tested by our guides. But if you prefer only to paddle, don't worry! We can skip the cliff jumping for you.If you choose the Full Day Tour, continue paddling along the rugged and remote north shore of Lake Atitlan, followed by a hike back through the Mayan villages of San Marcos, Tzununa, and El Jaibalito. You will paddle for about 2-hour along the lake-shore, heading past the Mayan settlements of El Jaibalito and Tzununa en route to San Marcos. Encounter Mayan men fishing from hand-hewn boats known as “cayukas,” just as they have done for centuries. Gaze at the rugged rocks that provide home to exotic plant and bird life. You will even have the opportunity to jump into the crystal clear waters from the cliff tops. Pull into the Bay of San Marcos to gear up for the 2nd part of your adventure. The north shore of Lake Atitlan has no road access, so you will be hiking paths that have been used by the Mayans for centuries. See villagers tending their maize and coffee crops en route.If you choose the Half Day Tour, you will return to our adventure center, followed by a 1-hour hike through the Pumpatin Canyon. This section of Lake Atitlan has barely been touched by the outside world, and from your privileged position several hundred feet above the ever changing waters of Atitlan, enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding volcanoes.

$49.99 Food, Wine & Nightlife

Maya Cooking Class from Panajachel

Experience Guatemala in an authentic and personal way as you discover the flavors of Guatemala cooking at the Lake Atitlan Maya kitchen.A 3-hour cooking class will help you understand how Mayan culture and Spanish colonial influences produced a variety of mouth-watering dishes. Classes are taught by Claudia, a local graduate of Amigos' culinary program. You’ll have lots of hands-on fun learning how to prepare up to 3 authentic Guatemalan dishes during this class. Learn how to prepare traditional recipes and come away with all the skills you need to prepare them in your own kitchen.After your lesson you’ll have a sufficient amount of the prepared food to feed your family or other group members. You’ll take home a printed copy of the recipes as well. The instructor will demonstrate the preparation of each recipe with explanations so you’ll have a complete understanding of the ingredients and the process.All proceeds support the community of Santa Cruz La Laguna through the local nonprofit Amigos de Santa Cruz which runs education and economic empowerment programs.Private classes can be arranged for individuals, in addition to the shared classes for small groups. The Mayan cooks in the program are native to Lake Atitlan, and they carry on the rich traditions and culture that are expressed in the food. Note that the instructors speak English or Spanish, or a little of both.

Lago de Atitlán in detail