When first arriving on Lake Atitlan, the idea of relaxing for the duration of your stay can be a tempting one. After all, the lake has plenty of incredible restaurants and places to stay, all surrounded by jaw-dropping views of volcanoes and mountains. But the most rewarding way to see the lake is by getting out and exploring it. Here are five sights that shouldn’t be skipped.
Look at the top of the mountain line across the lake from San Pedro for long enough, and you might just be able to make out what looks like the profile of a person’s face, if they were lying on their back. The highest point of the face is the Indian Nose, one of the most popular hikes on Lake Atitlan.
Most people start the hike in Santa Clara la Laguna, a sleepy village above the lake. To get there, either join a group tour from San Pedro or take a chicken bus. From there, the walk makes its way down to San Juan la Laguna, on the lake’s shore. For a truly unforgettable experience, join one of the sunrise tours. It’s well worth the early start.
Cerro Tzankujil nature reserve
Take a left turn when walking up San Marcos’ main strip from the dock (it’s well signposted) to find the Cerro Tzankujil nature reserve. Stretching out across a hill that’s long been sacred to Mayans, a stroll up to the top passes a number of Mayan altars that are still in use. From the top — or from a viewpoint halfway up — there’s a lovely view across to San Pedro.
There’s also a swimming spot here, with some of the clearest waters on the lake and a jumping-off point.
Volcan San Pedro
Directly across from Indian Nose, looming above the town that shares its name, is Volcan San Pedro. The views from its peak are some of the best in all of Guatemala. But be warned, it’s a tough walk to reach them, with more than a kilometre of steep ascent.
You’ll have to pay a park entrance fee to start the hike, which comes with a guide. Make sure to ask them about the history of the volcano. According to local legend, it decapitated nearby Volcan Atitlan in a fit of jealousy.
The lake itself
A trip to Lake Atitlan isn’t complete unless you actually experience the lake firsthand. Luckily, there are lots of ways to do just that.
Pollution means that swimming isn’t really recommended in some parts, but head out of the main towns and the waters get crystal clear. Kayaking is also very popular, and kayaks can be rented from any of the towns or villages. Or for anyone who’s really averse to getting their feet wet, just take a lancha trip around the lake.
Iximche was once the capital of the Kaqchiquel people, and to local Mayans the temples are still considered sacred ground. A visit to the ruins, around 15km from the lake, makes for a lovely day trip.
While Guatemala is home to a lot of Mayan ruins, Iximche offers something a little different: for one thing, there’s a chance you might witness a Mayan ceremony while you’re there. Not too many travellers make the trip, a nice contrast to touristy Tikal.
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