I can't say enough about this place where I've spent six months. This country changed me, healed me, and helped me grow. It is a special place filled with so much magic.
In this guide, I'm sharing some things I learned during my travels, what you should know, and some of my favorite places.
You're allowed 90 days upon arrival in Guatemala.
Guatemala has beautiful weather year long, so they call it the land of eternal spring. The rainy season is May-October with typical beautiful morning/early afternoon and rain in the evening where you'll find everything lush and green. The dry season is what you'd think. Beautiful weather all day long
Reusable Water Bottle: This is extremely important because the waste system in Guatemala isn't great. Most if not every place has an eco filter that you can easily refill and it's safe.
Sunglasses: Protect your eyes
Day Backpack/Travel Backpack: This 2-in-1 backpack has both a daypack for running around towns and to bring the rest of your belongings. I would NOT recommend a rolling suitcase as it's not practical and can be an inconvenience.
Headlamp: it can get dark walking at night at the lake. You can use your phone but it's always good to have one of these handy.
Earplugs: if you're sensitive to sound, earplugs are a must. Dogs and fireworks are a common noise all around the lake and if you're not used to it, it can keep you up.
Quick-dry towel: If you're staying at a hostel or wanting to go swimming this is essential
Yoga Mat: You'll def want to do yoga at the lake :)
Layers Layers Layers: the lake can get chilly at night and warm in the day.
Swim suit: JIC you want to take a dip in the lake or go cliff diving
Slip on sandals: I love my Birkenstocks and tevas for the water
Good hiking shoes: You will be walking a lot and through all different types of terrains. Comfortable shoes are essential.
Poncho: if you're going in the rainy season
A suitcase is not recommended - You will be walking through dirt, hills, and rocky roads. You will also be taking a water taxi to get to the town you're staying at the lake. Something you can carry on your back is best.
Heels or any "fancy" clothes - these are not needed unless you decide to go out a night in Antigua or Guatemala City.
Quetzales - every 100q is around $13 usd
Cash is how you pay for things. There will be atms in all main areas in Antigua (Centro) and main towns at the lake like Panajachel, San Marcos, San Pedro and San Juan.
The main language in Antigua is Spanish and around Lake Atitlan the local Mayan language (there are 21 languages) and Spanish. I'd recommend learning basic Spanish before arriving.
When you arrive, you’ll arrive at Guatemala City airport. I love Guatemala City and recommend you not skip on it as some cool parts of the city often get overlooked.
Spend a couple of days in Antigua and head off to Lake Atitlan. You can take a shuttle from the airport to Antigua, which is usually the route most take to break up the long trip to the lake. The ride from Guatemala City to the airport is around 1 hour and 3 hours to the lake from Antigua. Once you arrive at the lake, you’ll arrive in Panajachel and take a boat to the town you’re staying.
The main way of transport to the lake is by boat/tuk-tuk. The boat runs in the morning till around 5 pm. This is something to keep in mind wherever you decide to stay.
Things to note: - Uber in Antigua was a bit sketchy so just make sure no one tries scamming you.
- The chicken bus is the cheapest way to travel around Guatemala but can come with some risks
- We used Atitrans to get to and from Guatemala, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan
Hike a volcano
Explore the towns
Eat delicious food
Visit the ruins + churches
Visit the local Mercado
Take some classes - yoga, permaculture, weaving, cacao, coffee, jade jewelry making, and more
Drink coffee + visit cafes
I've stayed in each neighborhood in Antigua and can say each one is special and unique. There are a lot of hostels around Antigua as well but I've always found incredible options on Airbnb and The Good Hotel.
For my full guide to coffee + food in Antigua click here
The Different Towns
Lake Atitlan has 11 towns around the entire lake. The most common ones to stay at are: San Marcos, San Pedro, San Juan, and Panajachel with some smaller towns that are becoming a little more popular.
Panajachel is the main town where you will enter to get to any of the other surrounding towns. We stayed there at the end of our last trip and while I think Panajachel is a beautiful town with lots to do, I wouldn't recommend staying here. The views aren't as great as the other towns and honestly, neither is the food. I was disappointed with most of the options.
San Marcos La Laguna is my favorite town around the lake. It's considered the "hippie" town but I find it a beautiful blend between locals and expats who chose to live a more conscious life. Here you will find delicious food, tons of yoga classes, and health stores. It's small but special. The night is quiet and the day is alive. Things shut early and there's not much nightlife.
San Pedro La Laguna is a backpackers haven. You'll find a lot of Israeli food, bars, and a more lively crowd. This is a party town so if you like to go out, this is your place.
San Juan La Laguna is a beautiful town with a lot of artisan-made goods. I haven't spent much time here but it's definitely recommended to check out.
Santiago is incredibly beautiful and special. It's secluded from the rest of the towns and takes a while to get to but it's probably the most cultural town with a lot to see and do. Vegetarian food is not really accessible here from what I found but it's worth a day trip.
Jaibalito is one of the smallest towns on the lake with not much to do. There are a couple restaurants that are worth checking out.
Tzununa is my second favorite town around the lake. It's still developing in ways but there's an incredible community around permaculture farms/courses, mushroom cultivating, and more. There are some really beautiful and thought-out restaurants including an Ayurveda restaurant and farm-to-table eats.
San Marcos La Laguna:
Guatemala City is an amazing place filled with delicious food, coffee shops, and more. Most people skip it but I would recommend checking it out for at least a couple of days.
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