Are you wondering which Lake Atitlan towns and villages you should add to your must-see list? Whether you’re staying in Lake Atitlan for 2 days or longer, the amount of time you have will depend on how many towns and villages you’re able to explore. But fear not! Even if you don’t have the time to visit every single town and village on the lake, the ones you do visit will be nothing short of memorable.
Each town on Lake Atitlan is unique. From varying Kaqchikel and Tzʼutujil Mayan traditions to their overall size, and what local handmade crafts you’ll find along the way, you’ll soon realize that there is something special about each Lake Atitlan town.
Check out the 17 best things to do in Lake Atitlan!
Planning For Your Lake Atitlan Itinerary
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When planning your Lake Atitlan itinerary, know that you have 12 towns and villages on the lake to choose from. And the best way to get to each town is by the local water taxis called, Lanchas. Lanchas run daily from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM and cost on average 25Q per person.
Now, the 25Q price is if you opt to take a public lancha. A private lancha will cost you anywhere from 150Q to 300Q (total for you/your group). The difference between a public and private lancha is what time you depart and what time you’ll arrive at your intended destination.
Public lanchas wait for the boat to fill with passengers before departing. Also, some routes will stop along the way to pick up and drop off passengers at different towns. If you are wanting to leave immediately and go straight to your location, or get around the lake before 6:30 AM or after 6:30 PM, you’ll need to hire a private lancha.
Both public and private lanchas can be found at each town’s boat docks. Make your way to the docks and coordinate with the drivers where you want to go and they’ll gladly take you and direct you to which boat (lancha) to board.
Lake Atitlan Towns & Villages
As mentioned above, there are 12 towns and villages that are scattered along the shores of Lake Atitlan. Each town not only varies in what Mayan group calls it home, but the size, and things to do in each place greatly differ from town to town. The 12 Lake Atitlan towns are:
- San Lucas Toliman
- San Antonio Palopo
- Santa Catarina Palopo
- San Pedro La Laguna
- San Juan La Laguna
- San Marco La Laguna
- San Pablo La Laguna
- Santa Cruz La Laguna
If you are limited on time and want to really focus on the popular towns, of these 12 towns, Panajachel, San Pedro, San Juan, Santiago, and San Marco, tend to be among the most popular on the lake. Of that list, San Juan and Santiago we’re are two favorites!
How Many Lake Atitlan Towns Can I Visit In One Day?
This sort of depends on which towns you lump together, but as a safe bet and for planning purposes, you really can only visit two Lake Atitlan towns in one day.
To help you make the most of your time on the lake, you should plan your visits to towns that are close to each other. Lake Atitlan is large so it does take time to get to and from each town.
To be as efficient with your time as possible, below are some examples to give you an idea of what towns are close to each other and how you can think about clustering your visit.
- Cluster 1: Panajachel, Santa Catarina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo, San Lucas
- Cluster 2: Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos, San Pablo
- Cluster 3: Santiago, San Pedro, San Juan
TIP: There are certain towns you can get to by road vs hiring a lancha. For instance, you can take a tuk-tuk from Panajachel to Santa Catarina Palopo and to San Antonio Palopo. From Santa Cruz, you can hike to Jaibalito, Tzununa, and San Marcos. And finally, you can take a tuk-tuk from San Pedro to San Juan.
When looking for where you want to Stay in Lake Atitlan, try narrowing it down by what vibe you are looking for. If you are looking for a very low-key and quiet location, consider Santa Cruz. Looking for something more lively? San Pedro or Panajachel is for you. If you want to practice yoga and chill, stay in San Marcos. If you are looking for a little more of a local feel, San Juan.
Regardless of where you stay, you can EASILY get to any other town on the lake, so don’t stress!
- San Pedro: Sababa Resort | Mandala’s Hostal | Mikaso Hotel | Mr. Mullets Hostel
- San Marcos: Lush Atitlan | Eagle’s Nest Atitlan | Baraka Atitlan | Hotel Berena
- Panajachel: Selina | Posada don Miquel | Dreamboat Hostel | Hotel Atitlan
- Santa Cruz: Treehouse Retreat | Arca de Noé | Lake Front Retreat | Atitlan Sunset Lodge
- San Juan: Chirris Hostel | Eco Hotel Uxlabil Atitlan | El Cuarto Juez | Eco-Hotel Mayachik
For more places to stay on Lake Atitlan, you can check out the latest places and prices here.
8 Lake Atitlan Towns Not To Miss
1. Panajachel (Pana)
Panajachel (or Pana for short) is one of the main entry points to Lake Atitlan and is often considered ‘the gateway town” to Lake Atitlan, making it a very popular place to stay with tourists. Pana is very developed with tuk-tuk access to the pottery town of San Antonio Palopo and the colorful town of Santa Catarina Palopo along with boat access to any of the towns of the lake.
Pana, while not as charming as other towns on the lake, has its own unique buzz. You’ll find endless shops and restaurants along the main street of Calle Santander, the main tourist street in Pana. From great coffee shops like Café Loco Coffee Roasters to amazing eateries like Little Spoon, and endless souvenir shopping (pottery, textiles, leather goods, trinkets, etc.), Calle Santander has a ton to eat, sip, and see!
Now, we stayed in Pana, and while it was not our favorite town on the lake, it made a great home base for exploring Lake Atitlan’s towns. Pana has loads of nightlife, tons of restaurants, and lots of great hotel options along with tour agencies that offer activities on Lake Atitlan as well as transport to your next Guatemala destination. Not to mention a co-working space at Selina for any of you digital nomads out there.
From Panajachel, you’ll have great views of the lake and its three volcanoes. Plus, if you’re looking for a little tranquility, Reserva Natural Atitlán (Lake Atitlan’s Nature Reserve), is a short tuk-tuk ride away.
Located on the complete opposite side of the lake from Panajachel, you’ll find not only the largest town on Lake Atitlan but also the most traditional Mayan town on the lake, Santiago. Santiago’s 70,000+ inhabitants are nestled in between two volcanoes, Toliman and Atitlan. Santiago is one of the more isolated towns on the lake, but if you are staying in either Pana or San Pedro, you’ll find direct lanchas to Santiago.
When visiting Santiago, it’s best to book a guided tour. Now, now, now! Listen up, it’s totally worth it. Due to the size of Santiago, seeing all the highlights of this Lake Atitlan town requires a tuk-tuk tour. If you decide to book a tour, you can do so upon your arrival in Santiago. There will be English-speaking guides offering their services to you as soon as you step foot onto the docks.
On the tour, you’ll be whisked around Santiago via tuk-tuk (or in the back of a truck bed like we were :)) for 2ish hours.
You’ll be taken to sights like:
- Saint James the Apostle Church
- Learn about why Federal Militia are not allowed inside the town (only local police)
- Meet Maximon (A Mayan Deity) in a local Shaman’s home
- Witness a local Mayan women’s tradition at Parque Xechivoy
- Wander through a weaving workshop or art gallery
- Take in the views from Mirador Del Valle
- Wander through a local market (Sundays are the best days)
An optional add-on to your tour (extra time and cost) is asking your guide to take you to Parque de la Paz, where you’ll learn about the massacre that took place here on December 2, 1992. Santiago has a lot of culture and history and unfortunately, it experienced a lot of atrocities during Guatemala’s 36-year Civil War.
3. San Pedro La Laguna
The backpacker town and one of the more budget-friendly places to stay on Lake Atitlan is San Pedro. In San Pedro, you’ll find a lot of amazing eateries (like Sababa Restaurant), bars, and budget-friendly / social hostels like Mr. Mullets Hostel.
Now, you may be thinking, “Meh, I don’t want to be surrounded by backpackers”, which is fair, but hear us out! Outside of the main drag of San Pedro, there is still a local Mayan feel to this place. You can wander the town bopping in and out of its many shops, photographing its street art, or even looking into hiking to Volcan San Pedro or Rostro Maya.
You’re a short tuk-tuk drive away from San Juan (we’ll get to that next) and due to San Pedro’s great location, you’re a short lancha ride from other towns on the lake, like San Marco’s.
4. San Juan La Laguna
Located right next to San Pedro is San Juan. Of the Lake Atitlan towns and villages we visited, San Juan might just be our favorite! It felt much more quaint and local, with a contagious buzz and bustle of life.
It’s home to amazing art galleries and textile weaving shops. Not to mention, cute streets full of hanging umbrellas, the exterior of houses painted with street art, and on the weekends, marimba bands playing in the street. It really is a gem of a town that is very often skipped by tourists who are crunched on time.
You can hop in and out of natural dye weaving textile shops like Casa Flor Ixcaco and KEMO, wander down Chi Nima Ya (umbrella street) where on either side of the street you’ll find endless shops and cafes for you to explore, and if you are needing a pick-me-up, grab a coffee at Café San Juan or Café Las Marias.
5. San Marcos La Laguna
Oh, San Marcos. San Marcos has a reputation for being a hippie, yogi oasis, and meditation town on the lake. Now, due to its influx of spiritual practices, to us, San Marcos felt like the most unauthentic town on the lake, simply for the fact it was overrun with spiritual studios, organic food stores, and spas.
All that said, this is not to say we hated San Marco’s. Far from it actually! San Marco’s is a small town that has some of the most pristine waters on Lake Atitlan thanks to the bordering Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve. You can spend your days practicing yoga at Eagle’s Nest, jumping into Lake Atitlan from a 40 ft. deck, booking a mediation class, and grabbing a pupusa from Comedor Konojel, a restaurant whose proceeds support the local community. Or, just wander its small streets and relax at a café.
San Marco really is a beautiful place, especially if you are looking to partake in spiritual practices or just looking for a laid-back environment.
6. Santa Cruz La Laguna
The steepest town we visited on Lake Atitlan is the town on the hill, Santa Cruz! Don’t worry, you can take a tuk-tuk to the top 🙂 Known for being an expectational place to rent kayaks or standup paddleboards from, you can paddle the shoreline all the way to San Marco’s and end your day at Free Cerveza Hostel for happy hour.
Unlike other towns on the lake, you won’t find crowded streets lined with cafes and shops. Santa Cruz is much more local and low-key, especially when you leave the lakefront.
If you’re not staying in Santa Cruz, you’re probably coming here for one thing and one thing only, either to eat a meal or take a cooking class at Café Sabor Cruceño. Café Sabor Cruceño is a restaurant and cooking school situated at the top of Santa Cruz, giving you amazing views of Lake Atitlan and its three volcanoes’ from its outdoor patio. Plus, the proceeds from Café Sabor Cruceño support the local community of Santa Cruz.
Whether you want to kayak, hike Lake Atitlan’s lakeshores, or just enjoy a meal with some of the best views on the lake, paying a visit to the cliffside town of Santa Cruz is well worth the trip!
7. San Antonio Palopo
San Antonio Palapo is THE place on Lake Atitlan to visit for anyone who loves ceramics and pottery. No other Lake Atitlan town or village does pottery like San Antonia Palopo! Ceramica Palopo Multicolor creates beautiful pieces of art. Handmade and intricately hand-painted serving bowls, mugs, plates, and vases by the local Cakchiquel Maya are scattered throughout their store. You can even inquire about taking a pottery-making class!
Outside of visiting Ceramica Palopo Multicolor, there is not much to do in San Antonio Palapo besides wander its streets and visit Iglesia de San Antonio Palopo (a church) where you can get great views of the lake and town prior to catching a tuk-tuk or truck ride to Santa Catarina Palapo, which is the neighboring town!
8. Santa Catarina Palopo
Situated between Panajachel and San Antonio Palapo is the very small and colorful town of Santa Catarina Palopo. Santa Catarina is traditional and of the most prominent Cakchiquel Maya towns on the lake. While Santa Catarina may not have a laundry list of things to see and do, it’s still a wonderful town to visit, especially when combined with San Antonio Palapo.
You can wander its streets and town square taking in the hundreds of homes painted bright blue and decorated with patterns. Or opt to pay a visit to Centro Cultural where you can learn about the local Maya. And if you are feeling like taking a dip, there is rumored to be a hot spring in the area where you can take a plunge!
Lake Atitlan Itinerary 1 to 3 Days
Now that you have an idea about each town on the lake, below is a sample itinerary you can use to help plan your time! Of course, adjust as needed to make sure you are visiting the towns that best align with what you want to see, do, and experience!
Ideally, you have enough time on your Guatemala itinerary to spend at least 2-3 days in Lake Atitlan!
- One Day in Lake Atitlan: If you have one day and one day only, we suggest staying in San Pedro and visiting San Juan and San Marco! If San Marco’s isn’t your vibe, swap it with Santiago. You can spend the day shopping in San Juan before heading to San Marcos to get a yoga class in and visit Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve.
- Two Days in Lake Atitlan: After a fun day 1 exploring San Juan and San Marco, it’s time to explore Santiago and Santa Cruz! And if you can, do yourself a favor a book a guided tour of Santiago and a cooking class in Santa Cruz! Or, scratch the cooking class and opt to rent a kayak from Santa Cruz instead and explore the waters of Lake Atitlan!
- Three Days In Lake Atitlan: If you’re spending three days in Lake Atitlan, you can look to get a hike in – i.e. a hike to Volcan San Pedro or Rostro Maya if you’re feeling adventurous! If you’re looking for something a little more low-key, consider spending the day in Panajachel and taking a tuk-tuk ride to neighboring Santa Catarina Palapo or San Antonio Palapo.
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– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)