Lake Atitlan

Mirador Kaqasiiwaan in the village of San Juan


Lake Atitlan after Holy Week.  Stayed in Panajachel.  Visited the villages of San Juan and San Pedro.  Did a day trip to Chichicastenago by riding the public buses (chicken bus) from Panajachel.

Time of Visit:  April 2024

Duration of Visit:  Three Nights


The different villages around Lake Atitlan

After Antigua, Lake Atitlan is probably the next popular destination in Guatemala.  It is popular for good reasons.  The lake sits at 1,562 meters (5,120 feet) above sea level.  The lake is about 18 kms wide by 10 kms long so it is a fairly large lake.  There are several villages around the lake, some reachable by roads while others by boat.  There is no shortage of villages to see and visit.

The town of Panajachel is the gateway community to Lake Atitlan.  Most visitors arrive here then take boats to the different communities like San Juan, San Pedro, San Marcos and Santiago to name a few. And there are other mountain towns nearby such as Solola, Los Encuentros and Chichicastenago to go on a day trip.  

San Juan

Calle de los Sombreros
Calle de las Sombrillas

San Juan is a colorful community about a 30 minutes boat ride from Panajachel. Probably the number one attraction in San Juan is the Mirador Kaqasiiwaan.  It is about a 15 to 20 minute uphill climb to the mirador using a combination of inclined footpath and stairs.  The path is concrete paved most of the way.

The mirador provides a nice view of the lake and the community below.  But perhaps the mirador’s draw is it’s very colorful boardwalk.  It looks like a mural. 

After the mirador, most visitors come to see Calle de los Sombreros and Calle de las Sombrillas. Calle de los Sombreros is a street with murals on both sides and the above it are many colorful dangling hats. Calle de las Sombrillas is a street where colorful umbrellas are hung.

There are also several cultural tours that visitors can sign up for.  These include chocolate tours, natural medicine tour and honey tour to name a few.

Common cultural tours in Lake Atitlan

San Pedro

Mirador El Nido del Colibri in San Pedro
The street towards San Pedro’s embarcadero

San Pedro is next to San Juan but is too far to walk.  Best to take a tuk-tuk to travel between the two communities.  However, tuk-tuk drivers based in San Juan are not allowed to go around San Pedro. You will be mistaken if you think a tuk-tuk driver from San Juan will drop you off anywhere in San Pedro.  The drop off point is a few hundred feet from Parque La Puerta Hermosa.  You will have to take a San Pedro tuk-tuk to take you where you want to go in San Pedro.

So you know which tuk-tuk to flag, San Pedro tuk-tuks have green top while San Juan tuk-tuks have black tops.  It cost us 10 GTQ per person to get from San Juan to San Pedro.

San Pedro has the reputation of being a party village.  Perhaps the party happens at night because it was quiet when we were walking around in the afternoon.

By far the number one attraction in San Pedro is the Mirador El Nido del Colibri.  You will definitely need a tuk-tuk to get there unless you want to give your hamstrings and quads a work out.  Our tuk-tuk driver charged 30GTQ per person to take us to mirador and back to the embarcadero.  He also gave us 30 minutes at the mirador to take photos which was enough. There was a 10GTQ per person entry fee.

San Marcos

We did not go to San Marcos based on what we found on the Internet.  The village just did not appeal to us.  But we thought we mention it here in case it perks your curiosity.  

San Marcos has the notoriety of being a hippie town and having a laid back vibe. Besides the yoga studios and coffee shops in the village, the most popular attraction is the platform diving within the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve.  The platform is about 12 meters (40 feet) above the water.  Most people jump off the platform and enter the water feet first.  Actually, there is an illustration at the platform depicting the recommended forms when entering the water.  

There is a fee to enter the nature reserve.

A word of caution though if you are going to do the jump.  Do not ingest the water.  According to one blogger, the lake is polluted even though it looks clear.  We did see some trash in the water in San Juan and San Pedro. We even saw locals bathing and washing clothes in the lake.


Colorful viewpoint at Panajachel
Colorful market line the alley to Pana’s Embarcadero

Locals refer to Panajachel as Pana.  This town is considered the gateway town to Lake Atitlan because this is the destination of most shuttle services and local buses.  From Pana, visitors get on the public boats to get to the other villages around the lake.  Just tell your shuttle driver to drop you off at the embarcadero to get on the public boats. 

Pana is a good size community.  It has many souvenir shops and restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, do not miss the chance to dine-in at Guajimbos.  The food, especially their meat dish, are good and the servings are large.  You may think you are being overcharged compared to other nearby restaurants.  But the quality and serving size are not the same.  It is located right on Calle Santander, near the intersection with Calle El Chali. 

If you are more of a healthy eater, a good option is to have either a vegetable or fruit smoothie at Deli Jasmin located at the corner of Calle Santander and Buenas Nuevas.  They also serve wholesome breakfast like banana pancakes, french toast, fruits, granolas and yogurt.


One of the colorful stalls in Chichi market
Colorfully painted mausoleum at Chichi cemetery


Locals refer to Chichicastenago as Chichi.  It is a mountain town close to two hours bus ride from Pana.  Chichi has two draws for visitors.  First is the market and the second is the cemetery. 

The public market balloons in size on Thursdays and Sundays.  Streets are closed to make room for the expansion.  There are a lot of things sold in the market, including vegetables, fruits, clothes and even animals (mainly chicken).  You can easily spend hours here just browsing. 

Chichi’s cemetery is less than a 10 minute walk from the market.  The cemetery has many colorful mausoleums.

How to Get to Chichi

Refurbished US Bluebird schoolbus turned colorful Guatemalan “chicken” bus
Inside the “chicken” bus. Cash only.

You need three bus transfers to reach Chichi from Pana.  First take the bus from Pana to Solola which is another mountain town.  Then take the bus from Solola to Los Encuentros.  From Los Encuentros, you can either take a collectivo or a bus to Chichi.  A collectivo is a 15- seater private van that acts as another mode of public transportation.  When we went, the fares per person were 5, 3.50 and 10 GTQ, going from Pana to Chichi.

The total travel time is between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on how lucky you get with regards to timing while making bus transfers.  We felt we did not have to wait more than 10 minutes before any of the buses left.  Probably the hardest part of the adventure was figuring out where to catch the bus at Pana to go to Solola.  Just walk towards the intersection of Calle Principal (Ruta 1) and Calle del Embarcadero.  You will find a bus stop right at the intersection on the East side of Ruta 1.  It is actually shown on Google Maps as Bus to Solola.

People waiting at the bus stop at Pana on Calle Principal going to Solola

Other places to catch the bus at Pana is at the Texaco Gas Station beside the hospital on Calle Principal and near the Iglesia Catolica Panajachel.  The buses stop here for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the journey.

There are also tour company shuttles that go from Pana to Chichi if you are not inclined to go the local bus route.  However, they only go on Thursdays and Sundays to coincide with the big market day.    

How to Get to Lake Atitlan

Tour/shuttle company in Pana located on Calle Pricipal near the intersection with Calle Santander

Lake Atitlan is about 2.5 hours away from Antigua and may take up to five hours from Guatemala City.  These travel times are by a tour company shuttle van.  The travel time is long to go to Lake Atitlan from Guatemala City because the shuttle van will head first to Antigua to drop off people that booked a transfer to go there.  Then the people that need to go to Lake Atitlan may get on a different shuttle van to the final destination.  

There may be some waiting to make the van transfer at Antigua.  What makes the overall journey long is the traffic to get out of Guatemala City and getting in and out of Antigua.  Expect the same going the other direction, that is from Lake Atitlan to Guatemala City.  

Allow plenty of time if you are planning to catch a flight out of Guatemala City and you are coming from Lake Atitlan.  Still, shuttles are by far the easiest way to get to Pana and Lake Atitlan.  

Best to have Lake Atitlan as the second destination in Guatemala, behind Antigua.  Reason being is that Antigua is closer to Guatemala City and visitors can easily hire an Uber to take them there. Once in Antigua, you can then book a shuttle to Pana through a few shuttle services that have an office in town.  You would not find these shuttle services at the Guatemala Airport.  If you do find a shuttle service when you arrive in Guatemala City, chances are they would be fully booked or you may have a long wait for the designated departure time.

You can also arrange a shuttle through your accommodation.  The only drawback with this alternative is that the accommodation would more likely tack on an additional fee for their troubles. The lowest shuttle costs we canvassed were:

Antigua to Panajchel:  125 GTQ or about $16 USD

Panajachel to Guatemala City:  200 GTQ or about $26 USD

Another option, though not desirable, is using the local buses.  Though cheaper than a shuttle, the travel times would be longer due to the number of stops it makes to pick up and drop off passengers.  To us, it was just not worth the savings and inconvenience.

Going Around Lake Atitlan

Public boat ride information at Pana’s embarcadero. Departure times are approximate except for the last boat which you do not want to miss.

There are two ways of getting around the lake.  One is using public boats and the other is hiring a private boat.  We were approached by a couple of boat captains who wanted around 700 GTQ for the entire day.  This may be more economical for a larger group or more desirable for those that have money to burn.

Public boats go from one village to another.  They just go around the lake picking up and dropping off passengers along the way.  The cost was 30 GTQ per person per ride.  It is considered one ride as long as you stay in the boat even if it makes more than one village stop. You can save a little by booking a roundtrip journey at 50 GTQ.  A roundtrip consists of two one way rides.


Lake Atitlan is another wonderful Guatemalan destination.  The lake sits at an elevation of 1,562 meters above sea level.  There are several villages around the lake.  Panajachel or Pana is the gateway community to Lake Atitlan.  Most shuttle services from Antigua and Guatemala City go to Pana. 

There are public boats in Pana that takes visitors to the different villages around the lake.  The most popular villages that visitors go to are San Juan, San Pedro and San Marcos.

If you get tired of seeing the villages around the lake, there are other mountain towns like Solola, Los Encuentros and Chichicastenango that are just bus rides away.