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Lake Atitlán is a majestic, spiritual place owing to its spectacular natural beauty and deeply-rooted indigenous communities and cultures. Flanked by three volcanoes and a string of traditional Mayan towns ranging from bustling to somnolent, where colorfully-clothed townspeople weave, plant, and worship along the sun-dappled banks of the lake, it's no wonder that this area has had a long, strong pull on outsiders. From colonial times to right now, this attraction has hung over the area like a double-edged sword of Damocles, as communities struggle to strike a balance between tradition and development, and the trade-offs each ...

Lake Atitlán is a majestic, spiritual place owing to its spectacular natural beauty and deeply-rooted indigenous communities and cultures. Flanked by three volcanoes and a string of traditional Mayan towns ranging from bustling to somnolent, where colorfully-clothed townspeople weave, plant, and worship along the sun-dappled banks of the lake, it's no wonder that this area has had a long, strong pull on outsiders. From colonial times to right now, this attraction has hung over the area like a double-edged sword of Damocles, as communities struggle to strike a balance between tradition and development, and the trade-offs each alternative implies; Panajachel ("Pana") encapsulates the good, bad, and ugly of this dynamic. From the Spanish conquest and the 36-year civil war to Hurricane Stan in 2005, this area has suffered at the hands of men and Mother Nature: Santiago de Atitlán — the biggest lakeside town after Pana — was the site of a 1990 massacre by the army and was devastated by Hurricane Stan when an estimated 750 villagers were buried in mudslides. Despite the impositions made by modern history and culture, the area has held strong to traditional Kaqchiquel and Tz'utujil Mayan beliefs: weaving, ceremonies, festivals and other customs are easily observable here and participation is possible too. The superlative location has given rise to an influx of both Guatemalan city-slickers who have built lakeside vacation homes and foreigners who dominate the tourism and hospitality industry. Here visitors can scuba dive, mountain bike or hike, get a massage, study Spanish or align their aura. Indeed, Lake Atitlán has something for everyone.

Conner Gorry
About the Expert

Conner Gorry is a contributor to more than a dozen Lonely Planet guidebooks and is the lead writer for Lonely Planet's Yucatan, Belize, and Guatemala guides.

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Conner Gorry for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Central America; bordering the North Pacific Ocean, between El Salvador and Mexico
  • Language: Spanish (60%), Amerindian languages (40%)
  • Currency: Guatemalan Quetzal; US Dollar
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
  • Weather: Daylight | Rainfall
  • Current Time:

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    November to April dry season; weekdays when crowds are thinner.