Guatemala's South


See rating for Lago Atitlan area at Panajachel

Description :
The backpacker's favorite place by the lake !

Comments : Superbly located and fairly relaxed, this is where most people nowadays base themselves. 

What to do ? Go up & down : it is hilly ! / Enjoy the panorama from various terraces / Snorkel the lake / Kayak the lake (Q120 per day) / Horse ride (not the lake, Q20 per hour or Q300 per day) / Trek toward or from Santa Cruz / Climb the San Pedro Volcano / Then relax in a solar heated hot pool (Q25) by a cold beer (Q7) / Alternatively, have a massage (Q80 for 1.5 hrs) / Watch a movie at a restaurant / Pray God or whoever in one of the numerous 'church' / Learn Spanish (couple of schools charging about $90 weekly for 4 hours a day or $50 without accomodation in family)

What you may not like ? The bohemian atmosphere maybe, with the offering of drug by a few locals and the weird look of a few gringos / The lack of traditions and backpacker's crowd / The spread out town, a bit confusing at first / The dirtiness, as usual, incl. the small beaches / Finding that quite a few places are full / The heavy price for a guide to the Volcano (Q100) / Not having much to do in town / Those damn barking dogs again ! / Some dogs not only barking but also biting ! (rabies issues)

How long ? A few days 

Where to stay ? Plenty of cheap places are disseminated around the large town :

- Near the pier to / from Panajachel, following the little track on the right of the pier for 10mn, direction N-W :

  • Casa Maria (2068852), a new tiny orange place / Two rooms w. shower 30(1) or 50(2) / Go there for the very nice & comfortable rooms / What you may not like : the field around is dirty and there aren't much atmosphere. 
  • Chetawal, white building, just behind the above / Room 15 (1) or 20(2) / Tiny kitchen to be enlarged / Go there for apparently the warmest HW in town and the good atmosphere / What you may not like : often full and no garden
  • Pasado Casa Domingo, a purple structure, opp. the above / Cheap but rather filthy atmosphere. 

- Near the pier from/to Santiago, straight ahead :

  • Hotel Ti'Kaaj, near the pier on the right / Sgl 12, Dbl 22, Trpl 31 / Go there for the splendid garden with hammocks / What you may not like : the rooms are really basic
  • In the same area, Hospedaje Chuasanahi (Sgl 20, Dbl 40) & Hotel San Pedro (same prices plus shower for 30 or 60) offer basic rooms in a more concrete atmosphere. 
  • Hotelito El Amanecer, before restaurant TinTin / Room 35(1) or 60(2) / Go there for the nicest rooms in town, 5 offering also a great view / What you may not like : the garden is not attractive
  • Thermal Water, after the above / Camping ground Q10 or room in a tippie (up to 4 people) for the same lowest price / Canadian (Quebec) management / Go there for the natural atmosphere

- In the middle of town, straight up from Santiago dock : 

  • Hotel San Francisco / Sgl 10-20, Dbl 25, w. shower 25(1) or 50(2) / Kitchen / Go there for the great view from the comfortable rooms or the terrace, the relaxed & communal atmosphere and the central location / What you may not like : a bit noisy (dogs) and the lack of garden
  • Hospedaje Peneleu, after the above in the same alley / Room 15(1) or 20-30(2) depending on the number of days / Kitchen / Go there for the nice view, the garden and cheap prices. / What you may not like : the rooms are rather empty

- Near the pier from / to Santiago :

  • Hotel Mansion del Lago (2026449), opp. the pier / Room w. shower 40 (1/F), 50(2/F) or 75(3/F) / Go there for the new clean atmosphere, the correct rooms and the great view (especially from the future restaurant on the top) / What you may not like : the rooms are a bit empty and therefore expensive, especially for solo travelers. On the 1/F, two rooms share a bathroom and the view is limited. 
  • Hotel Bella Vista (formerly Puerto Bello), left when leaving the pier / Room 12(1) 24(2) / Go there for the cheap prices but it is really basic and not too clean
  • Hospedaje Casa Elena, after the above / Room 20(1) 30 (2) / Go there for the nice location by the lake and to see how it turns out once completed 
  • Hotel Villa Azul, right after the pier, 200m away / Room 25(1) or 30(2), w. shower 35 or 50 / HW morning and evening until 8pm only / Go there for the relative isolation, the nice view and the correct rooms w. shower / What you may not like : it is not spotless, the view is partly obstructed by trees and the terrace with hammocks lack charm & privacy.

Backpacker's Tips :  Anonymous  (July 07)
Still a backpacker ghetto, with the common refrain of "kayak, horserides.....shrooms?" There is an ATM in town, that largely works. Nick's is still pretty big, as is D'noz. I stayed at Jarachik during my time there, for 20Q per night for a single with shared bath. their rates went up to 65 for double with private bath.
I stayed on night at a place called Pinnocio. It was 25Q for a room with a double and shared bath. The sheets were filthy.
The Buddha is the pre-eminent nightlife spot when I was there. 

Where to eat ? Quite a few restaurants offers a good selection of international cuisine : Indonesian, Italian, French, organic (at 'Thermal Water'), etc. Nick's Place is one of the busiest place, thanks probably to the free movie at 7:30pm. The market area offers tacos (Q6), French fries (Q2) with or without chicken (Q5), slices of pizzas (Q3) and a few basic local specialties (chuchitos, leche con arroz, etc) Solar Pool offers a small selection of pastries for Q3-6.

Internet ? The road going up from the Panajachel dock leads to the small internet place Jocabed that charges an outrageous Q35 per hour (or Q15 per 15mn). A much better option therefore is the service offered by Solar Pool (near 'Termal Water') : you can not access your mail but send e-mails for Q5 per hour. 

Bank ? Banrural, near the market, changes cash and TC into quetzales. Closed on Sat afternoon & Sunday.

Climbing San Pedro Volcano ? Guides will propose you their service all over town for Q100 (less if more people). Following them is a matter of trust and it is always better to be recommended someone or look by yourself. Considering the cost, a few people are doing it on their own. The way up is rather easy to find by asking the peasants working at the base but there is a safety issue : do not do it alone and do not bring anything you can not afford to loose. Some people have come down naked... It takes about 20mn from town to the base and 4-5 hours up to the top. At 3020m, it is always a bit chilly and finding the way for the view is a bit tricky. This view will be best in the morning. 

Trekking the lake ?
There are some great walks to be done in the area. One of the best, easiest and at the time of writing, safest, is the path from Santa Cruz to San Marcos. It takes about 2 hours. Difficult to get lost as you keep an eye on the lake. Try to start early (first boat at 6am) in order to reach San Marcos before it becomes too hot. Along the way, you will pass the villages of Jaibalito & Tzumana. (see Santa Cruz for more details)
Once in San Marcos, you can either walk another 2-3 hours toward San Pedro or take a pick-up for Q2. The latest option is recommended as the road isn't as nice as the previous trail and rarely flat. A bit before reaching San Juan, you will spot some of the nicest beaches of the lake. At San Juan, there is also a trail to the top of the impressive mountain (look for the cross) that would require 1.5-2 hours. 

Leaving ?
- By road : To Xela, two companies offer buses at 4:30, 4:45, 5 and 6 in the morning. Q12. 2 hours. On Sunday, only one bus at 2pm was reported. / To Guatemala City at 3:30, 5:30 and 14. / To San Pedro, regular pick-up from the market from 6am to 8pm for Q2. 
- By boat : To Santiago (specific dock), every hour from 6 to 14. Q10. 45mn / To Panajachel, every 30mn from 6 to 17. Q15. 30mn / To Santa Cruz or San Marcos, every hour from 6 to 17. Q10-20 depending if direct or not. The interesting indirect boat takes about 40mn.

The trip to Santa Cruz : SSSS / Where possible / Q10 / 40mn
The boat arrived nearly on time and left nearly empty. But not for long : it filled up at opposite San Pedro, 3mn later. Too bad for the view... 10mn later, we stopped at San Marcos and 20mn later at Jaibalto. There, a local girl tried to get on the boat for 5mn before abandoning : her dress was too tied to allow such a move !  We reached Santa Cruz 5mn later. 

The trip to Xela : SSSSS / Left / Q12 / 2.5 hrs / Chicken-Bus
The last bus departing for Xela is still rather early : 6am. It showed up by the market on time and left with a few passengers only : it would fill up later. 
It followed the familiar road by the lake up to San Pablo (nice sunrise on the right side), then started its rather scary ascend of the mountains : the curves being too sharp for the long bus, it was often necessary to stop and reverse. At those times, you pray that the brakes are good. You also pray that the driver be good, without the kamikaze's touch that is unfortunately too common. Anyway, I did not see any bus inside the lake so I suppose that accidents are rare...
Once safely at the top, the road kept winding and the scenery kept being amazing. It is good on both sides but the best panoramas were usually spotted on the left, with a few exceptions.
We reached the intersection 'Cuatro Caminos' (where a few people get off to board another bus) at 8:00. 20mn later, we were at the confusing Minerva Bus Station. It would actually be possible to get down earlier but you may have to walk a bit to the town center. 
From the bus station, you need to head South via the market to 4 Calle and the Minerva Temple (a Greek-style structure) to find the yellow buses that will bring you to "Parque" (the official name for the Central Plaza in Zona 1). It cost 0.75 and takes 15mn. 

See also the trip from Santiago Atitlan