Reasons to go
How to get there
Fly to Guatemala City where you can arrange transportation to take you to Panajachel (about a 4 - 5 hour ride). You can pay a little extra for a direct shuttle; however, if you want to save a little money, you will stop in Antigua on the way. Average cost is around $25-$35 one way. From Panajachel you can catch a "lancha" (public boat taxi) to whichever part of the lake you are going.
Recommended shuttle company
Atitlan Adventure Tours
When to visit
Early November - Late May. Temperatures stay in the 80s during the day and dip to the 60s at night. Little to no rain.
Favorite parts of the Lake
Lake Atitlan is an absolutely gorgeous volcanic lake, lined by small towns and only accessible by lanchas because no roads or cars connect the towns. Although no set schedule exists, you can catch a lancha about every 20 minutes. Ask any local and they will help you; it can be confusing the first time but you will get used to it and they become fun! The local prices are Q3 for one harbour, Q5 for two and up to Q10 for multiple stops or to go the whole way across the lake. Make sure you don’t pay more than this as some of the operators will try and gouge tourists.
Panajachel - This is the busiest part of the lake and the place everyone starts and ends their trip. It is filled with amazing food and markets unique to this part of the lake; I think it's the ideal place to stock up when you arrive and one of the few parts of the lake with an ATM so make sure to get cash out here. Additionally, I would use this town only as a port of entry - after stocking up, catch a lancha to one of the other amazing parts of the lake.
Santa Cruz La Laguna - Small village on the north side of the lake. Not much to do here except relax and take in the beautiful scenery. Hotel Isla Verde is here which I highly recommend! (See below)
San Marcos La Laguna - My favorite town to explore and and to take in the true culture of the lake. It is a mecca for meditation, yoga, massage and all things spirituality. Come here with an open mind, try it all, talk to all the locals and experience this amazing style of living.
San Juan - Known for all the amazing Mayan colorful textiles. Spend a day exploring and learning from local Mayan women how they dye and weave all the beautiful blankets, bags and more.
Where to stay
Isla Verde - Santa Cruz La Laguna - ($37 - $49/night) Heaven on Earth! Isla Verde is located in Santa Cruz La Laguna, which is a very tiny lakefront town across the lake from Panajachel. It has its own private dock where the lanchas will drop you off; there, you can also flag them down to go to other towns during the day. All the rooms feel like treehouses --- they are simple but beautiful, clean and have amazing semi-outdoor bathrooms (you can stare out at the lake while taking a morning shower). I had the room at the very top which was quite a hike but if you are up for it, the views are unreal. The food here is absolutely delicious and comes from the gardens on the property and is cooked by lovely Mayan women. The staff is all extremely helpful and made my experience even better. Multiple beautiful yoga studios, a mayan steam room and cheap on-site massages are all available as well. They also pour very generous glasses of wine. Overall it is an amazing place to relax and enjoy all the beauty that surrounds you. One thing to note is there is no nightlife and no other restaurants besides the one in the hotel The lanchas stop running at dark so if you are looking for more to do then this might not be for you. But if you want pure relaxation and a break from the real world, this place is perfect.
Things to do
Yoga - There are yoga studios all over the lake but my favorites were at the La Paz Hotel and Hostel Del Lago. If you ask around, there are a bunch of different studios, teachers and times which people are happy to share. Isla Verde offers Aerial yoga classes if you are interested too.
Get a treatment at the Flower House Therapy Center - It is a beautiful center in San Marcos that focuses on Therapies & Energy Healing, Therapeutic Massages and life path guidance. Someone recommended this place to and having done nothing like it before I was a little skeptical. I ended up doing crystal healer and an abdominal massage and it was one of the most amazing experiences I have had traveling.
Kayak - Rent a kayak and kayak all over the lake. You can find rentals all over for cheap!
Hike - Hike Volcano San Pedro, the 9900 ft extinct volcano. Do yourself a favor and hire a local guide as there aren’t good signs and you can get lost. Bring warm clothes and layer as you get to the top and come prepared for a strenuous hike but one that is well worth it when you get to the top!
Buy a handmade Mayan blanket in San Juan - San Juan is filled with dozens of female-run weaving co-ops which produce beautiful textiles. They use organic local cotton, dye it and hand-weave it all by themselves. All the money you spend here goes right back into the community (benefiting areas with significant poverty). No one can come to Guatemala without buying some beautiful and colorful Guatemalan textiles but hold off on doing so until coming here!
Drink delicious Kombucha made by Love Probiotics - It is made locally and sold around the lake. They also met a wide variety of other fermented treats to enjoy!
Take a Spanish class, a permaculture class or many other interesting ones offered around the lake. These are always changing so do a quick Google search and upcoming ones will pop up easily.