Located in southwest Guatemala, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. It’s surrounded by mountainous volcanoes, which give the lakeside towns breathtaking views of the countryside. Many compare Lake Atitlán to Lake Como in northern Italy. Looking at side by side pictures of the two, you can see why.
Like Lake Como, the shores of Lake Atitlán are dotted with multiple villages, or lanchas,where ferries transport you across the lake from one town to another. While you won’t experience the charm of Italy there, you will get a taste of the Mayan culture that remains prevalent in the lanchas. Walk the streets of any town and you’ll see colorful, traditional dress on the locals and vendors selling handmade crafts. You can also sample an array of traditional Mayan and Guatemalan cuisine.
While there are some luxury resorts, you can also find reasonably priced Airbnb rentals (many for well under $100) with sweeping views of the lake and mountains beyond. Many rentals are located on the outskirts of the towns where you can enjoy the seclusion of the gorgeous natural surroundings.
There are plenty of ways to soak in the scenery including hiking, kayaking, swimming, biking, diving, and paragliding. Two notable hikes include hiking from the village of Santa Cruz around the lake to Jaibalito (about an hour), and the more strenuous hike from the town of San Pedro La Laguna to the top of the San Pedro Volcano (about 5 hours to the top). There are also many bike trails including the “El Mirador” trail that takes you on a scenic ride up above Lake Atitlán. Both bikes and kayaks can be rented in Panajachel, or you can set up a guided tour.
Another can’t-miss outdoor attraction is the Atitlán Nature Reserve, a former coffee plantation. It has a great hiking trail to a waterfall, as well as a viewpoint where you can see spider monkeys. If you’re adventurous, you can take advantage of the network of zip lines throughout the park.
You can reach Lake Atitlán by flying into Guatemala City and then making the three-house drive by bus or private car. For the best weather, visit between November and May when it is relatively dry and the temperatures reach the low 80s during the day.