Lake Atitlán is a special place. The combination of the natural beauty and Mayan culture give it a character unlike anyplace else. If you’re sensitive to energy, you may find the energy of the lake to be intense and captivating. Lake Atitlán has been called one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Lake Atitlán was formed about 85,000 years ago from a massive volcanic explosion that sent ash around the world. Because of that explosion, Lake Atitlán is one of the world's deepest lakes. The lake is endorheic, meaning it has no outlet to the sea. It is graced by three large inactive volcanoes: Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro. The lake sits at about 5100 feet (1560 meters) above sea level.
Aldous Huxley famously wrote of Lake Atitlán: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."
It is thought that the Mayan Tu'zutujil people migrated from Mexico to Lake Atitlan around 900 BC. Mayan culture is very strong here. There are 12 traditional villages around the lake, each with a unique personality. The majority of Mayan women and some men here still wear traditional clothing. Thousands of Maya speak only their native languages.
There are many outstanding Mayan artists around the lake. Towns have distinctive styles of weaving, and fabric and style of the traditional dress is unique to each. Some towns, such as Santiago and San Juan la Laguna, are known for their outstanding painters. San Antonio Palopó is known for it's weaving and distinctive ceramics.
Lake Villa Guatemala is located near the village of Cerro de Oro, between the towns of San Lucas Toliman and Santiago.
Cerro de Oro is a tiny, traditional Tz'utujil village. It gets its name from the ancient and distinctive "hill of gold" that rises above it. Hiking paths up the hill lead to Mayan carvings and altars, and a legendary catacomb of caves said to connect it with Tolimán volcano.
Cerro de Oro at sunrise
Santiago is the largest town on the lake, and is the center of Tz'utujil speakers. It has a rich history dating back long before the Spanish conquest in the 1540s. Santiago is known for it's artists, music, it's celebration of the figure Maximón, and it's traditional and independent spirit. Shops with local artisans line the main street leading up from the docks. Market day in Santiago is Friday.
In the market in Santiago Atitlán
San Lucas Tolimán has little tourism and few handicraft shops. It is an authentic Mayan town that serves as a trading center between the lake and the Pacific Coast (about an hour away), and is known for producing some of the best coffee in the country. Market days in San Lucas are Sundays and Tuesdays.
In the market in San Lucas Tolimán
Panajachel is the center of tourism on the lake. Most visitors stay in Pana and take boats to other towns around the lake. It has shops and services that cater to the relatively large number of Americans and expatriats from around the world. The main street through town, Calle Santander, is lined with restaurants, bars, and stands with crafts from all around Guatemala.