Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala
Having already been seduced by the country’s spectacular beauty and culture I’m headed to it’s most famous body of water. Lake Atitlán is renowned as one of, if not the most beautiful lake in the world. That’s quite a reputation but does it live up to it?
After a beautiful drive I first arrive to Panajachel in the late afternoon. It’s the most visited town on the lake; restaurants and shops are plentiful but the real attraction is the views of this amazing lake. The weather isn’t cooperating so I spend the afternoon playing ping-pong and pool with my hotel companions.
The next day we awake to one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever experienced! Directly across the lake is a huge volcano.
San Juan la Laguna
After a relaxing boat ride across the lake I arrive to the village of San Juan. Before the boat could hit the dock I could see buildings under several feet of water.. apparently the water level in the lake rose after some flooding years ago, and hasn’t receded. Once on the deck I couldn’t help but notice how the hills reflected on the water.. it was simply breathtaking.
San Juan is a small, quiet town – the women wear tradition dress and our group pays a visit to a small cooperative of women who make textiles and clothes weaving cotton and natural dyes.
Much bigger and busier than San Juan, is Santiago – a city with the largest population of Tz’utujil (sometimes spelled Tzutuhil) people. Right off the dock is a street lined with shops filled with artwork, souvenirs and trinkets.
Greeted with Smiles
If Mayan’s traditional clothes weren’t already vibrant and colorful enough this town takes it to the next level! A joyous woman proudly shows off her headdress called a cinta. It’s around 17 inches long, woven into the hair and then wrapped around the head – a tradition that may be more than 1,200 years old.
A Mythical Saint
After making our way through a narrow ally we enter a small unassuming building. I walk inside – the room is smoky and dark but bright flames dance from the top of rows of candles. 2 men sit silently, grimaces on their faces fill the room with an uncomfortable awkwardness. We do our best to quietly maneuver through the cramped room and sit without disturbing whatever is going on..
I’m at a shrine, and the short wood character in the middle of the room with a cigarette in it’s mouth is Maximón (aka El RiLaj Mam) the cult-like folk saint. Followers bring offerings of cigarettes or cigars which are always kept lit, alcohol and cash in exchange for hopes of good fortune and health. I’m not which story about this mythical saint is true, but it’s a bizarre spectacle and another experience in Guatemala I’ll never forget!
A Busy Market
Walking around we find an old church and an indoor/outdoor market. It’s nowhere near the size of Chichicastengo but impressive in it’s own right. We rest as half a dozen men fill a truck with bundles full of avocados – there are overflowing sacks full of them, so many that the dark green balls have spilled out and litter the parking lot.
It’s been another great day and we all enjoy another mesmerizing boat ride on the lake back to Panajachel. Gliding across the water I stare out at the natural beauty surrounding me; I can’t think of anywhere else in the world I’d rather be in this moment. Atitlan is more than a beautiful lake, nestled between it’s shores and mountains are captivating and equally interesting villages. If there’s one thing I regret about my trip to Guatemala it’s not spending more time here.
This was day 3 of my guided trip with Guatemalan Adventure, read more here:
- Day 1 – Hiking an Active Volcano
- Day 2 – The Chaotic Chichicastenango Market
- Day 3 – Lake Atitlan – The Most Beautiful Lake in the World?
- Day 4 – Hiking the Biotopo del Quetzal Cloud Forest
- Day 5 – Semuc Champey – Guatemala’s Hidden Paradise