Nestled in the central, west-ish part of Guatemala is, what could easily and probably accurately be called, the most beautiful lake in the world. That’s no joke or exaggeration. And while I have not been to every lake in the world, it’s hard to imagine a place more beautiful than Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Keep scrolling to see what I mean.
How to get Lake Atitlan, Guatemala?
To get to Lake Atitlan you will fly into Guatemala's main airport, La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City. From here you have a 3-4 hour drive to the lake, by private car. Longer if you take other modes of transportation. The three main ways to get there are:
These are actually vintage US school buses that serve as a cheap means of transportation for humans and, yes, chickens. Current fare runs around $5 USD. Cheap, yes, but the trip takes 7-8 hours. Not a bad option if you are on a budget. To get a Chicken Bus, take a taxi or Uber from the Airport to 21 Street with 1A Avenida. This is where the Chicken Busses leave from. Your Uber/Taxi should be around $10.
Cost for the shuttle is around $25 USD. There is no set schedule, they run throughout the day and leave when they are full. Travel time is about 5 hours.
This is the method I took. It takes 3-4 hours to reach the lake and they allowed for a 45 minute stop to eat, get cash or go to the grocery store. I opted to stop at the grocery store and I am really glad I did. There is no major grocery store on the lake, so it doesn’t hurt to stock up on some of the items you think you might need. Total cost for the private transfer (for one person) was $70 USD.
Chicken Bus, Guatemala
Best time of year to visit Lake Atitlan?
Lake Atitlan’s rainy season runs from April through November. High season starts beginning of December. I went for the month of October and the weather was beautiful with very little rain. My understanding from some of the locals is that this was an especially beautiful October and I got lucky. That said, I’m from Florida and already used to heavy rains, so I’m not sure I would have minded. The weather when I was there went from about 60 fahrenheit at night to about 80 during the day. Absolutely perfect, in my opinion. If you go in the dry season prepare for nicer weather along with higher crowds and more expensive lodging. I also found that the locals were more willing to give me good deals on the handmade items I bought because it was slow season and they needed to make some sales.
Rainy season at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Is Lake Atitlan, Guatemala safe?
While it is true that there are some dangerous areas in Guatemala, I found Lake Atitlan to be quite safe. I did not feel safe enough to walk alone at night by myself, but there’s rarely an area I do feel that safe in. But traveling around by myself during the day was no problem at all. The biggest danger is the potential aggressive street dog, but I personally never had this problem and found mostly friendly dogs. That said, I always carry pepper spray in areas with street dogs, just in case. I would say that normal safety precautions apply here.
Where to stay in Lake Atitlan?
Lake Atitlan has many villages around it. The biggest being Panajachel. I personally stayed just outside of San Marcos. San Marcos is known for being the “hippie village”. So, if you are vegetarian, vegan and dig the hippie vibe, this is the place for you. I personally found it to be small with not a lot of variety. I am also not super into the hippie vibe. I don’t mind it but it doesn’t offer much for me personally. Next time I would probably stay in San Pedro. It’s a bit larger, meals with meat as an option can be found but it still has beautiful views of the lake. In the end, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Whatever you do, you can’t go wrong with these views.
Getting around Lake Atitlan:
The two main methods of transportation are Tuktuk and water taxi. To get from my Airbnb just outside of San Marcos to San Marcos was 10 Quetzal or about $1.29 USD. And yes, they do charge foreigners twice as much as they charge the locals. It just is what it is. I call it the “American Tax” and it happens in more places than you might think.
Tuktuks in San Marcos La Laguna Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Water Taxi from San Marcos to San Pedro was 15Q or just under $2 USD each way. A note on the water taxis: The lake is calmer in the first part of the day and can be pretty rough after 2pm or so, which can make for a pretty rough ride. Do not ride the water taxi if there are white caps on the lake. The boats have been known to tip in these conditions.
Water Taxi in San Marcos La Laguna Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
What to do in Lake Atitlan?
Aside from soaking in the gorgeous views, of which I did plenty of, the main activities are:
Explore the villages. Take a water taxi or a tuktuk and go explore.
Water activities, obvi. My favorite place for this was the Nature Reserve in San Marcos. Here you can swim, rent a kayak an even jump off of “La Trampoline” into the water.
Hike the Volcanos. There are a few hikes available to you and travel guides for these activities are easy to find in the villages.
Shop! I found Lake Atitlan to have the best handmade goods out of any place I’ve been thus far. Incredible textiles, gems, jewelry, bags, etc that are handmade by the Mayan community. Not only will you find beautiful things but your money goes directly into the villages, which is MUCH better than some mass made goods that acutally came from China.
La Trampoline Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
My favorite Lake Atitlan highlights:
On a clear night, from my airbnb, I could see the top of Volcan Atitlan glow.
On a clear morning I could see the same Volcano’s small eruptions.
Sunrise. While in Lake Atitlan I went to bed and woke up with the sun. As a result I was able to witness some of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. I’m not normally an early riser but something about this, while on the lake, felt so natural. (The crowing roosters probably had something to do with it, too.)
Spending time at the Nature Reserve. This is such a beautiful place to find a nice spot, put your feet in the water and soak in the views of Lake Atitlan.
Volcan Atitlan Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan is a must do, bucket list item. This place that I will steadfastly continue to call, “the most beautiful lake in the world” until I find something that beats it (unlikely) will forever have a place in my heart. Many people visit and find themself called to return, while others never leave. It’s not hard to see why this is and I will certainly be one who is called to return.
Nature Reserve in San Marcos La Laguna Lake Atitlan, Guatemala