Lake Atitlan is one of the dreamiest places in the world. But for someone who isn’t too familiar with Guatemala, it can be a little overwhelming. From 11 different villages surrounding the lake to narrow roads and boats being the main transportation, I can see how this remote location can be daunting. But once you arrive and see the volcanoes on the lake, you’ll know it was all worth the journey. Here is a list of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan!
For a rundown on how to get to Lake Atitlan and everything you need to know, click here.
1. Kayaking / Paddle Boarding
There is no better way to experience Lake Atitlan than kayaking and paddle boarding. It is by far, one of the most relaxing things to do on the lake. Plenty of hotels and Airbnbs have equipment you can use free of charge, but you can always book a paddle board tour or morning yoga session through companies like Guatesup.
Lake Atitlan is quite remarkable in the way that it acts like the sea, so make sure you check the weather when you are heading out. The lake is most calm in the morning, but can become dangerous in the evenings!
2. Swing on a Dock
Nestled around the lake are several dock swings that let you fly out over the water and make for some beautiful moments. Most of these dock swings are on private docks attached to hotels, but for a few Quetzales, you can use their swing! We used the swing at Atitlan Sunset Lodge, and it had perfect unobstructed views of the volcanoes surrounding the lake.
3. An Artisan Visit: Hiptipico
This is one of my favorite things to do on the lake if you love learning about different cultures and live among the locals. Hiptipico is an amazing company that employs dozens of indigenous Maya women who take recycled huipiles and turn them into a plethora of goods, from backpacks to camera straps to purses. With their artisan visit, you get a chance to visit the artisans homes and see the traditional weaving process first hand. They’ll even let you try their weaving techniques and put on a traditional huipile.
When I visited Guatemala in 2019, one of my first stops was Hiptipico. I wrote a blog post about the company and all the incredible work they do for indigenous women.
4. Ride the Lancha
Boats are the main form of transportation between the many towns and villages surrounding the lake, and most of the hotels you stay at can’t be accessed by road! Fortunately, getting a ride is simple and very affordable. A one way trip all the way across the lake is only Q20, or about $2.50 for tourists. Boats always go clockwise or counterclockwise around the lake, so you just have to catch one heading in the right direction! There’s no set schedule but they always run from sun up to sun down, so make sure you’re where you need to be by the evening. Be remindful of locals and make sure you give them the chance to get on/off the boat first, too!
Also, if you’re in a rush, or heading across the lake during the night time when boats aren’t running, renting a private boat is an option too. It’s also great for photos! Both the photos below were taken from private boats, which is not too expensive (maybe about $20USD), but definitely expensive compared to regular fare!
5. Watch the Sunrise from a Dock
Even if you’re not normally an early riser, every sunset at the lake is worth waking up for. There’s something magical about watching the sunrise from a dock. The perfectly calm and reflective water, interrupted only by the local fishermen casting their nets. Slow mornings on Lake Atitlan are the best.
6. Swim in the Lake
This is a must do when it comes to Lake Atitlan! The water temperature varies from 66 to 73 throughout the year and it’s perfect for a refreshing swim. Unfortunately there can be some pollution in the lake, especially around some of the bigger towns, but it’s generally not dangerous. I’d just recommend rinsing off when you’re done!
Photo Credit: Right: Alyssa Ya @alyssaya
7. Spend the Night in an Eco-Friendly Hotel
There are so many eco-conscious and environmentally friendly hotels and Airbnbs around the lake, it’s hard to choose just one. But my two favorite stays would have to be La Fortuna Atitlan and Casa de Cristel. La Fortuna is definitely more of a hotel-feel, although bookings can only be found on Airbnb! They still have a front desk check-in, and serve both lunch & dinner.
8. Hike Mayan Face
Mayan Face, or Rostro Maya, is a quick 30 minute hike that offers incredible views of the lake. Hiking this during the day is easy enough, but if you want to make it up on time to catch the sunrise you’ll need to hire a guide. We started our journey at 3:30am by taking a boat over to San Marcos where we met up with our guide who drove us 30 minutes outside of town to the start of the hike. The trail entrance is on private property so you’ll need to pay a Q10 fee to enter the farmland. The top of Rostro Maya offers 360 views featuring the lake, surrounding volcanoes, rolling farmland, distant mountains, and the towns below.
9. Attend a Maya Ceremony
Attending a Maya Ceremony is hands down, one of the most remarkable things you can do in Lake Atitlan. It is so beautiful, so spiritual, and so sacred. Having been able to be a part of this experience is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life!
10. Take a Day Trip to Chici Market
The market at Chichicastenango is the perfect day trip out of Lake Atitlan. A quick two hour drive will transport you to a market that has been meeting for hundreds of years. Every Thursday and Sunday hundreds of stalls are set up selling everything from traditional huipils, to local crafts, coffee, and more. This colorful market is an amazing place to go souvenir shopping, or just spend the day walking around soaking up the local culture.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Ya @alyssaya
11. Enjoy some Vegan/Vegetarian Goods
San Marcos La Laguna is the best place around the lake to get your fix of yummy vegan foods. Samsara and Il Giardino were our favorite spots! There’s also amazing fresh fruit around the lake, so don’t forget to try some fresh pressed juices while you’re out, and the coffee cultur
12. Santa Catarina Murals
In 2017 the municipality of Santa Catarina Palopo started an initiative to increase tourism by hiring local artists to paint colorful murals. Now, the walls are covered in beautiful colors and patterns that make this town the perfect setting for your next Instagram photo. Hiptipico also hosts their Artisan visits in Santa Catarina, so if you are planning on doing one, make sure you do the other as well!
The photo on the left was taken in 2021, and the photo on the right was taken in 2019!! These sweet girls are always out selling little goodies to tourists. I always try to buy some trinkets for them like a little bracelet, and then take them to the tienda so they can pick out some snacks.
13. Cliff Jumping at the Nature Reserve
Just around the corner from downtown San Marcos is Cerro Tzankujil, a protected part of the lake that’s a great spot for swimming and cliff diving!
Photo Credit – Left: Discover Atitlan, Right: Alyssa Ya
14. Go Paragliding
The best view of the lake, even better than Rostro Maya, is soaring hundreds of feet above the lake with one of the many paragliding tours! Warm thermal currents (probably thanks to the many surrounding volcanoes) allow paragliders to float effortlessly above the lake for up to an hour at a time.
Photo Credit– Left: Trip Advisor, Right: Jess Travels (see her blog post on paragliding, HERE).
15. Take a Yoga Class
Aside from their assortment of delicious vegan restaurants, San Marcos is also home to many retreat centers offering yoga, reiki, and meditation classes.
16. Take a Coffee Tour
Guatemala’s number one export is coffee, and for good reason. The coffee beans grown here are some of the best in the world, and there’s no better way to try some out than by heading to a local coffee plantation for a tour and some delicious freshly brewed coffee.
Photo Credit: Alyssa Ya @alyssaya
17. Hike Santa Catarina
There are some amazing viewpoints in Santa Catarina, and this spot has got to be my favorite. It’s a 20 minute hike up and maybe 15 minute hike back down, but you get some gorgeous views. These have got to be my favorite photos from Lake Atitlan!