Exploring Lake Atitlan

San Pedro La Laguna Travel Blog

 › entry 29 of 37 › view all entries
Volcan Atitlan with just a tiny bit of cloud cover.
Hello all,
I actually had to set the alarm clock today, which I decided is just barely ok for vacation.  I met the travel agency representative at 8:10am in the hotel lobby, and we walked down to the docks for my Lake Atitlan villages tour.  The boat was of a pretty good size, so there was alot of room.  I went straight for the upper deck and grabbed a plastic chair to sit up high and forward.

The weather was pretty typical of the Guatemalan highlands, and there were even some people with jackets and long-sleeves.  The temperature felt great to me, and I am really going to have a hard time leaving here knowing how hot it is everywhere else.  The lake breeze was wonderful, and the boat at full speed had no problem cutting through the short waves on Guatemala's third biggest lake.  But full speed for this boat was not all that fast anyway, so it took us a full hour before we arrived at San Pedro La Laguna on the southwest side of the lake.
San Pedro La Languna from the lake.


The area is very interesting in that we are in the Maya heartland here.  Guatemala itself is 44% Maya, and the region around Atitlan has even a higher percentage.  Just about every city on the shore of the lake has road access, but the lake is still the main transportation link between everywhere.  San Pedro La Laguna has, by some reports, surpassed Panajachel as the main tourist town on the lake.  And like Panajachel has multiple Spanish language schools and funky hostels.  The lakefront also has a number of good, cheap restaurants to cater to the hippie crowd.

The indiginous population has much more of a tendency to dress in the traditional way.  In Panajachel it is mostly the women that dress in traditional garb, but here in San Pedro the men do as well.
Cute little church and statue in San Pedro La Laguna.
 The multi-colored shirts and hats are paired with colorful shorts that are usually cut just below the knees.  This is a great look, and the shorts look a bit like cutoff pajama bottoms.  I wish I could pull that off.

After an hour plus a few minutes in San Pedro, we all jumped on the boat just before 11am to head for Santiago Atitlan.  I got the same position on the boat, and I was able to observe some youngsters interacting with each other.  Two sets of kids introduced themselves to each other along the way.  Two were from Italy, maybe 13 and 16 years old, and they impressively spoke English and a bit of Spanish.  The other two kids were 10 and 12 years old and from Michigan.  The 10 year old boy has been adopted from Guatemala as a baby, and both kids were taking Spanish in school.
This boat on the right was my ride for the day. I was mostly perched on the blue chair up top, on the right.


It was pretty cool watching to similarities and differences between the kids, and how they interacted with each other.  Over the course of the trip they were very curious about learning about what life for the other kids was all about.  School and pop culture were big subjects, and the 12 year old girl from Michigan took great care in describing the finer points of Avril LaVigne's song 'Girlfriend' to the 16 year old girl from Italy.

Santiago Atitlan was a bit larger then San Pedro La Laguna, and there was considerably less tourist infrastructure along the lakefront.  It didn't take to long a walk up the steep hill to get to the city's center square.  There wasn't a full market in progress, but the streets were lined with people in traditional Mayan dress hawking their wares.  There was also a small school nearby, and some teenage boys were involved in a tough-looking football game on a basketball court.
The harbor of Santiago Atitlan from a high spot.


I made my way back down towards the docks, but I was still looking for some food along the way.  I settled on what may have been the best looking restaurant in town, and took a seat in the quiet courtyard.  I ordered a plate of the local cuisine with beef and a Pepsi.  BTW, Pepsi really seems to be doing very well in Guatemala.  They must be doing some great marketing here.  While I was waiting for the food I realized that the restaurant was right on one of the main intersections headed out of town.  This main street was not a main street because it was a wide boulevard designed to accomodate tons of traffic, it was a main street because it was the way out of town.  Just one large truck making deliveries managed to clog up the street for the next 45 minutes, and my meal was joined by loud beeping and yelling until I left.
The central square of Santiago Atitlan. I wish I had a shot of a man in his traditional dress.


The food was great.  It was a nice marinated piece of beef, not exactly tender but with a great flavor.  The plate also came with a small piece of the local cheese, guacamole, white rice, three fried bananas, a few tortilla chips, and three tortillas.  Guacamole is very popular in the area, and it is all delicious and homemade.  Avacados grow everywhere in the area, and the residents of Antigua are even called 'green-bellies' because they are known to eat so many.  I had never even tasted an Avacado until maybe five years ago, so I am still in the honeymoon phase with those delicious things.

The fried bananas are also very popular throughout Latin America.  I think they must be designed to be the dessert of the meal.
Nice shop going up the hill in Santiago Atitlan.
 If not then they are the sweetest side dish ever.  I have to portion out my fork-fulls throughout the meal to make sure I don't have a sweetness overload.  The meal and drink came in at under $4.50.  I paid and hustled down to make sure I made the boat to the next destination.

The next stop was going to be San Antonio Palopo.  San Antonio is a few kilometers east of Panajachel on the same south side of the lake.  It was the smallest, and the most traditional of the villages visited.  And there only seemed to be a few small hotels set up for the tourist industry.  Here I decided to just find a nice quiet spot along the lake to sit and people watch.  Every person that passed said hello or welcomed me, and the kids and adults both were dressed traditionally and quick with a smile.  Maybe the villages we visited were a kind of progression of tourist development snapshot.
San Antonio Palopo from the boat on Lake Atitlan.
 With San Antonio being the least developed and most friendly.

The boat trip back to Panajachel was about 30 minutes long, and along the way I realized that I neglected to bring any sunscreen along.  I figured that I was dark enough that it wasn't a big deal, but I was starting to feel some tightness in my face from the hours under the sun.  After returning to the hotel room I was happy to see I wasn't really all that burned, but my face was a little red.  I do have 4 days coming up on a sailboat, and I guess I will have to be a bit more careful at that point.

Tomorrow is the day I'm scheduled to leave Panajachel, but I haven't booked anything yet.  I can't decide if I want to stop for a night in Antigua on the way to Rio Dulce or not.

We will see what happens tomorrow.

Later, Phil
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Volcan Atitlan with just a tiny bi…
Volcan Atitlan with just a tiny b…
San Pedro La Languna from the lake.
San Pedro La Languna from the lake.
Cute little church and statue in S…
Cute little church and statue in …
This boat on the right was my ride…
This boat on the right was my rid…
The harbor of Santiago Atitlan fro…
The harbor of Santiago Atitlan fr…
The central square of Santiago Ati…
The central square of Santiago At…
Nice shop going up the hill in San…
Nice shop going up the hill in Sa…
San Antonio Palopo from the boat o…
San Antonio Palopo from the boat …
The main church at San Antonio Pal…
The main church at San Antonio Pa…
Local man in his little boat navig…
Local man in his little boat navi…