Travelling to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The images in our minds of Guatemala were the same images that a few people back home had about Mexico. We were warned to be very careful; that it was dangerous, and that we should definitely not camp or hitchhike there.
Cody and I found ourselves delving more and more into the negative stories we heard about Guatemala. We came across a few accounts of rape, robbery, and assaults, and started to become a little worried about visiting this Central American country.
But much like our time in Mexico, we had nothing but good experiences in the heart of the Mayan world.
Guatemala has a rich and colourful history dating back to 12,000 BC. The Mayan people proudly display their heritage in everything they do. Colourful handmade textiles line the streets, and the wafting scent of corn tortillas being freshly made is always in the air. The locals are warm, friendly, and hospitable. And most of the time, it’s the people that make our visits worth while.
After a 10 hour ride from San Cristobal De La Casas, Mexico, we finally arrived in Panajachel, taking the last boat across Lake Atitlan to San Juan La Laguna.
We arrived at Mayachik (our vegetarian eco-hotel) after dark, and settled in.
We awoke to bird songs, nature, beautiful bright blue skies, and beautiful grounds.
We had booked Mayachik because they advertised a vegan menu, but when we asked for their vegan menu, we were told that they did not have one. That was an extreme disappointment. There were only three vegetarian dishes that could be made vegan, and we tried them, but they were average at best; so we visited a local market in town, made use of the communal kitchen, and cooked for ourselves.
Mayachik is still a great place to stay to be with nature. They recycle, have both food, and compost toilets, and have a temazcal (traditional sauna or sweat lodge). The staff are also very lovely.
After breakfast, Cody and I left to explore the town. San Juan La Laguna is one of a dozen different towns surrounding Lake Atitlan. It is a predominately indigenous community, and it is a great place to watch a hand dye fabric demonstration. This art has been handed down from Mayan woman to Mayan woman for thousands of years and every piece is beautifully crafted. All of the dyes are made from plants, and the fabrics from cotton. Cody actually got a white t-shirt dyed purple in one of the shops in town.
Other than shopping for local textiles and watching the daily life of locals, there is not much to do in San Juan La Laguna, so we ventured out to San Pedro La Laguna.
San Pedro was filled with many more bars, restaurants, tourists, and it was only a 15 minute walk from San Juan.
While in San Pedro we found a little vegan/vegetarian restaurant called Cheff Chaman, so of course we decided to give it a go. Cody and I ordered the surprise dish, allowing the chef to prepare a mystery meal for us.
He came up with a dish of grilled aubergine, potatoes, salad, pickled vegetables, and was even served with a glass of kombucha, and chia seeds.
After our vegan lunch at Cheff Chaman we walked back to our hotel in San Juan La Laguna, as there was not much more to see or do.
Following our three nights in San Juan La Laguna, we made our way to the spectacular Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Reserve in Santa Cruz. This eco hotel is the real deal! The building was constructed with local natural materials, it is powered by the sun, all of the staff are local indigenous people, and the menu is 100% vegan and vegetarian.
You can read our full review on Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort and Nature Reserve.
It was difficult to leave Laguna Lodge after a luxurious and relaxing three night stay, but our time was up.
Our next stop in Lake Atitlan was Panajachel. This municipality of 15,000 serves as the main town and starting point to all other towns around the lake, all accessible by boat.
If you haven’t managed to pick up textiles, or every other type of souvenir from the neighbouring villages; have no fear, Panajachel is here.
Shopping is the primary activity here. Textiles, ponchos, masks, religious figures, hammocks, bags, wallets, sun hats…..you get it.
Panajachel was our least favourite stop around Lake Atitlan. It was filled with shopping, and not much else but we did however manage to find a restaurant with some pretty incredible food.
Food always helps the situation.
Lake Atitlan is a must visit when in Guatemala. It lives up to being one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and with so many towns to explore, you should definitely give yourself at least a week to do so.
Our very first encounter with the people of Guatemala was a positive one.
It is so important to remember that crime happens everywhere, and not to let it keep you from experiencing the world.
Do your research, talk to the locals, and don’t be out late in questionable areas.
Everytime you step outside, you are risking your life. Don’t let that stop you from living.