I had never thought of Guatemala much at first. When the name began to surface in my travel plans, for Latin America, it was still a filler country. Mexico for its heritage and food, Cuba for its ‘travel back in time‘ feel and Guatemala for?! It was a question I needed to find an answer to, and just Guatemala as a filler did not make me feel good. I had seen images of this turquoise lake and the two volcanic mountains at the edge of it. I had also heard that the Lake Atitlan was very touristic in places but even then there were a few corners that felt peaceful perhaps like its southern counterpart, Patagonia. I had seen the lake and the surrounding towns, enough on the map. It was time to find it out for real.
The hostel where I chose to stay was heavily recommended on both lonely planet and TripAdvisor. It also had a beautiful location with direct views of the two volcanoes. Inside though it felt more like the U.S than it felt like in Guatemala. I think that was the first reason I wanted to stay as much out of it as possible. So I traveled and traveled a lot to find where on the lake it feels like Guatemala.
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After spending 24 hours on the lake I was still trying to find out that one place which was charming and not just pretty. When in an open truck as I passed through the tiny hamlets of San Catarina and San Antonio, the first feel of being on a lake in ‘Guatemala’ struck me. Sometimes in my hunt of a destination to stay for my group, I come across places like Lake Atitlan, beautiful but yet something feels like not complete. Maybe I judge too much or maybe I should just let the work to score over personal preferences. Or, I should just wait and let it grow. Sometimes what we expect and what comes up is so different. In Guatemala, I fell in love with Antigua and only liked Lake Atitlan. I had thought the reverse would happen. With Lake Atitlan, I think I would wait and let it grow on me, coz for the people I know it would be an instant ‘wow’.
The accommodation possibilities on the lake range from hostels to guest houses to fancy hotels. I had to find a hotel for my tourists but before that, I had to find that one village where it felt different than in most places on the lake. San Lucas de Toliman did not have the view as it was directly under the volcano. I did not find time to look at it, but a hotel surfaced and I will take my group there this November. I will also hope that I like the lake better.
My favorite towns on Lake Atitlan and why?
Panajachel – Entry point and good to stroll around even at the expense of being super touristy.
San Catarina & San Antonio Palopo – Unpretentious and calm, easy access from Panacjel.
San Marcos – As Hippie as it gets but good for a walk and some really good cafes.