Many have called Lake Atitlan the most beautiful lake in the world. When you get there you will see this is no idle boast. Go for the colours alone, but go. It’s only a 2 1/2 hour ride from Antigua Guatemala. The ride provides a real insight into the variety of landscapes and climate zones in that part of the country. From your van window you will see everything from jungle vegetation to parched landscapes and finally, the majesty of Lake Atitlan.
First stop is Panajachel, a town that has a lot to offer in and of itself. But if you are only going for the day, it’s best to buy a package that includes transport to and from the lake and a boat ride to two or three Maya towns that ring the lake.
If you opt to go by van without the boat trip included in the package, you will find yourself negotiating with people in Panajachel stopping you to offer overpriced boat rides and you don’t want to waste your time on haggling when you could be cruising across the lake.
Once on the lake you will be struck by its colours, landscape and the solemn and eerie presence of three extinct volcanoes. It might remind you of Greece in once second and a Norwegian Fjord the next. It’s a mysterious and magical place.
A typical day trip would find your boat docking at San Marcos, San Pedro and Santiago. Each of these Mayan towns have gringo establishments close to the water, e.g., restaurants, bars, trinket vendors. In any case, each affords a different view of lake and, though a bit touristy, each provides a breathtaking aspect of the lake and its surroundings.
Back in Panajachel you will find street stalls on the main street leading to the lake. Every conceivable Guatemalan souvenir is on offer here. If you do stop to shop, make sure to haggle with the vendors. They expect that and its part of the fun.
Day trips, including transport and boat ride costs range from $30 to $40. There are many local tour operators in Antigua Guatemala who offer this service and are easily found when you get there.