Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
10 days - January 2018
Final stop of our trip in Guatemala: Lake Atitlan.
From Antigua it’s an easy 3 hours’ trip in shuttle, so easy for us now ! Lake Atitlan has been described by many writers as the most beautiful lake in the world and we couldn’t agree more. Aldous Huxley famously wrote: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes.
The lake is located in a volcanic crater formed by an eruption 84,000 years ago. It's now surrounded by three volcanoes and villages that are accessible by lancha (a small boat). Instead of slow and uncomfortable chicken bus we travel for 10 days with quick (too quick sometimes) boat on a bumpy lake! The lake is the epicentre of every villages and has many functions: washing machine with the women doing their laundry in the lake (our clothes have been washed like this!), source of food with the fishermen fishing in it everyday, “roads” to go from one village to another with the boat (for whoever went there you will remember the repetitive San Marcos San Marcos , San Pedro San Pedro, Pana Pana yelled by the tout!) It's also source of many belief. Indeed the Lake is apparently bumpy in the afternoon as to stop his relationship with a lady from another village, a desperate lover asked the Gods to create a strong wind to avoid him crossing Lake Atitlán to meet his true love which would lead to dishonour his family. Romeo & Juliette of Atitlan!
The lake is surrounded by many villages in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz'utujil and Kaqchikel and Spanish is not their first language.
We picked San Pedro as a base and the least we can say is that Cedric whose hair is usually long and messy was a pale beginner here : the norm is to have long dreadlocks up to your knees ! A lot of hippies/anarchist settle down here 25 years ago and continue to live by their ideals.
We picked an hostel on top of the hill to be a bit further from this atmosphere and enjoy the traditional village.
We stayed 10 days and didn't see where the time went. We could have easily spend another week or so and time passing we would have become like the people mentioned above ;)
What we did :
# San Pedro volcano
Just a week after returning from Acatenango hike we decided to climb our 2nd volcano.
1,100m positive difference in height done in 2h30. Quite a performance again. It's quite steep from the start but this time there was no sand but a proper track making it easier to hike. We had amazing views from the top at 3,300m ! A bit chilly by definitely a must-do.
# Weaving class at the women cooperative
I took a weaving class for 8 hours with a Guatemalan lady who taught me her traditional techniques from the colouring of the fabric to weaving it to get clothes. With a loom it took me 6h to do a scarf (I suspect her to have done some weaving while I was away as I was too slow and not the best student she had ;) )
The cooperative has been opened to help women who were single and had kids. My teacher had 8 kids !
It takes her around 4 hours to do a basic scarf and up to 2 weeks to do the most advanced design.
Knowing that made us believe that all the things sold in markets, labeled as handmade and sold at really low price for the labour provided can't be all done manually...
# Explore the villages
We went to San Juan and a few times to San Marcos.
San Juan is a bit more traditional than the other villages and wandering around the street we saw many women weaving. Beautiful colours once more !
San Marcos is the hippie village where everybody offers yoga classes, meditation classes and new age/weird workshops to find your true you. A lot of artists/hippies offer handmade jewellery. The atmosphere is pretty nice ! There are also cliffs and platforms to enjoy the lake and sun.
# Hike between Santa Cruz and San Marcos (or whatever villages in between)
One morning we did another hike starting in Santa Cruz. While some people don't recommend it as there are some rumours saying you can get robbed on the hills we didn't have any issue.
The hike is quite easy but it was so hot on the hills! Again mesmerising views on the lake. One of our best memory of Lake Atitlan!
# Enjoy the sunshine, street food and party at any bars on the lake
Best pizza and views attributed to Micaso Restaurant . It quickly became our canteen where we enjoyed the pizza with our friends we met 3 weeks before in Tikal.
# Market days in San Pedro
Pretty much everyday starting at 7am. It's always funny to attend local markets and see how it's part of their culture. No supermarkets in these little towns, you just go to the market hoping to find what you're looking for . We enjoy seeing many colours from the traditional and elegant ladies shopping around. Beautiful! However be prepared for all the smells coming from the meat hanging under the sun... I became vegetarian for a week after seeing that !
# Day trip to Chichicastenango: article here !
# Explore the religious street art
Many walls are covered by street art promoting god and the church. Quite interesting!
# San Pedro volcano : it's easy to do by yourself taking a tuk-tuk to reach the entrance of the park. Park entry is 100 QTZ. However it's cheaper to do it with an agency: 110 QTZ per person including tuk-tuk on the way to and back from the park and including the entry fee.
# Weaving class : done at the Women Cooperative in San Pedro for 300 QTZ. I left with a beautiful handmade scarf !
# There are many public lanchas allowing you to commute from one village to another for a cheap price. San Pedro to San Marcos or San Juan: 10 QZT.
# Santa Cruz to San Marcos: 10kms but easy to stop and waved at upcoming boats from every villages in between to go back to San Pedro.
# don't miss the Pizza at Micaso restaurant !
# a Japanese guy offers cheap food in the street from 11am to 4pm. Quite good as well.
# we stayed at Don Chema. A nice hostel with massive rooms (probably the size of our Sydney apartment !)
# from Antigua we took a shuttle as we have been strongly recommended to avoid going through the mountains in local buses. accidents and robberies are common apparently. Besides when we were there the road to San Pedro was closed so financially it was almost the same to do it with a Shuttle. 75 QTZ from Antigua