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Lake Atitlan's Major Attractions

Picturesque setting, villages & volcanoes...

Lake Atitlan

The lake's formation is as dramatic as its beauty. According to geological history, the area was once an immense volcanic mountain that blew it’s top off some 85,000 years ago in a massive explosion. Its ashes and rocks are said to have been found as far south as Panama and had world wide climactic effects. Hence, today’s lake was actually the crater of a massive volcano.

Continued volcanic activity formed the three towering volcanoes we see today, El Tolimán, Atitlán, and San Pedro, reaching up to 3357 meters above sea level in the southern shores. These are joined by the Cerro Chicul or Santa Clara peak, reaching approximately 2430 meters above sea level. And on the western shores are Cerro San Marcos and Cerro Cristalino, subsidiary cones of the three volcanoes, with their peaks reaching 2918 and 2251 meters above sea level respectively. Adding the adjacent mountains and other nearby Cerros, rising up to a 1000 meters on both sides, and you have a natural picturesque frame for the lake. A true awe inspiring setting for the lake’s water surface which measures approximately 125 square kilometers, 18 km across at its widest point, 400m deep at the center, and situated at 1560 meters above sea level.

Scenic routes, beaches & lakeside villages, complement the lake's beauty. Its celebrated villages are situated lakeside at the skirts of the volcanoes & mountains, and are spectacles in their own right. Their Indian markets are great to shop for handicrafts and textiles, as well as sensational culture absorption.


The complete name of this town is San Francisco Panajachel. It is a pre-Columbian settlement of Kakchiquel origin founded on the Panajachel river and at the lake's edge. It was the scene of the final battle between the Spaniards and their Kakchiquel allies against the Tzutujiles, and the site at which Franciscan friars founded a convent. Today this charming town, situated among coffee plantations, gardens, and vegetable plots, is the most important township in the area. Here you will find the largest concentration of hotels, discotheques, entertainment centers, businesses and of course tourists, as it is a great place to shop for clothing, textiles and handicrafts.

East from Panajachel is the historical valley of San Buenaventura, home to a natural reserve and a butterfly habitat. Among the lush forest are great trails for hiking and even an organic coffee farm.

Santiago Atitlán

A fascinating historical town of Roman Catholic, evangelical and Maximón worship. The veneration of Maximón by the Maya has taken place for centuries and is one of the most outstanding religious practices in this district. The Maya pray to this man like wooden statue often wearing hats, scarves, a suits and smoking cigars, with cigarettes, alcohol and flowers around it brought as offerings in return for good harvest, success, rain, sun, luck, and everything else one can pray for. The deity is part of the Maya Tzutujil cultural universe and through the hybridization of rituals, represents the cultural resistance of the communities around the lake, especially of this city.

Outskirts of Lake Atitlán

Santiago Atitlán, San Antonio Palopó, Santa Catarina Palopó, San Pedro La Laguna, Santa Cruz La Laguna, and many other towns of Kakchiquel and Tzutujil origin surround the lake. Each has its particular characteristics, fiestas and markets, produce varied handicrafts and wearing their own multicolored dress wear. These towns are either on the lakes skirts or cling to the steep mountain or volcanoes, all accessible by road or boat.

Activities in Lake Atitlan

On such a lake, it is no surprise that there would be many excellent opportunities for all kinds of water sports such as: Sports Fishing for black bass (up to 4 kilos can be caught); Hobby Cats sailing which can be rented locally; Kayaking the still waters on the skirts of the volcanoes; Water-Skiing or Wake Boarding with a private charter ski boat; altitude fresh water Scuba Diving for viewing of spectacular volcanic rock drop offs and underwater boiling sediments; and Windsurfing. Many land based activities and attractions are equally abundant such as a visit to the nearby cascades, various volcano and cerro hikes, hang-gliding, mountain biking, horse back riding, natural reserve & organic coffee farm visits, handicraft manufacture tours, forest trails, a butterfly habitat, meditation schools or sessions, sunbathing, eating & shopping or simply relaxing at your lakeside hotel.

Surrounding Attractions

Near Atitlan, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre, an area punctuated by deep ravines, beautiful valleys, uneven terrain, and large flatlands, lie many other interesting sites. This area is the birthplace of artists and poets, among them Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, author of Guatemala's National Anthem, and Andrés Curruchiche, who initiated a naïf art movement among the indigenous people.

Located in the Sierra Madre mountains is the capital of the department. Its central plaza boasts one of the few remaining fountains dating from the colonial era.

The late Post-Classic Maya ruins of Iximché, ruled by the Kaqchikel in the 15th century until it’s burning by the Spanish in 1526, is also a worthy visit. Located in the municipal district of Tecpán, this archaeological site was the ancient capital of the Maya Kakchiquel Indians and Guatemala’s first capital – “The kingdom of Goathemala.” These well preserved ruins, located on a promontory in the higher and cooler Sierra mountains, surrounded by steep slopes and pine trees.

San Andrés Itzapa
At 6 kilometers from the city of Chimaltenango is San Andrés Itzapa, known for it’s fascinating chapel and veneration of to San Simon, also known as Maximon. Much like in Santiago Atitlan, this miraculous personage of mixed Spanish and Indian characteristics, is a clear sample of the mixing of Spanish and Mayan blood lines. Here, Maximon has his own cofradía and personal chapel, and is attributed the power to do either 'good or evil.' He is offered liquor, cigarettes and cigars, and colorful candles and incense are burnt in his honor. The devout also offer him animals, fruits, money, and jewelry. A true spectacle to be appreciated, and difficult for curious minds to fully comprehend.

Located at 2500 meters above sea level, this town is famous amongst tourists for its market on Thursdays and Sundays, where spats of traditionally dressed villagers in a kaleidoscope of colors, come to sell their very colorful textiles, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Although seemingly very commercial, there is much mysticism in the air. You will be amazed by the religious blend that exists, where colonial Spanish Catholicism, modern evangelism and ancient Mayan tradition, blend in a uniquely harmonious fashion. There is something deeply moving about watching a Mayan Indian or shaman, engulfed by incense and surrounded by flowers, praying to a catholic God and at the same time practicing ancient Mayan rituals, all in an old Spanish colonial Cathedral. It is here, in Chichicastenango, that Father Francisco Ximenez in the 17th century discovered the Popol Vuh, the illustrious Mayan bible.

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Lake Atitlan's Major Attractions: Picturesque setting, villages & volcanoes... . Please note: Information on this sheet is believed to be correct but not guaranteed


Lake Atitlan's Major Attractions

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