A 2-3 -hour bus ride west of Guatemala City and Antigua lies the heart of the Western Highlands: the resplendent Lago de Atitlán. Rising from the deep blue waters of this 984-foot deep volcanic crater lake, which formed approximately 85,000 years ago by a massive volcanic eruption, are the later formed towering volcanoes Volcán San Pedro (9,908 feet above sea level), Volcán Atitlán (11,604 feet) and Volcán Tolimán (10,361 feet). A popular vacation spot for Guatemalans and foreigners alike, the surrounding region embraces winding mountains, beautiful valleys, emerald hills and cornfields, and more than a dozen indigenous lakeside villages of several ethnic Maya groups whose traditional culture still stands. While Spanish is mostly spoken at the hotels and restaurants in the region, residents of the lakeside villages typically speak at least one indigenous tongue.
Guatemala’s most hopping tourist spot for years, the main town of Panajachel – nicknamed “Gringotenango” – is where the majority of the hotels, from budget to high-end; Internet cafés; and restaurants and shops are found, as well as the grandest selection of Maya handicrafts which includes textiles, jewelry, wood carvings and leather goods. Panajachel serves as a choice base for most travelers to the region looking to explore the other villages.
San Pedro La Laguna is known for its backpacker culture, San Juan La Laguna for its handwoven and naturally-dyed textiles. Five miles south Panajachel, the indigenous culture of Santiago Atitlán is the most prevalent of the major lake towns. And among the most picturesque of the region are El Jaibalito, and Santa Cruz La Laguna, with its spectacular hiking trails and crystal waters.
For those seeking thrill, Lago de Atitlán is generous in its offering of outdoor pursuits. Kayaks and canoes are affordable to rent everywhere, and the enchanting region’s volcanoes and surrounding countryside implore exploration on foot or horseback. In addition to biking, trekking, and high-altitude scuba diving, you can also visit a coffee farm or zip-line at Reserva Natural Atitlán. Due to the lake’s pollution, it is best to save swimming for your hotel’s pool, but crossing the lake by boat is a sure highlight.