Lago Atitlan

27 Apr

We spent 25 days on Lago Atitlan and that was not enough. Lago Atitlan is surrounded by volcanoes and mountain ranges with small villages tucked near the water’s edge. Each village has their own craft (some pottery and carving, but mostly weaving) style of dress and probably other cultural differences that I didn’t observe. It was pretty awesome to experience the distinctions all within one region of the country.


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The first city on the lake we visited was Panajachel. We parked on a wide open grass field right on the lake, which the pups–mainly Olivia–loved. I was swooning with the American-stocked organic grocery, weekly BBQ, pop up shop of woven vendors in a parking lot, addicting and artistic coffee at Cafe Loco, and 3 for 15Q pupusas (cheese filled thick corn tortillas topped with the most delicious pickled carrots, cabbage, scallion, and cukes).




We stayed in Pana for 2 weeks, mostly gorging and buying textiles. Most woven goods were made by hand and there were plenty of spots to watch the weavers in action. We took a boat ride across the lake to check out San Pedro La Laguna one day. On two different occasions, we explored the neighboring communities of San Antonio and San Lucas Toliman by motorcycle, eating cheap meals overlooking the lake and even playing dress up in traditional regional wears with a local shop owner.



Toby and Chloe met us at the grassy field in Pana and we all took a van to the famous market town of Chichi. Everyone had been telling us how unbelievable this market was, that it was the biggest in Guatemala, on and on. I must admit, I was disappointed. To me, it seemed just like any other market we’d been to, small cobbled streets lined with some crappy/some good vendors. The street food was lacking (boo) but Hani was very proud of the deal he got on an antique wooden mask. My favorite part of the market was the gym-turned-produce-stalls. We watched from above the bustle and bright colors of women scurrying from vendor to vendor buying tomatoes and onions and bananas. The smell–scallions mixed with cilantro–was heavenly.

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After 2 weeks in Panajachel, we drove around the lake to San Pedro La Laguna. The road AROUND the lake was perfect: paved, two lane highway. The turnoff DOWN to the lake towns was something else: hairpin switchbacks on 45 degree downward sloped semi-paved roads that of course led you straight through the center of these tiny villages (we overheated on the way out the roads were so steep). Since we’d visited San Pedro by boat a few days earlier, we were familiar enough with the town and parked near the gringo businesses at a coffee shop parking lot. Our dirt covered spot was not nearly as magical as our place around the lake but we still had a bit of a view.


We arrived in San Pedro a few days before Semana Santa/ Holy Week and ended up staying a week and a half through the holiday weekend. Toby and Chloe joined us after a day, followed by Sam and Erica of Song of the Road a few days later.


During our time in the village, we played pub quiz twice (winning second then forth place), met some wonderful Americans/Aussies/Canadians turned locals, downed Brooklyn Brewery beers, found some delicious restaurants including an all you can eat breakfast buffet, .70 smoothies, homegrown coffee, great pizzas (finally!!) and mouthwatering gnocchi with fresh sauces. The town had an enormous Israeli presence so we had some tasty hummus and schwarma too. There were a bunch of tourists in San Pedro, more as it got closer to the holiday weekend. They were all confined in an invisible bubble on the streets closest to the water. But walk up the steeeep hill and you’d think you were in a different city entirely. Gone were the tourists and white-run restaurants. The “real” town was very traditional, going all out for Semana Santa.

We parked next to an organic garden and, after eyeing the goods for a few days, I got up the courage to ask the farmer if I could buy some. I pointed and he picked lettuce and radishes and herbs from the earth. One of my best salads!




Everyone gets around by tuktuk. And these aren’t the run of the mill scootered tuktuks. They are all tricked out to the max!


Hani became a student again, enrolling in Spanish classes that definitely improved not only his ability to speak and comprehend Spanish but also his confidence in speaking. He spent the mornings with his teacher Norman, learning verb conjugation, vocab and the like. Now, he has no problems striking up conversations with locals and asking the dumb questions he used to make me ask.



We spent a few days riding the motorcycle to the nearby lake towns of San Juan and San Marcos. San Juan is known for its fine-woven products that are dyed with natural products and leather goods. Hani had a pair of gorgeous leather shoes handmade and I bought flats made of leftover woven goods and tires for soles.


San Marcos is a yoga/hippie smaller town a few miles further down the road from San Juan. Similar to San Pedro, the textiles and art were beautiful Guatemalan-hippie inspired. We walked the pedestrian gringo loop down to the lake and found an awesome crepe and pastry shop where we spent the better part of an afternoon just hanging around.

Our last excursion around the lake was to Santiago. We took a pathetically slow moving boat with Toby, Chloe, Erica and Sam to what was supposed to be the most traditional of all the lake towns. It was market day so we were all pretty pumped to check out a new village. By the time we arrived, the market was done and nothing was going on. At all. We all aimlessly wandered around making our way to a half built bar overlooking the lake. I was bummed–after everything we’d seen in the other towns on the lake, I expected more. Maybe because it was Easter Sunday. Maybe because we realized we paid the increased gringo price for the boat. Maybe because we didn’t hit the right streets. Whatever the case, I could have done without that trip. Though the boat ride was pretty. But slow. Did I mention that?


I’m definitely looking forward to visiting Lago Atitlan again. And next time, I will at least touch my toes in the water.

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