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- 10 May 2021, 3 nights
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Lake Atitlán is one of Guatemala's jewels. It's 19km long and reflects a backdrop of volcanoes studded with colourful Mayan villages. If you can tear yourself away from the waterfront cafés there's kayaking, hiking and yoga, as well as craft markets where you can watch local women using ancient techniques. Allow enough time to explore a few of the lakeside towns: they each have very different characters.
Hostels on Lake Atitlán are all about socialising in the pure highland air, so expect open-air bars and swimming piers. Some run yoga classes free for guests. You can have dinner at the waterfront restaurant of a Lake Atitlán hostel or try a vegetarian meal in a vegan bar. Another hostel was built using sustainable materials, including a traditional Guatemalan sauna. You can even sleep in a treehouse room or bell tent. Most have free Wi-Fi, but it's worth checking as a few Lake Atitlán hostels encourage 'digital detoxing'.
The area around Lake Atitlán is divided into small towns and villages. Panajachel is the main town, so you'll probably arrive here first. Make sure you head further round the lake for a more authentic feel of the area. San Pedro La Laguna is another popular town where you can socialise in one of the waterfront bars or on the hiking trails. For a glimpse at indigenous life, go to Santiago Atitlán, the largest community on the lake, or the often overlooked village of San Antonio Palopó, identified by unique local headwear.
The activities available around the lake are incredibly varied. You can hike up San Pedro volcano at dawn for 360 degree views over Lake Atitlán. Another option is to rent a kayak: morning is best when the water's still. At sunset you can jump on the 20-minute cruise that leaves Panajachel on weekend evenings, or for a cultural experience sign up to a traditional Mayan weaving course in San Juan La Laguna. Panajachel has the most shopping, dining and nightlife.
Panajachel is the transport hub of Lake Atitlán, with regular shuttle buses arriving from Guatemala City (4.5 hours) and Antigua (2.5 hours). Once at the lake you can get between villages and towns by a lancha, a local motorboat. Some towns are linked by road so a bus is sometimes an option and short distances can be covered by tuk-tuks or on foot.