Located 66 miles north west of Antigua city, Panajachel is a small lakeside town and one of Guatemala’s emerging tourism destinations. The great Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlán) is the main attraction here, with some resemblance to Lake Como of Italy – but with volcanoes in view. We stopped here for a couple nights before crossing the lake to San Juan La Laguna, where we did our first homestay.
Panajachel is a laid back town, an ideal place to relax and to take it slow. On the opposite end, there are activities available to keep the adrenaline pumping. Some members from our group participated in Paragliding. Heading to the mountains, they veered off the side and glided over the town and circled round the lake as the sun set. We witnessed them as they descended and one of them performed stomach churning aerobatics in the air (something in which one of the instructors specialises in).
Kayaking, paddleboarding and boat trips are also offered, though be careful towards the afternoon – the lake waters often get choppy. Shopping is one the highlights here, with local arts and crafts for sale along the market stalls on the main street. This is a great place to buy souvenirs to take back home.
On our final day here, we took a trip to the local nature reserve: Reserva Natural Atitlán. A couple miles from town, you can either walk it or take a cheap tuktuk – asking for “Reserva Natural”. Formerly a coffee plantation, this beautiful part of Panajachel has been protected from the increasing development of the town. We walked the various nature trails, crossing several swinging bridges and admiring the forest views and waterfalls that surround us. Overhead, you’ll see zip lines – which, for an extra cost, you zip along the top of the forest canopy. There is a butterfly sanctuary as well as place to swim by the lake shore.
La Casa del Mundo, is a lovely hotel perched up over the lake’s edge (only reachable by boat). We stopped here for breakfast and for small charge we spent the rest of the morning chilling by it’s sun loungers and hammocks. You can hire a kayak or go swimming in the lake. The views from this hotel are unforgettable and the grounds have lovely well tendered gardens; you can see where the Lake Como resemblance comes in.
SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA
A thirty minute boat ride to other side of the lake, we arrive in the village of San Juan La Laguna. With a small population, the locals are from Mayan descent who recently opened up to tourism and to visitors. Their language and practices are from the Mayan culture, despite the Spanish influence.
During our visit on San Juan La Laguna, we were shown around the village – visiting textile workshops, a medicinal herb farm and admired local artwork. We learnt the processes that go behind making the products. This is part of tourism co-operative ran by the locals, the handmade goods they produce are for sale to visitors to boost the local economy.
Part of the tour involved a homestay with a local family, where we spent time with the family and ate a home cooked dinner together. It was a really humbling experience, exchanging cultures and we chatted well into the evening. Fortunately Rob had learnt Spanish before we joined the tour.
A very welcoming family; dad works in the plantain plantations, mum as a housewife looking after their two young daughters (which we adored). Before the dinner we bought the children exercise books and colouring pens as a thank you – seeing their faces when they received their gifts was priceless.
After spending a night at our family’s home, mum and her kids walked with us next morning back to the meeting point in town, where we hugged farewell.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at Posada Kamol Bey, a stone’s throw from Calle del Lago and a few minutes walk to the main street. This is a peaceful secluded hotel, there are shops and some resturants nearby if you don’t want to go far. For the ultimate stay, check out La Casa del Mundo as previously mentioned – wake up to beautiful, undisturbed lake and volcano views. The homestay experience was organised by our tour company, G Adventures.
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WHERE TO EAT
The main street has a good selection of resturants, cafes and bars, mainly catered towards tourists. It is best to avoid the eateries along the lakeside, as the quality of food is poor unless you need a fried chicken fix. Many resturants offer traditional foods at affordable prices, our favourite restaurant was Deli Jasmin at lake end of the main street (Calle Santander), it’s set in a lovely garden and a great spot to have breakfast. It’s sister restaurant further up the road is also recommended, Llama de Fuego.
- There are only three ATM’s in Panajachel and we experienced issues getting cash out with the first two in the town centre. The most reliable is in Hotel Kakchiquel, along the main street 5 minutes from the lake. But if possible, take some cash out before you arrive in Panajachel. Take caution when withdrawing cash from ATM’s and always request for a receipt, some machines didn’t dispense the cash (fortunately the transaction was declined on checking my online banking).
- For water activities, do in the morning until early afternoon. Any later the waters can become choppy and unpleasant.
- Don’t drink 14 shots of tequila no matter how cheap it is! 😉
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In our next post, we cross borders and head into Honduras.