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Sunday, 28 September 2008

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: from Bohemian San Pedro to Yoga at San Marcos

Written by Nicola Perides
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Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: from Bohemian San Pedro to Yoga at San Marcos, travel guatemala, Panajachel, Pana, Mario Rooms hostel, travel San Pedro, bohemian ambience, retreats San Marcos, travel san marcos, travel Lake Atitlan, Toliman, Atitlan, San Pedro volcano, Nicola PeridesNestled in the temperate mountainous region of the Western Highlands, Lake Atitlan is a haven for locals and tourists alike. Being only a two and half hour drive from Guatemala’s capital, Guatemala City, and popular colonial town of Antigua, makes Lake Atitlan a very accessible destination. The winning combination of being 15 degrees above the equator and 1,560 meters above sea level makes it the ideal climate - not too hot and never too cold! The sun shines throughout the year, even during the rainy season.

Panajachel is the first stop for most, if not all, buses arriving from Guatemala City and Antigua. It is definitely a place to explore for a day or maybe more, before venturing off to the many Indian villages that are scattered around the lake.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: from Bohemian San Pedro to Yoga at San Marcos, travel guatemala, Panajachel, Pana, Mario Rooms hostel, travel San Pedro, bohemian ambience, retreats San Marcos, travel san marcos, travel Lake Atitlan, Toliman, Atitlan, San Pedro volcano, Nicola PeridesPanajachel or ‘Pana’ as most locals call it, provides stunning views of the three volcanoes that surround the beautiful lake itself - Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro.

Arrive at dawn and witness the mist clear to reveal the first glimpse of the bluish-green deep waters, the lush banks and the fisherman setting out for the day in old wooden canoes. The faint smell of pine drifts over and for now, this is the most peaceful place on Earth.

During the day Pana becomes a bustling town with many hotels, markets, cafes, and bars. There is always much to see in this colorful place, including the original façade of the old church. This was used to convert Indians into the Catholic faith during the period of the Spanish conquest.

Pana’s busy market street, Calle Sentader, where you find arguably the best souvenirs in Guatemala, is the main strip and generally all bars and restaurants are to be found here.

Stay at the Mario Rooms hostel for its clean rooms, hammock lined balconies, and a roof terrace to enjoy the most fabulous views. Do make sure you leave time to sample the holiday-feel nightlife and the local cuisine. In a country where food is generally bland, here you can find a real treat!

Grab a lakeside breakfast, where the locals will rustle up something tasty that is generally produced in the region. Leave early for one of the many villages that border the lake, all famous for their female weavers and traditional clothing. Whatever your taste, there is a village to suit: from San Pedro’s bohemian ambience to the quiet retreats of San Marcos.


First, stop in San Pedro, which can be reached by a 40 minute water taxi across the lake. San Pedro is by far the backpacker’s favorite with its many hostels, bars, and activities. Here, you can rent kayaks, snorkel, ride horses, and trek to the next village - the opportunities are endless. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: from Bohemian San Pedro to Yoga at San Marcos, travel guatemala, Panajachel, Pana, Mario Rooms hostel, travel San Pedro, bohemian ambience, retreats San Marcos, travel san marcos, travel Lake Atitlan, Toliman, Atitlan, San Pedro volcano, Nicola PeridesThe village itself is very hilly so be ready to hike up and down to get anywhere! However, the spectacular panorama from the top is truly breathtaking. The sky and lake are simply separated by an abundance of green, the trees seem to go on forever and the stillness of the water creates an aura of true tranquillity.

Again, the cuisine is extraordinarily good - take your pick from many international dishes. Thai comes highly recommended. Make sure your camera is always poised as this happy little village always gives the visitor something to snap, from kids splashing in and out of the lake to old friends gathering for afternoon gossip.

At night this village certainly comes to life, with many bars and restaurants to choose from. You’ll never be far away from a cold beer. It has a relaxed bohemian atmosphere with many gringos, bongos, and tie-dye outfits – definitely not a place to be missed.

After three or four days of partying, why not pop over the pond to the uber-chilled out San Marcos. It is reached by either a two hour hike from San Pedro or catching the boat for a 40 minute ride. Avoid arriving on Sunday, however, because everything will be either full or closed.

San Marcos’s banana, mango, and avocado tree lined shores are the perfect stage for this new age, yoga loving village. Walk away from the jetty in any direction and you will be greeted by fir fringed paths leading to many spas and retreats offering massages of all kinds: yoga, Pilates and any other relaxation therapy you could imagine. This village has a quiet, tranquil, calm atmosphere and there is no nightlife. On a clear day it is possible to catch a glimpse of Volcano Acatenanga’s grey 3,675 meter peak which lies 50 kilometers to the east.

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: from Bohemian San Pedro to Yoga at San Marcos, travel guatemala, Panajachel, Pana, Mario Rooms hostel, travel San Pedro, bohemian ambience, retreats San Marcos, travel san marcos, travel Lake Atitlan, Toliman, Atitlan, San Pedro volcano, Nicola PeridesSan Marcos is more of a holiday from a holiday. Swim for hours off one the jetties in the clear cool waters of the lake, climb up into the village to meet the locals, sample the delights of the organic bakery and healing center, and just relax. Lie back and admire the mesmerizing wildlife and the trees’ ever-changing shades of green. Listen to the serene sound of the lake while it gently strokes the shore. Get truly lost in the night sky, as there will be more stars than your dreams could ever envision. Leave feeling more alive then ever and ready for your next adventure. Catch the boat back to Panajachel for a spot of shopping then catch the 4 p.m. bus back to the city through the amazingly diverse scenery that is Guatemala.

Be sure to give Lake Atitlan the once over and you may, like many, end up staying a lifetime.

©Nicola Perides

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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