Worth a Stop: Lago de Atitlán

16 Nov

You can’t help but notice the three volcanoes flanking Lago de Atitlán. As the bus creeps its way down the cliffs into the town of Panajachel, you are offered a breathtaking, panoramic opportunity to consider this majestic lake and its volcanic origins. Located in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, Lago de Atitlán,or Lake Atitlan, takes some time (and effort) to get to. I promise you, this view will make it all worth it.

The lake was formed approximately 85,000 years ago in a tremendous volcanic eruption that resulted in the formation of a caldera. The volcanic activity persisted, and over time, three volcanoes, Volcán AtitlánVolcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán built up on the southern rim of the caldera. While Panajachel represents the economic and tourist center of the Lake Atitlan area, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. The enormous caldera is ringed by small villages, each with their own distinct personalities. You can reach these villages by lanchas, or small boats, which act like buses transporting visitors and residents alike.

Each of the towns and villages around the lake offer a wide range of hotels and restaurants, at a variety of price points from luxury to budget. Looking for a taste of unforgettable coffee and indigenous Mayan culture? Head to Santiago. Hungry for a heady burrito? Look no further than San Pedro. You can find top-notch massage in San Marcos, collectible pottery in San Antonio and tranquil anonymity in Santa Cruz. Whether you’re hiking, kayaking, bird-watching, or simply sunbathing lakeside, Lake Atitlán will not disappoint those looking for an unforgettable vacation. Or, if you’re like me, you will aspire to live here one day, if only because it’s the kind of place that can make even mosquito nets sexy.

Take Hotel Aaculaax for example. The hotel is ideally located on a hillside on the shores of San Marcos de La Laguna, a small serene town boasting 15 hotels, 14 restaurants, 2 Internet cafés, laundry service, a natural clinic, a holistic center, the Pyramids meditation center and numerous stores that sell fresh, local produce. In a town geared towards the spiritually minded, Aaculaax is a great home base to explore all that San Marcos has to offer. Aaculaax is a small (6 rooms and suites) boutique hotel that takes “ecologically minded” to the next level. Walls are built with clay, chicken wire and plastic bottles, using only local materials, and the stained glasswork scattered throughout the property was created from recycled glass, made in the eco-construction workshops the hotel hosts during the low season for locals and visitors. The property boasts an impressive array of original artwork spread amongst the vibrant flora and fauna, and each habitation provides incredible views of the lake and volcanoes. Every room is individually designed, with compost toilets and one-of-a-kind art works and locally made furniture. The hotel has small beach that’s great for swimming and also happens serve one of the best breakfasts in town. Trust me, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to get lost in.

Photo by E. Dohrmann

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