Lago de Atitlán is a magnificent crater lake high up in the Guatemalan Highlands, flanked by three conically-shaped volcanos on its southern shores. Small villages and towns are scattered along its banks, its inhabitants mainly Mayan communities who are entrenched in their centuries-old traditions and customs. Panajachel (map), the most accessible town on the lake’s shores, is the prime destination for tourists. Numerous hotels, restaurants and other tourist facilities can be found here. On the way to Panajachel, I recommend a stop at the colourful town of Sololá high up above the lake. The extraordinarily colourful market every Friday is a perfect, less touristy alternative to the more popular market in Chichicastenango and a fascinating place to observe the locals.
A must-do in the area is a leisurely cruise from Panajachel to Santiago Atitlán, the largest of the Mayan communities along the lakeshore. The cruise enables visitors to get a stunning close-up of the volcanos, the most impressive being Volcan San Pedro, as well as the activities of the lakeshore dwellers. Santiago Atitlán is a bustling town with many handicraft shops and stalls, its townfolk dressed in brilliant hues of red, purple, orange and blue. The awe-inspiring geology of this place combined with the intriguing communities that inhabit it make Lago de Atitlán a magical destination that shouldn’t be missed.