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Getting to Lake Atitlan is no easy feat. After flying into Guat City, it's another 4 hours by bus to Panajachel. Then, if your'e staying on the lake, which I recommend, it's a short (and sometimes rocky) boat ride from there. But upon reaching the docks of La Casa del Mundo in Jaibalito, and seeing the sun reflect on the lake like so, well, it's worth it tenfold.
These two brothers were the life of the party at La Casa del Mundo. One minute they were lying with each other sweetly, the next they were clawing at each other and rolling around meowing. A true sibling relationship! There was a great swinging chair on the porch overlooking the lake, and you couldn't sit on it without one of these guys jumping up on your lap or pawing at the woven seat. It made the stay at Casa del Mundo that much more like home.
Visiting a small, artistic village on Lake Atitlan we came across this large wall or fence of recycled pastic bottles. It was amazing and we were so happy to see a new use for plastic bottles. Beautiful Lake Atitlan is located in the Guatemalean Highlands and is surrounded by volcanoes. We stayed for three nights at the Lomas de Tzununa hotel a 30 minute boat ride from San Juan La Laguna.
San Juan La Laguna, a village on the northwest shore of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, is known for the vibrant colours of its yarn and the beautiful textiles made with it. The women in the community formed a collective to create these products and keep the traditional art alive. What's most remarkable is that the beautiful colours are all achieved from natural dyes. For example, yellow and light green shades are produced from camomile. Pink is derived from ground-up cochinilla (a local insect) and adding a rusty nail to the mix produces shades of red. We wandered through the tiny stores along the main street of the village, examining the beautiful wares before making a purchase. A short boat trip from Panajachel, but a world away in terms of serenity, San Juan La Laguna is well worth the visit.
Lost and wandering through the relaxed lakeside town of San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, we wander through the basketball courts next to the tiny central park. A bunch of teenagers are wearing hip cloths and headscarves, hitting a rubber ball with their elbows and hips towards a hoop suspended from the rafters. As an archaeologist, I recognize this game: the mesoamerican ball game, nearly 4,000 years old. I've seen this put on for tourists, but never for fun. Until recent revivalist movements, the game was all but extinct outside of West Mexico. "Como se llama el juego?" "Basquetbol Maya." They tell me the best players get all the girls.
After traveling to many places all these years, I come to conclude that Lake Atitlán in Guatemala is one of the most amazing places in the planet. This pool at Casa Palopó, is by far, the most beautiful place to see the sun rise every morning. Can't wait to come back!
I was visiting the town of Santiago de Atitalan in Guatemala and went to the town market as part of this visit. It is a large and bustling market, as most markets tend to be, with portions that are both covered and un-covered and above-ground and below-ground. The market sells all sorts of goods and has a highly interesting atmosphere.
Sunrise tours aren't normally my thing but rising at 4:00am taking a chicken bus to the trail entrance and beginning a hike in the darkness up the side of a volcano has to be rewarding. For 2 hours in the darkness you climb relentlessly upwards towards the heavens, and then you wait, wait for that first glimpse of light streaking over the horizon, the start of a new day, and you know that's why you travel, that's why you're here.
Just hours away from the United States and yet worlds apart, Lake Atitlan is truly one of the most beautiful and interesting places I've ever visited... and by far a magical and inspiring backdrop for any yoga practice. Nature puts on a glorious show each day, from the first morning light to the crystal- clear, star-filled night skies- the views are so breathtaking, the air is so clear, the sun is so brilliant- no one ever wanted to miss a practice, although I imagine a few of them would have been fine with a few less chaturangas! And best of all, Lake Atitlan provides you with just the silence and just the inspiration to further your solo yoga practice. Find a deck, a patch of grass, or as I did, a helicopter pad, and let it flow...
This amazing oasis is located between the 2 docks of San Pedro La Laguna and is right among all the bars and restaurants. Rooms 1,2 & 3 offer amazing lakeside views with hammocks in beautifully landscaped gardens. A bargain at $40 a night.
San Pedro brings connotations of hippies, druggies, grungy backpackers, etc but behind all that lies a sleepy little village with amazing views over the Lake. The perfect place to settle for a few days, take your feet off the road, unwind and relax.
One of the best ways to connect with a culture is to connect with it's people, and hiking from village to village in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala provides you just this opportunity. The majestic lake is overlooked by three equally majestic volcanoes, and is surrounded by 12 remote villages. Each village boosts their own unique customs, culture, cuisine and dialect- and while often times similar to their neighbor, no two are exactly the same. From the colors of their huipil to their religious or shaman rituals, each village is an anthropological study in and of itself. I recommend choosing a home base hotel on the lake and set out to experience 2 or 3 villages per day, allowing yourself time to shop the markets, visit the churches, eat tamales and enjoy village life on the lake in each location. To best experience villages across the lake, pick a starting village, take a boat across and set out from there, hiking the road to the next village. A local boat 'taxi' can then pick you up at the next village. If possible, try not to have too much of a plan, leaving plenty of time open for spontaneous stumblings- music in the street, tortilla making by the side of the road, shaman ceremonies, surprises. Despite war, political strife, and poverty, the villagers that call Lake Atitlan home have remained resilient and vibrant and managed to protect their rich culture, making the inspiring natural beauty of the region only surpassed by the inspiring people that call it their home.
Lake Atitlan is an amazing volcanic lake in the western highlands of Guatemala. It is surrounded by villages inhabited by people primarily of Mayan origin. This photo was taken right after sunrise when the mist is on the lake and the local men are going out to fish. The scene was physically and spiritually inspiring. I took a lot of photos, but this one captured the scene the best.
If you can make it out of your hammock, walk the path around Lake Atitlan for some spectacular views. While it takes several days to walk around the entire lake, if you just want a short jaunt start in Santa Cruz and make your way to Casa del Mundo in Jaibolito for lunch and a swim. The walk takes about a half hour and you'll be rewarded with views like this!
If you're traveling in the Lake Atitlán region, consider a visit to the hillside cemetery in Sololá. The dead are honored here by being buried amid their favorite colors, and the vibrance and beauty of this place belies the fact that it is a cemetery. It is a visual delight of turquoise and cobalt blues, vivid orange hues and all varieties of green. Gorgeous flower arrangements decorating the tombs add further bursts of color. I felt honored and lucky to be there, admiring another facet of the colorful culture of Guatemala. Chichicastenango and Xela (Quetzaltenango) are other options for colorful cemeteries in the region.
I came to Lake Atitlan for relaxation and peacefulness and I got just that and more! As a guest for 4 days, I couldn't get over how beautiful the grounds were and how quickly I felt at home. They did a great job decorating -- everything from the main entrance to the cabins. Just the right amount of Guatemalan flair at every turn to reel you in. What really drew me to Hotel Isla Verde was how secluded it was. Tucked in a little nook of Lake Atitlan, I felt miles away from everything. My favorite area was the open air deck with hammocks and pillows that over looked the lake and at just the right angle, you have a stunning view of one of the volcanoes. Definitely a happy place I can't wait to go back to!
Lake Atitlán, in the Guatemalan highlands, lies in the one of the most dramatic landscapes in Central America--a caldera surrounded by lush conical peaks rising to over 11,000 feet. The biggest town on the lake, Panajachel, (called 'Pana' by locals), is sometimes called 'Gringotenango' due to all of the foreigners who have settled there. Nevertheless, it's the jumping-off point for exploring this incredible place, logistically essential. The villages ringing the lake, many accessible only by boat, are largely indigenous: speakers of the Tzútujil and Kaqchikel Maya languages continue to dress in their colorful textiles. Whether the sky is blue or grey, the volcano-ringed waters are mesmerizing...
After admiring the very beautiful hair adornments I'd seen on so many women in Guatemala, I really enjoyed seeing the shop owner demonstrate how to weave this long strip of embroidered textile into her hair. She made it look so easy!
With its colorful landscapes and traditional clothing, it's no surprise that Guatemala's folk-paintings are so vibrant. A wonderful place to see and purchase these works of art is in Santiago Atitlán, on the southern shore of Lake Atitlán. Between two volcanoes, this is a Maya town, home to the Tz'utujil people. Meet the artists; see where they live... You can get here by boat from Panajachel, and a road links it to San Lucas Tolimán as well.
One of many highlights of visiting Lake Atitlán was going by boat everywhere. As a city dweller, I've spent a fair amount of time losing my patience while waiting for the bus or train to show up. But here at the dock in Jaibalito, I would have gladly waited hours for the next boat! Even days!
Near the town of Tecpán in the western highlands of Guatemala are the ruins of Iximché. Perched on a hill some 7000 feet above sea level, this was the cool capital of the Kaqchikel Maya in the 15th and 16th centuries, at the time of the Spanish Conquest. This was our first visit to Central America, and although we didn't have time to visit the more famous ruins in the jungle of Tikal, we were excited to come to this less-well-known complex. Iximché is off the beaten path for most non-Guatemalan tourists; and among the Guatemalans who visit here, most are indigenous Maya. Built at the end of the pre-Columbian period, this city was used for only a few decades before the Conquistadors would establish their rule. But these ruins are hardly 'dead;' Maya families regularly come here for recreation and religion. The afternoon we were here, we saw a ceremony taking place. We didn't want to intrude on others' beliefs, so we stayed back--but I was close enough to see that bottles of rum were being used as offerings, and that one of the 'priests' took a break from his duties to answer his cell-phone. Syncretism at work. And then there were some kids playing inside the recessed ball-court. In the mythology of the Kaqchikels, a ceremonial ball-court was also the gateway to the Underworld. Five hundred years later, their descendants spend weekend afternoons kicking soccer balls around in those same courts...
Suddenly, we were confronted by a group of about 20 young men holding machetes, circling us, and mimicking my gringo Spanish. “Puedo pasar? “No, no puedes!” Uh-oh. Amidst the chaos of gleaming teeth and blades, laughter, taunts, and fear, I kind of shut down. Panic took over, and I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, my wife kept moving, and a teenager we were walking with grabbed my arm. We pushed through unscathed. How we had arrived in that fiasco was just as confusing. Kate and I boarded a chicken bus that morning in Xela bound for Panajachel. The only gringos on the bus, our Spanish was very subpar at the time. So when it took several strange turns and passengers grew increasingly nervous, we had no idea what was going on. But when the bus started ascending a narrow Jeep trail on the side of a sheer cliff and people started crossing themselves, we knew something was definitely wrong. Ultimately, the bus was forced to a stop in the middle of nowhere. Mayan people on foot were everywhere. We eventually learned we were in the midst of a mini insurgency. The government had sold sacred land to a foreign mining company, and the Mayans were in revolt. They had shut down the main highway, as well as this alternate route. We had to backpack out, climbing over felled trees and passing burning refuse—and the aforementioned machete men—along the way. When we finally reached our destination long after nightfall, we learned that several people had been killed during the uprising!
It’s not a far walk to get off the beaten track, off the tourist thoroughfares through Panajachel, Guatemala. Meandering just a couple streets over brings you into a whole different world. The cobblestones dwindle to narrow slices of dirt cut through the jungle, the painted houses turn into hodge-podge shacks. The people are friendly and respond to “hola!” Kids are not hassling you to get shoe shines and buy woven bracelets, but instead, balancing tubs of tomatoes their heads (and sometimes dropping them), playing with bottle caps, running with no apparent purpose, and staggering under large loads, as in this photo. No bargaining stalls, no “special price for you.” Just the peace of lives being lived.
I traveled to Panajachel, a town on Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands. The scattered Mayan villages surrounding the lake have a very mystical vibe when the mist rises in the morning. While I was staying in San Pedro, the steep main strip of the village was hosting their annual carnival. Quiche Mayan children were running around with fruit on sticks and jumping on the rickety metal rides that would never have passed North American safety regulations! I saw these two girls holding hands staring at the ferris wheel to their left and snapped the photo.
Traveling in some of the places we traveled it's always good to have extra blessings. Before any words of blessing were spoken, the Abuelo (uncle) also called Maximon in the center of this photo, was first given a stiff drink and then a cigar, all the candles lighted and then incense to the point one could hardly see much less breath. His 5 year old daughter was there also, learning how to continue this worship. We did have a safe journey.
The Chichicastenango market is wonderful for many things, not least of all the food. Join the Guatemalans at the long picnic tables and order a portion of fried chicken. Don't be put off by the large vats of oil--that's what makes it so tasty! Market days are Thursdays and Sundays but I highly recommend getting there the night before to watch vendors set up their stalls and join them in getting freshly made pupusas from the carts in front of the church. Get up early the next morning and hit the market with the locals, before the tour busses arrive from Panajachel and Antigua.
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