Lake Atitlán - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Lake Atitlán

Lake Atitlán

This shimmering volcanic lake surrounded by forested slopes and three distinctive volcanoes has been hailed by some as the most beautiful lake in the world. Not only is Lake Atitlán scenically spectacular, the lake and hillside settlements are also rich in Mayan culture.

Deeply cultural, some of these villages are the only ones in the country where traditional costume is still worn, each village sporting its own distinctive style and colour of densely embroidered dress. The people are also famous for their artisan crafts, and textiles are admired for their design and colour, distinguishing one village from the other. The colours are all blended in a flurry on market days when villagers from around the lake gather to sell their products. The Friday market at Sololá is one of the best in the highlands.

Around the lake are the main tourism centres of Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna with lots of accommodation, small restaurants and craft shops. Santiago Atitlán is the biggest and most important cultural village along the shore with an interesting local deity. There are good hikes around the lake as well as various water sports and excellent swimming.

Information & Facts

The official language is Spanish but English is understood in hotels and tourist destinations. Many indigenous languages are also spoken.

The official currency is the Quetzal (GTQ) divided into 100 centavos. In 2001 the US Dollar became the second official currency alongside the Quetzal and both are accepted. Travellers cheques and major credit cards are accepted, though some more than others. It is recommended to take travellers cheques in US dollars. Cash exchange is easier, but more risky. Visitors are not advised to exchange money at the informal booths on the street. There are ATMs in the towns and cities, which accept American Express and Visa. MasterCard and Diners Club have a more limited acceptance.

Chichi, as it is called, is renowned mainly for its Sunday and Thursday markets, Sunday being the busiest. A quaint traditional hill village with cobbled streets and red tiled roofs, it has been one of the largest centres of Mayan trade since pre-Hispanic times and thousands of people gather in a spectacle of colour and festivity every week. The market attracts tourists, commercial traders and Mayan weavers from all over the highland area. It is also an important centre of culture and religion, and the locals have combined traditional Mayan religious rites with Catholicism. This is particularly evident around the Church of St Thomas where traders spread their goods on the steps, burn incense, offer food to the Mayan earth god, and pray to the Virgin Mary. Like its market, Chichi is famous for its outstanding handicrafts rich in colour, design and workmanship. Tourist-orientated stalls blend into the frenzied trading of local necessities like fruit and vegetables, balls of wax, lumps of chalk, macaroni, sewing items, soap, baskets and spices.

The holiday resort town of Panajachel in the highlands has a large population of long-term hippie foreigners and a distinctly gringo character, an interesting holiday stop. The stunning lake setting and breathtaking views of three volcanoes, along with a relaxed ambience, draws many visitors to explore this town packed with hotels, small restaurants, lively nightspots and interesting sights, sounds and smells. It is a good base for excursions to the more traditional villages around the lake or to relax for a few days, with shopping, swimming and hanging out in one of the numerous restaurants or cafés being the main holiday activities.

The holiday destination of San Pedro La Laguna has a relaxed, bohemian feel with a superb setting and is one of the most popular lakeside holiday spots. The village is centred on the Catholic Church and the market place and narrow cobbled streets lead sharply up the hill from the ferry docks.

Spread around the centre of San Pedro La Laguna are coffee plantations, and little picturesque paths among them lead along the lake to where boulders and beaches provide ideal opportunities for some peaceful sunbathing and swimming. In the San Pedro La Laguna village there are also thermal pools offering further ways in which to relax while on holiday, with superb views of the volcanoes an added luxury. Volcán San Pedro, behind the village, offers some strenuous hiking rewarded with breathtaking views.

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