Lake Atitlan Travel FAQ
This FAQ covers the basics on transportation, hotels and hostels and other aspects of a vacation at Lake Atitlan.
Transportation From the Guatemala airport
Shuttles cost Q60 for the one-hour ride to Antigua, most travelers spend at least one night. A private taxi directly to Lake Atitlan costs about $100 and takes about six hours, depending on traffic and road conditions.
Hostels in Antigua cost as little as Q50 per person for a dormitory, Q100 and up for a room with private bath for one person or Q150 for two guests. Some have cable TV and Wi-Fi. We currently recommend El Hostal, with free breakfast and real hot water. It’s across the street from Cafe No Se. For more info on Antigua, see Antigua Travel Blog.
Shuttles from Antigua
From San Pedro from Antigua, departures start as early as 6 AM and as late as 4 PM. The four-hour ride costs Q60 and up, depending on the agency. The two-hour ride to Panajachel costs Q80.
For the trip from Atitlan to Antigua, Semuc Champey and other destinations (all require changing shuttles in Antigua), see Casa Verde Tours in San Pedro’s zona viva.
Buses from Antigua
“Chicken buses” are an adventure but are almost as expensive as shuttles and take longer to arrive. There is a daily Pullman bus between Antigua and Panajachel that takes two hours and is half the cost of a shuttle. Pullmans also connect San Pedro with Xela and Guatemala Cit.
Boats at Lake Atitlan
Lanchas leave the Panajachel dock from 6 AM until 6 PM. It costs Q25 to San Pedro, San Marcos or Santiago, Q10 to Santa Cruz or Jaibalito.>
These three-wheeled vehicles charge Q5 per person around any of the towns at the lake. Look behind you before crossing the street, as some tuk tuk drivers and bike riders are reckless.
Hostels around the lake cost about Q40 a night for one person, but most will reduce the price for longer stays. The best policy is to pay for one night and look at other hostels the next morning. In San Pedro, you can’t go wrong with Casa Atitlan, Hotel Fe and Zoola.
The most atmospheric hotel in San Pedro is Hotel Mikaso, with single from Q200 and a huge dorm. Hotel Mikaso also has a big dorm.
See Atitlan Hostels for more info.
Street food consists of fried chicken and French fries, which is pricey compared to 3 for tacos or quesadillas for Q12. Most hostels provide cooking facilities.
Few hostels offer free breakfasts at the lake. Breakfast runs from Q15-Q35. A full dinner, Q30-45, though T-bone steaks and other specialties can cost Q50-100.
In San Pedro, don’t miss Smokin’ Joes’ Sunday barbecue at pool on the way to the dock for boats to Santiago, or in Panajachel on Saturday. Both start at noon. Huge plates of Southern-style smoked meats and other options. Hostel Maya Moon has an all-you-can-eat BBQ at noon on Sundays in Tzunana, a five-minute boat ride from San Marcos
Do not eat bass (mojarra) from the lake. For fish, Smokin’ Joes’ BBQ San Pedro and Posada Santiago in — you guessed it –Santiago. See Restaurants and for more about dining out at the lake.
Money, ATMs and Banks
Bring US dollars or Euros, as other currencies are rarely accepted. If using ATMs, check your account weekly to avoid the occasional rip-off. San Pedro ATMs do not accept many debit or credit cards, so a trip to Panajachel may be necessary. The ATM near the dock for boats to Pana is notorious for ripping people off, so head up the Banco Rural in el centro.0
10% is suggested, more for great service. Most places share the tip with the Maya cooks. Some restaurants add 10% to the bill for parties of three or more.
Guided tours are suggested for climbing San Pedro Volcano or Indian Nose. There is a daily boat tour from Panajachel that visits Santiago, San Pedro and San Marcos. We like Casa Verde Tours (the most comfortable shuttles, too) and Tornados’ Excursions in San Pedro.
In Panajachel, see Tropical Vacations or Posada Los Encuentros for tours. Posada Santiago can hook you up there.
Don’t get in the water near the docks or shoreline, especially when it looks iffy. Your best bet is to kayak to a remote spot away from populated areas, and even then, wear earplugs.
Panajachel has a 24/7 hospital, several clinics and an excellent dentist named Mario. Each of the other towns have small clinics, and San Pedro has a free Puesto de Salud for emergencies, though they are often out of supplies and may send you into town to buy them at a pharmacy. There is a clinic and dentist in San Pedro’s zona viva.
Safety and Security
Most Maya are honest and peaceable. And most parts of the lake are safe, though you want to play attention after 10 PM no matter where you are in the world. Here, avoid taking anything of value on hikes, even guided tours, to isolated areas such as Indian Nose. Of course you’re going to carry the camera, so back up your photos before heading out.
On shuttle and buses, conceal most of you cash and cards on your person and carry a dummy wallet with a little money. Never ever take the back road between San Pedro and Santiago without an armed police escort.
The Hospitalito in Santiago is a modern hospital that we recommend for emergencies or lab work. Avoid the hospital in Solely, as we have heard horror stories from gringos about the place.
Visitors from the USA, Canada and parts of Europe do not require a visa to enter Guatemala. Check with your travel agent or on the Internet. Everyone gets a stamp in his or her passport that is good for 90 days, after which you must leave the country for 72 hours (Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador do not count) before returning for another 90 days. Then it is possible to get a 90-day extension at Migracion in Guatemala City (which requires a credit or debit card) or a local agency in Antigua or Panajachel.
Look for Sol de Atitlan, the English-language magazine around the lake and in Antigua.