A February 2003 trip
to Lake Atitlan by shiraloo
Quote: The road to Lake Atitlan was hellish, but worth every sweaty, smelly, cramped, and jerky moment on the multiple chicken-buses we had to ride in order to get there. A prehistoric feel, Atitlan is tucked beyond lush vegetation and winding roads. Inside is a shimmering lake decorated with three majestic volcanoes and colorful Mayan villages.
The Mayans are friendly and business savvy. 95 years or five years old, they small talk in six languages, sell amber, jade, hammocks, the shirt off their back, and will trade anything for your waterproof watch.
The beach is ok and there are pools for swimming, but really, Atitlan is about absorbing the isolation and picturesque beauty right in front of you. We took a boat to on of the nearby villages called San Pedro and met Maria, who took us on a quintessential journey, giving us an in-the-life-of-the-Mayans, rather than just reefer-haze and relaxation. There are other villages to explore, tons of fascinating people, various excursions, or just simply stopping where you are to soak up paradise.
Don’t spend all of your time in Panajachel; definitely explore other villages. We made the mistake of only sleeping there while in Atitlan. The nightlife is decent in Pana. The Circus Bar is fun with live music, good food, and really quirky random people.
It seemed like you didn’t have to worry about what you ate in restaurants i.e. chicken, beef, and lettuce. I would still recommend only bottled water -- even for brushing your teeth. I was wary with chicken and beef because I had gotten salmonella poisoning in Mexico two weeks earlier, but my friend ate everything.
The place is decorated with old circus posters and memorabilia from all over the world and with marionette clowns. Even if you think clowns are scary, the décor is so consistent, warm, and laidback, that it’s cool.
Circus Bar was perfect for us to unwind. Overall, locals and tourists are there to get down and kick back. It seems like it is THE place to be since it was crowded and going strong pretty late on both a Monday and a Tuesday during low season. We sat at the bar and were entertained by these two dramatic, drunk, Guatemalan girls. One, we called the Mata Hari and was in full seduction mode, and the other was all Shakira moves and loved screaming, "American girls! Dis is how Latin girls dooo eeet!" Outside of friendly travelers and patrons buying rounds, the bartender occasionally sets a pair of dice in front of the customer and if doubles are rolled, drinks are on the house.
There was live bluegrass and folk, which are always great to hear abroad. Regardless of how patriotic or unpatriotic you are feeling on your particular adventure, there is nothing like hearing Don McLean’s American Pie after a long day, a big meal, and a few drinks when away in a faraway land.
We had the pizza and it was very delicious and the portions were huge. There is pasta and other yummy things to eat as well. The prices were decent for Panajachel, but expensive for Guatemala in general. There was definitely something in the wine that knocked us out cold, because that night was one of our best nights sleep to date.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 2, 2003
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Washington, District of Columbia