The Lake: Lake Atitlan


As in Antigua, volcanoes surround us in Lake Atitlan. The lake is set in a gigantic bowl of deep blue water, with little villages dotting the coastline. At night we fell asleep to the twinkling lights of these villages. The middle of the night often brought light shows put on by electrical storms shooting around in the clouds. The volcanoes seem to stand sentry around the lake; their lightening bolts warding off evil spirits. We felt protected and safe here, right on the water just outside the little town of San Marcos. Lake Atitlan is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world; as big as Lake Tahoe and often compared to Lake Como. But different, of course.

The drive down into the lake was steep. Like, steep enough that we needed to pull over a couple times when we could smell our brakes and see the smoke coming up out from under LoJo. After 2 stops, John drove much of the rest of the way in 4-wheel low to let the engine help slow us down. A couple times we had to back up around hairpin turns as we snaked our way down toward the lake. We inched LoJo through towns with tiny streets down to the bottom of the mountain.

There were 24 turns, so tight and steep Google told us to make u turns instead of turns.

I was here two years ago for work. I was helping run a leadership camp, and every day and night were booked solid. I remember taking one morning for myself to go for a swim in the lake. Surrounded by the volcanoes and ancient Mayan history, the soft blue water felt so refreshing and I knew I would come back some day with John. We swam in the lake our first afternoon, and John immediately announced he wanted to stay a month. It became our home for two weeks.

John taking a dip off our dock, with dugout canoes and the lake's water taxi in the background.

We camped at Pasaj Cap, just outside of San Marcos. Pierre, a Frenchman from Paris, owns this beautiful 3-acre lake front property. It is landscaped with hundreds of flowers, fruit trees, and green lawns. He has several cottages and apartments for rent, spread along the hillside. He lets 3 rigs camp on the property at a time, sells wine and beef and seafood, has a little library, and we could get our laundry done on site. It was only about a 15-minute walk along a dirt road into town where we could buy groceries, go to yoga, get a beer at a nearby hostal, and have decent restaurants. The weather was perfect — temperatures hovered in the 70s-80s during the day, and 60's at night. The cosmic energy of this place kept us in a state of peaceful inertia. We loved it.

Our lakeside home

Pierre and his 3 German Shepards...total sweeties. All of them.

Diego, the caretaker, and his wife live on site. Diego & John chatted as much as the language barrier would allow.

We spent lots of time in this palapa (called a rancho here), swimming from the dock, doing yoga, reading, and working on the blog.

Tourists and locals alike get around the lake on water taxis. The boats require advanced dexterity to not only get on (moving boats meet moving docks) but also to worm ourselves toward the back or front (8 rows of benches inside usually chock full of people). However, we never had to wait for more than 10 or 15 minutes for a boat. It’s a relaxed way to spend the day, never quite knowing what time we would leave or exactly when we would get back. One afternoon, a traveler broke out his ukulele and sang a song in Spanish while the boat made its way across the lake...with not a peep out of any of the passengers. We all just enjoyed the music.

In the early mornings, men paddled out in the dugout canoes to fish, as they probably have for hundreds of years.

Tight squeezes inside the water taxis, filled to capacity most days.

Waiting for the last boat to San Marcos to take us back home.

When the forecast called for rain, we signed up for three days of Spanish classes in San Marcos. John’s 20 year old teacher was just ok, mine not so much, so every evening we followed up classes with dinner at Restaurant Fe, for good wine and good curry as a reward. On the way to one of our Spanish classes we met a British couple on BMW touring motorcycles, who ended up camping with us at Pasaj Camp. Lisa and Jason (TwoWheeledNomad.com) are on their way up from Argentina. They thought they were only staying one night, but we plied them with beer, a BBQ and more beer...and low and behold, they stayed for 5 more nights and we became fast friends. They are on their way up to California, so if anyone wants to show them the sights, they are great fun.

BBQ at Pasaj Cap with Janice, Gregor, Lisa and Jason.

I mean, they're British. None of this was our fault.

One bad-ass Ginger and a dancing photographer. Hope to see you both down the road!

When the weather got better we ventured out again to the other villages. One of the villages we visited is called San Juan la Laguna. I had two projects here with Planeterra. A home stay program with 17 families and an organic farm. This town has resisted the party backpacker tourism of neighboring San Pedro, and Planeterra had an important role in the growth of their sustainable tourism here. We ventured to San Juan to celebrate Gregor’s birthday (Gregor & Janice of Live.Travel.Play). We met these guys back in Mexico City, saw them again a couple times in Oaxaca, and now they are camped here with us again. We had dinner at El Artisano, a tiny wine and cheese restaurant owned by a fourth generation Guatemalan, who has developed relationships with goat, sheep, and cow farmers in the countryside who each make their own cheese. In this tiny Guatemalan town! We sat and relaxed, drank way too much wine, and stuffed ourselves on many, many little morsels of meat and cheese. We came back later in the week to visit the women’s textile cooperatives, visit the Tz'utujil painting galleries, and see the murals of San Juan. We also stopped by Planeterra’s project partner’s office.

Women's weaving cooperative. The yarn is dyed from natural plants & all handmade. We bought a hammock - it took 9 days to make.

Murals of San Juan

Women of San Juan

We explored other villages too. We hiked to the nearby village of Tzunana, very traditional but which seemed a little sad to us. We kayaked on the lake from the village of Santa Cruz. We had good southern BBQ at Smokin’ Joes (surprise!) in San Pedro. We had the best breakfast on the lake at Hotel Casa del Mundo.

Tiny village of Tzununa in the hills. Vacant looks from the locals like this little girl and old woman. Carrying such heavy loads.

Rural life here is hard.

These two were in Tzununa as well. Wet, sad,...never a tail wag. Most of the dogs in Guatemala look this sad though.

Breakfast and blogging at Casa del Mundo.

The lake has been steadily rising for the past 10 years. Elevated paths are built and rebuilt all around the lake.

We also made a trip to Panajachel. We had a special delivery there…our second of the trip.

More on that visit in the next blog post.

#guatemala #volcanoes #Friends #CamperLife