People at the coast of Lake Atitlan meet the Volcanoes of Toliman and San Pedro in the back at the Town of Panajachel in Guatemala in Central America.

Panajachel

The complete name of this town is San Francisco Panajachel. It is a pre-Columbian settlement of Kakchiquel origin founded on the Panajachel river and at the lake’s edge. It was the scene of the final battle between the Spaniards and their Kakchiquel allies against the Tzutujiles, and the site at which Franciscan friars founded a convent. Today this charming town, situated among coffee plantations, gardens, and vegetable plots, is the most important township in the area. Here you will find the largest concentration of hotels, discotheques, entertainment centers, businesses and of course tourists, as it is a great place to shop for clothing, textiles and handicrafts.

East from Panajachel is the historical valley of San Buenaventura, home to a natural reserve and a butterfly habitat. Among the lush forest are great trails for hiking and even an organic coffee farm.

Santiago Atitlán

A fascinating historical town of Roman Catholic, evangelical and Maximón followers. The veneration of Maximón by the Maya has taken place for centuries and is one of the most outstanding religious practices in this district. The Maya pray to this man like wooden statue often wearing hats, scarves, a suits and smoking cigars, with cigarettes, alcohol and flowers around it brought as offerings in return for good harvest, success, rain, sun, luck, and everything else one can pray for. The deity is part of the Maya Tzutujil cultural universe and through the hybridization of rituals, represents the cultural resistance of the communities around the lake, especially of this city.

A Guatemalan woman weaves a blanket on a small outdoor loom hoping to sell it to passing tourists.

Outskirts of Lake Atitlán

Santiago Atitlán, San Antonio Palopó, Santa Catarina Palopó, San Pedro La Laguna, Santa Cruz La Laguna, and many other towns of Kakchiquel and Tzutujil origin surround the lake. Each has its particular characteristics, fiestas and markets, produce varied handicrafts and wearing their own multicolored dress wear. These towns are either on the lakes skirts or cling to the steep mountain or volcanoes, all accessible by road or boat.

Kayaking in the lake

Activities in Lake Atitlan

On such a lake, it is no surprise that there would be many excellent opportunities for all kinds of water sports such as: Sports Fishing for black bass (up to 4 kilos can be caught); Hobby Cats sailing which can be rented locally; Kayaking the still waters on the skirts of the volcanoes; Water-Skiing or Wake Boarding with a private charter ski boat; altitude fresh water Scuba Diving for viewing of spectacular volcanic rock drop offs and underwater boiling sediments; and Windsurfing. Many land based activities and attractions are equally abundant such as a visit to the nearby cascades, various volcano and cerro hikes, hang-gliding, mountain biking, horse back riding, natural reserve & organic coffee farm visits, handicraft manufacture tours, forest trails, a butterfly habitat, meditation schools or sessions, sunbathing, eating & shopping or simply relaxing at your lakeside hotel.

Surrounding Attractions

Near Atitlan, in the highlands of the Sierra Madre, an area punctuated by deep ravines, beautiful valleys, uneven terrain, and large flatlands, lie many other interesting sites. This area is the birthplace of artists and poets, among them Rafael Álvarez Ovalle, author of Guatemala’s National Anthem, and Andrés Curruchiche, who initiated a naïf art movement among the indigenous people.

Chimaltenango

Located in the Sierra Madre mountains is the capital of the department. Its central plaza boasts one of the few remaining fountains dating from the colonial era.

Iximche ruins

Iximché

The late Post-Classic Maya ruins of Iximché, ruled by the Kaqchikel in the 15th century until it’s burning by the Spanish in 1526, is also a worthy visit. Located in the municipal district of Tecpán, this archaeological site was the ancient capital of the Maya Kakchiquel Indians and Guatemala’s first capital – “The kingdom of Goathemala.” These well preserved ruins, located on a promontory in the higher and cooler Sierra mountains, surrounded by steep slopes and pine trees.

San Andrés Itzapa

At 6 kilometers from the city of Chimaltenango is San Andrés Itzapa, known for it’s fascinating chapel and veneration of to San Simon, also known as Maximon. Much like in Santiago Atitlan, this miraculous personage of mixed Spanish and Indian characteristics, is a clear sample of the mixing of Spanish and Mayan blood lines. Here, Maximon has his own cofradía and personal chapel, and is attributed the power to do either ‘good or evil.’ He is offered liquor, cigarettes and cigars, and colorful candles and incense are burnt in his honor. The devout also offer him animals, fruits, money, and jewelry. A true spectacle to be appreciated, and difficult for curious minds to fully comprehend.

People crossing the main door of Chichicastenango

Chichicastenango

Located at 2500 meters above sea level, this town is famous amongst tourists for its market on Thursdays and Sundays, where spats of traditionally dressed villagers in a kaleidoscope of colors, come to sell their very colorful textiles, fruits, vegetables and flowers. Although seemingly very commercial, there is much mysticism in the air. You will be amazed by the religious blend that exists, where colonial Spanish Catholicism, modern evangelism and ancient Mayan tradition, blend in a uniquely harmonious fashion. There is something deeply moving about watching a Mayan Indian or shaman, engulfed by incense and surrounded by flowers, praying to a catholic God and at the same time practicing ancient Mayan rituals, all in an old Spanish colonial Cathedral. It is here, in Chichicastenango, that Father Francisco Ximenez in the 17th century discovered the Popol Vuh, the illustrious Mayan bible.

Guatemala’s Highland Region

Totonicapan

The department of Totonicapan is 207 kilometers distant from Guatemala City. It is one of the highest in the country and, therefore, one of the coolest. On the outskirts of the city is the Tanque de los Dragones, a fountain and laundry washbasin dating from the 19th century and still in use today. In this department there are many villages worth visiting such as:

Mayan Blankets for sale stacked

San Miguel Totonicapán

San Miguel Totonicapán is the regional capital. Among its buildings are the Municipal Theater of San Miguel Totonicapán and the House of Culture, which contains a small museum with samples of pre-Hispanic and Republican-era art, as well as ethnographic materials. The tourism office offers maps to the 53 textile, wooden toy, and ceramic ateliers in the city, which make it one of the most important handicraft centers in the country.

Colour facade of the church in the San Andres Xecul village in Guatemala

San Francisco El Alto

At 15 kilometers from Totonicapán is San Francisco El Alto, which has an imposing temple with a beautiful altarpiece and murals dating from the 16th century. The open-air market is the largest in the highlands and takes place on Fridays. It is a multicolor affair offering consumer products, domestic animals such as cows and horses and other items for sale. At 19 kilometers from Totonicapán is San Andrés Xecul, which boasts a colorful parochial church with a spectacular colonial façade that represents the color and design of the local huipil, or blouse. The population here also venerates Maximón.

Momostenango

Just 13 kilometers from Totonicapán is Momostenango, famous for its woolen textiles, mainly high quality blankets. Here, the 260-day Maya Calendar is still in use. The word Momostenango means ‘City of Altars.’ Nearby are the Riscos de Momostenango, capricious erosions in the hills. Sunday is the main market day.

Quetzaltenango

The department occupies 1951 square kilometers. It is cold in the highlands and hot and humid in the lowlands. Spanish, Quiché, and Mam, are spoken here. It’s capital, Quetzaltenango, or Xela as it is often referred to by the locals, is a beautiful city. It is situated in a large valley surrounded by hills and volcanoes. It still conserves the old traditions of the Maya-Quiché lineage intertwined with the colonial past and a dynamic modern lifestyle. It is the second largest city in the country as regards to its size and its industrial, cultural and commercial activities. In addition to being fun and dynamic, the city offers many interesting attractions such as:

Centroamérica Park

At the city’s heart, it is also the heart of its social activity. Every first Sunday of the month, during the dry season, there is an excellent handicrafts market. The park is surrounded by an impressive complex of monuments from which the baroque façade of the church stands out.

Pasaje Enríquez

Situated in front of the Centroamérica Park, it serves as a passageway between 12th and 13th avenues. The west wall is filled with graffiti and has stained glass windows. Archways at both entrances frame large wrought iron gates.

Espíritu Santo Cathedral

Is located on the west side of the Centroamérica Park. The complex has two main structures: the ruins of the façade of the Holy Spirit parish (1535-1898) and, toward the back, the cathedral of the diocese of Los Altos, a construction that dates from 1899.

Casa de la Cultura

This neoclassical structure houses the House of Culture, or Casa de la Cultura of Quetzaltenango, a library, an archaeological, historical and nature museum, and INGUAT’s offices.

Near Quetzaltenango

Volcanoes

In the department of Quetzaltenango and just a step away from the Regional Capital are six volcanoes that offer multiple climbing adventures: Santa María, Santiaguito, Cerro Quemado, Siete Orejas, Chikabal, and Lancandón. The hike is for all level of climbers, and the view from their summits is impressive. The crater of Volcan Chikabal is a sanctuary for the Maya and a mystical experience. You will see flowers and candle wax burning around the lake used during ceremonies by those who worship there. The winding stairs down into the crater are challenge, the excruciating climb back up is not for the faint hearted.

Volcanic Domes

Not true volcanoes, these elevations near Quetzaltenango offer attractive views: Cerro Zunil, Zunilito, El Galápago, and El Baúl.

Plains

Quetzaltenango is famous for its extensive plains. Filled with history and traversed by rivers, these high elevation plains are cool and have beautiful locations. Among the most popularly known are: the Llanos de Urbina, La Ciénaga, El Chirriés, Chiquilajá and La Floresta; the later surrounds the Minerva Park and the Municipal Zoo.

Huehuetenango

This department is located at 266 kilometers from Guatemala City. The center of activities is the central plaza surrounded by the town hall, the colonial church, and several neoclassical edifices. The central plaza has a relief map measuring almost 30 square meters. A territory of impressive landscapes and high mountains, it has been inhabited since immemorial times by different indigenous groups. Some of the areas main attractions are:

Zaculeu Ruins – Image

This Mam archaeological site is situated at 4 kilometers from the regional capital. As most of the cities dating from the late Post-classical period (1250-1524), it is fortified. The archaeological site is formed by a series of plazas, pyramids with stairways, temples, and ball courts. It maintained close commercial relation with Nebaj and Kaminal Juyú. Its artisans produced jade figurines. The site has a small museum that exhibits some human remains and ceramics.

Chiantla

It is a pilgrimage center whose temple holds the image of the Virgen de la Candelaria, made between 1560 and 1580 and covered in a silver filigree garment. The church was constructed in the early 18th century. Chiantla has several workshops that produce bronze objects.

Todos Santos Cuchumatán

This Maya-Mam community dwells on the summit of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, at 45 kilometers distant from Huehuetenango. Its inhabitants wear richly colored clothing and the village is famous for the traditional activities that take place during the annual November 1 fair in honor of the dead. The fair begins with a ceremony at the cemetery in which the elders and the brotherhood call upon the souls of the deceased. On October 31 they serenade their beloved ancestors and offer them flowers and food. That night, the jockeys prepare for the Skach Koyl (wild horse ride) by dancing and drinking. The competition takes place on November 1 during which some jockeys fall from their rides. The festivities continue with music and the Dance of the Conquest. On November 2, the Day of the Dead, they say farewell to their ancestors.

Los Cuchumatanes Mountains

The summit of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes is one of the most relevant attractions in the region. This mountainous mass is the highest in Central America and its natural environment is typical of high, barren plateaus. Some of its plateaus and associated mountains are over 3600 meters above sea level and offer the opportunity to view spectacular panoramic vistas.

Tropical Discovery tours going to this locations: