Lago de Amatitlan: Lake Atitlan’s Oft-Forgotten Little Sister

Lake Atitlan gets all the attention from foreign visitors, and rightly so. But less than 16 miles south of Guatemala City lies Lago de Amatitlan (Lake Amatitlan), a beautiful lake with a volcano for a backdrop. And also a sad reminder of what happens when industrial pollution and waste are ignored for years.

Lago de Amatitlan is a really popular place for Guatemalans to visit on the weekends. Much smaller than Lake Atitlan, it has a more down-to-earth feel to it.

Food and candy stalls line the street leading to the shore and open-air shacks serve freshly-fried “mojarra” (silver perch) to awaiting patrons. It’s about an hour ride by car from Antigua Guatemala

While half of the people I saw walking on Panajachel’s Santander Street were of the blue eyes, blond hair variety, I was hard-pressed to find a single person that looked like a tourist. Well, other than myself, who stood out because of the fancy camera I was carrying around.

Once we got past the street stalls on the main street, we found a parking spot near the shore’s access path.

To come here by bus is a little difficult. However, all one needs to remember is to ask for the bus to the “teleferico” (funicular), a cable car that takes you to the top of the mountain next to Lago de Amatitlan. The teleferico offers expansive views of the lake.

Unfortunately, the teleferico was shut-down for repairs on that day, so pics from up top will come at a later date.

Radioactive Lake?

Lago de Amatitlan has an odd green color that makes for pretty pictures but is likely very hazardous to one’s health. Industrial buildings located by the lake used it for years to dump their industrial waste. Runoff from rivers feeding Lago de Amatitlan also added to the pollution.

Lago de Amatitlan docks

Piers at Lake Amatitlan

The lake almost died, if not for the efforts of volunteer groups that dedicated themselves to cleaning up the lake. Today, the lake is much cleaner than before, but still not suitable for swimming in.

Lago de Amatitlan (31)

While not completely clean, there were no foul odors and the lake’s shore was a very agreeable place to sit by and enjoy the view.

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Lago de Amatitlan (29)

Today, Lago de Amatitlan’s main attractions are the small boats that are available for rent by the hour. You can also take a 15-minute tour around the lake on a shared boat.

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Lago de Amatitlan (27)

Plenty of stalls selling traditional Guatemalan candy and knick-knacks outside.

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Lunch at El Rocarena

We were starving, but not enough to dare try the local fish at one of the stalls nearby. Much later, I learned that the mojarras sold by the food shacks are farm-raised and not lake-caught. We decided to head to a popular hotel/restaurant/spa named El Rocarena.

Lago de Amatitlan (25)

It’s about a 5-10 minute walk uphill, near the lake. El Rocarena has fresh water pools as well as a restaurant with great views of the lake.

Lunch was nothing to write home about. The main attraction was the view.Lago de Amatitlan (24)

Lago de Amatitlan (23)

Always a great time for an impromptu photo-shoot :)

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Lago de Amatitlan (21)

Below is my favorite house by Lago de Amatitlan. Great garden and awesome views!

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Lago de Amatitlan (19)

Taking a Boat Ride Around Lago de Amatitlan

After taking enough pictures to almost fill the camera’s memory card, it was time to head down and take a little boat ride.

But first, we stopped for some coconut water.

Lago de Amatitlan (18)

People still fish here, though I bet it can’t be all that healthy to eat fish caught there.

Lago de Amatitlan (17)

After going back and forth with the launch owners on pricing (haggling is a sport in Guatemala), we were able to get on the launch for Q10 each, rather than Q30 each.

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Lago de Amatitlan (15)

Lakeshore houses are usually owned by wealthy Guatemalans, who come down here on weekends to relax.

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Lago de Amatitlan (13)

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View of my favorite from lake level.

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It’s not Venice, but it’s a beautiful spot to take a girl out for a nice afternoon.

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The boat returned to shore about 20 minutes later.

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The mojarras looked tasty, but I still wasn’t biting. Probably will go for it next time, when we visit the funicular – if it ever reopens.

Lago de Amatitlan (4)

Lago de Amatitlan (3)

Lago de Amatitlan (2)

Visiting Lago de Amatitlan was much nicer than I had expected. There’s definitely a different vibe there because of the crowds. City folks are the norm here compared to the Mayans that live near Lake Atitlan.

If the teleferico is running, is well worth it to come here on a day trip.



  1. Next time try the thermal baths too! The water is pipping hot because of the volcanic activity. For about Q30 per person, you have a small steam room to relax, with eucalyptus and hot water, very relaxing!

    • Hi Pauline!

      You’re probably referring to Santa Teresita thermal baths. Nice place! Wife certainly enjoyed it, as well as the chocolate body treatment.

      Saving that tale for later, when I can ride the teleferico :)


  2. Santa Teresita is the fanciest one, there are a few others, more popular, don’t remember the names though!
    Teleférico is fun too, they were talking about building on in Santa María de Jesús to the top of the Agua volcano overlooking Antigua!

    • Lake Amatitlan definitely felt more “authentic” than Lake Atitlan. Not to slight Lake Atitlan at all. It’s just that you see so many tourists at Atitlan that it takes away some of the “foreign land” charm. If that makes any sense.

      I’m using a Canon T3 ( Awesome camera for the money. Has improved my pictures 2000%. I’ll try the video function soon, as I want to record some great videos too :)


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