Visit Guatemala City’s Cathedral and Sexta Avenida

Catedral Metropolitana - Metropolitan Cathedral - Guatemala City

For part one of my visit to Guatemala City’s historic downtown, click here. Besides Plaza Mayor’s imposing green building, known as The Big Guacamole, there is another structure that catches everyone’s attention.

Metropolitan Cathedral

The Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), has been a fixture at the plaza for a long time, having been built between 1782 and 1815.  Well, the main building at least, since the towers flanking each side were finished in 1867.

Catedral Metropolitana - Metropolitan Cathedral - Guatemala City

Guatemala City’s Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral)

Here, I’m supposed to tell you that the Cathedral was built in a Neoclassical style.  What that means is that it’s not as fancy and ornate as earlier buildings (Baroque), but a simpler, more classical style.  One of the reasons why this cathedral doesn’t rate as highly in the “looks” department as other ones.

The cathedral was damaged in 1917 when the city was hit by 127 (not a typo) tremors in the span of fewer than 24 hours.  The temple was reconstructed and reinforced in the following years.  Good thing too, as another huge earthquake struck the city in 1976, which damaged it severely.  It would’ve been reduced to rubble if it hadn’t been reinforced.

There are 12 pillars in front of the church (8 visible below), which have inscribed on them the names of hundreds of people that had “disappeared” or had been murdered during Guatemala’s recent and bloody civil war.

Facade of the  Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City

Facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City

Monument to genocide victims in Guatemala's Civil War

Monument to genocide victims in Guatemala’s Civil War

The Pope has visited the cathedral twice.

"Holy Door" - Not the size, I mean what the inscription on the door says.

“Holy Door” – Not the size, I mean what the inscription on the door says.

View of Guatemala's main plaza from the Cathedral

View of Guatemala’s central plaza from the Cathedral

The interior is somewhat elementary, but it goes with the style in which it was built.

Inside the  Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City

Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City

Main altar at the Metropolitan Cathedral

Holy altar at the Metropolitan Cathedral

The picture below almost got me in trouble with one old church lady.  It turns out you can take pictures of anything you want in the church, but not this particular sanctuary.

“Why?”, I asked the lady.

“Because Jesus is there,” she answered.

I looked again but didn’t understand which “Jesus” she was referring to.  If anything, there was a pretty big cross with Jesus’ image, located on the main altar.  Nobody had a problem when I took a picture of that.  Maybe she meant the Archbishop or another religious figure?

“Which Jesus…?”

“God… Jesus.  And He doesn’t like pictures,” she answered back.  I promise you this is what she said.

A five-minute theological “discussion” ensued, in which she pretty condescendingly explained to me that Jesus’ body was there, within the Eucharist trays that were placed in front of the sanctuary.  There was no way I was going to:

a) Argue with an old church lady and b) in her house of worship.

So I politely thanked her, stopped taking pictures, and moved on to the other attraction outside, Sexta Avenida (Sixth Avenue).

Transept at Catedral Metropolitana, Guatemala City

Transept at Catedral Metropolitana, Guatemala City

Sexta Avenida Guatemala

As my family and I made our way to Sexta Avenida, a commercial street closed-off to vehicular traffic, I encountered a game going on, involving rods and who could grab on to them the longest.  No way I’m making jokes about that… you’re on your own there.

These gatherings are opportunities for pickpockets to work their craft, so I quickly moved on.

Street performers at Sexta Avenida in Guatemala City

Street performers at Sexta Avenida in Guatemala City

Sexta Avenida is one of the oldest and arguably the most important street, historically, in Guatemala.  It used to be known by the name of Calle Real (Royal Street).  It was the first street to get candle-lights in its corners, switched later to petroleum, gaslights came later, and finally electric lights.

In 1877, all roads were changed over to numeric designations, which is how SixthAvenue came to be known by its current name.  In fact, the street became such a hub for activity and commerce, which strolling around Sexta became a verb, “sextear” and “sexteando.” Which awkwardly can be translated as “sexting“.

Trees and striking sculptures dot the landscape along the avenue.

Entrance to Sexta Avenida

Entrance to Sexta Avenida

Sculptures in Guatemala City

Sculptures in Guatemala City

More sculptures

More sculptures

Pasaje Rubio, Guatemala City

Pasaje Rubio, Guatemala City

Hotel Pan American, below, was once one of the most famous in Guatemala, back when it was known by the name Hotel Astoria (no relation to the hotel in New York). It is here where visiting dignitaries stayed and where special functions were held.  It had the advantage of being very close to the National Palace and offered a great view of Plaza Mayor. It still operates to this day.  A cafe occupies the first floor.

Hotel Astoria _ Panamerican - Sexta Avenida, Guatemala City

Hotel Panamerican (formerly Hotel Astoria)

Another landmark that stands out is Cine Lux, a movie theater built in the 1930s.  One of the few that survived the 1976 earthquake.

It was remodeled last year and is now a very happening cultural center.

Cine Lux - Sexta Avenida, Guatemala City

Cine Lux – Sexta Avenida, Guatemala City

Restoration is still ongoing, and not all buildings have recaptured their former glory.

Old buildings in Sexta Avenida

Old buildings in Sexta Avenida

Sexta Avenida on a clear day

Sexta Avenida on a bright day

Engel Building, Guatemala City

Engel Building, Guatemala City

You can spot all kinds of performers on Sexta.  Sometimes you might find a ninja (or is it a mummy???)

Mummy, Guatemala City

Mummy, Guatemala City

You might run into Captain Jack Sparrow too.

Jack Sparrow in Guatemala City

Jack Sparrow in Guatemala City

Church of San Francisco is also on Sexta Avenida.  Closed to the public that day, unfortunately.

Church, Guatemala City - Iglesia San Francisco

Church, Guatemala City – Iglesia San Francisco

Right next to the church is the National Police Palace, an attractive building with Moorish touches.  San Francisco Church can be seen in the background.

National Police Palace, Guatemala City

National Police Palace, Guatemala City

And so concludes a VERY brief tour of historical Sexta Avenida.  We barely walked half of it and didn’t even get the chance to visit some interesting museums and other sights around the area.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Have you visited Sexta Avenida?

What did I miss?

 

Guatemala National Palace: Visitors Guide

Goats - Plaza Mayor - Guatemala

Guatemala City is divided into 25 “zones”, with the historic downtown designated as Zone 1, or Zona 1. While an interesting city and the largest in Central America, Guatemala City does not have the best reputation as far as safety is concerned. The good news is that it isn’t the danger zone some make it out to be. I touched on this topic on Wednesday, incidentally.

After deciding I had put off visiting the historic area for far too long, I ventured over to Zona 1 to check it out. It turned out to be quite enjoyable. There was so much to see, that I decided it was best to break it up into parts.

Today I’ll show you the Guatemala National Palace of Culture (Palacio Nacional de la Cultura), one of Guatemala’s most imposing buildings. Built with 100% Guatemalan materials and with an all-Guatemalan design and construction, the Palace is a source of national pride. But first, a word about Zone 1, a dangerous place or upcoming area, depending on who you ask.

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Safety in Zone 1

While this was a big concern for a long time, the government and local businesses have really stepped it up and revitalized a once super-sketchy part of the city. This has done wonders for tourism (watch the short video midway in the post here).

One of the first things I noticed was the heavy police presence. There were a few “shady” characters milling about, but everyone, it seemed, went about their business without a care in the world. Even late in the afternoon, when Police presence dwindled a bit, there were still lots of families walking about. From what I hear, Police presence is plentiful even late at night.

I’d say that as long as you follow basic safety rules (don’t get drunk and walk back to your hotel, don’t flash cash or jewelry, avoid lonely alleys, etc…) you should be OK.

Plaza Mayor

The first place I visited was the main city square, Plaza Mayor de la Constitucion (it has had many names in the last – including Plaza de Los Lamentos (Laments’ Plaza) at one point). Lots of history has happened here and presently it serves as the grounds for a farmer’s market on weekends.

It has served as a political demonstration area, and for military exercises of ceremonial importance. Executions by firing squad have also been carried out here, though not recently, as the death penalty is no longer legal in Guatemala.

Originally, the plaza was designed more like a park, with abundant trees and walking paths. These were torn down in the 1980s to make way for a now-public underground parking lot.

The huge flag you see below was installed in 1996. To the left is Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral – Guatemala’s main Catholic church), and the one-story building immediately behind the trees is Portal del Comercio.

Plaza Mayor - Guatemala

Portal Plaza Mayor - Guatemala

If you’ve ever been to Antigua Guatemala, all this may seem somewhat familiar. It is by design.

Antigua Guatemala was originally Guatemala’s capital, but earthquakes in 1773 (7.5 Richter scale) obliterated the city. Spain’s government, who had been already thinking about moving the capital somewhere else due to space constraints of Antigua, made the decision to rebuild the capital in its present location.

Plaza Mayor is very similar in layout to Antigua’s Parque Central (and to many other Spanish city plazas for that matter). Even Antigua’s Arco Santa Catalina was recreated in the new capital. I’ll take you now through a tour of the Palace.

Guatemala National Palace

National Palace Guatemala City

Construction of the Palace was ordered by President (Dictator, really) Jorge Ubico and started in 1939. It took four years to build and at a relatively low cost, since prisoners were forced to work in the projects for a measly 0.25 cents a day, back when Guatemala’s currency had the same value as the dollar.

Incidentally, in the Palace’s current grounds had been a big Chinese Pagoda, donated by the Chinese community living in Guatemala in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an earthquake, after which Ubico hatched the plan to build the Palace.

Sidenote: For whatever reason, Ubico did not like the prominence of the Chinese community and enacted a law that prohibited admission to the country of “yellow people… and black people.” This law was amended in 1944 to limit the country to a total Chinese population of no more than 657, after which point a Chinese person could only enter when one of the 657 died. This law is still on the books, although it was deemed unconstitutional in the early 1980s. Today, China and Guatemala have good relations.

The building was built out of brick and concrete. It gets its green color (the dictator’s wife favorite color) because of the mix of concrete and oxidized copper used to coat the building. This was to avoid having to constantly repaint the building.

Not surprisingly, the building’s affectionate nickname is “El Guacamolon”, or “The Big Guacamole.”

Guatemala National Palace

Many artists in Guatemala worked during the construction of the building, and most were forced to do it for free. The craftsmanship is excellent.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Tour Hours & Cost

Tours are scheduled every working hour and are free to Guatemalan citizens. English-language tours are conducted at 11 am and 3 pm and foreigners must pay a Q40 ($5) fee upon entering. The guides are knowledgeable and the tour lasts about 45 minutes.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Entrance to Guatemala National Palace

Right at the entrance to the Palace, there’s a marker indicating “Kilometer 0”, from which all roads into Guatemala lead out of. Of note is that while this is the true “zero point”, another symbolic marker exists in the building. We’ll cover that later.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The interior of the building is elegant and nicely designed.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The tour led us right into the courtyard, where it the tour’s narration part was to begin. The groups ahead of us were already moving on.

Palace’s Courtyard

Dictators can be kind of fickle and superstitious. Dictator Ubico liked the number “5” so much, he sought to incorporate it everywhere he could. That’s why there are five “main” arches on every side of every courtyard, and five stories to the building, among other details.

Courtyard - Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

What used to be an open-air courtyard, is no longer so. This is to protect the building from further damage.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Monument to Peace

Guatemala endured a long and violent civil war not that long ago. Finally, in 1996, both sides made peace and it was here at the Palace that peace accords were signed. To commemorate the occasion, a bronze statue, the “Monument to Peace” (below) was installed.

Notice there are two left hands reaching up, representing each side of the conflict. This was to signify this was a sincere truce since the left hand is the one closest to the heart.

The 16 interlocking arms signify the Guatemalan people, locked in arms, determined to sustain peace and liberty, the big rock which the arms lift up.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The Changing of the Rose

Of note is that the original design called for a dove to be represented above the hands, signifying the release of peace. Somehow that plan was scrapped and a white rose was selected as the symbol of peace.

When the monument was created, the rose was replaced every day, at 11 am, in a formal ceremony. This was to signify that peace was a process that required a renewed commitment every day. A pretty nifty idea, or so I thought.

Noticed I said “was“, which I didn’t learn until I had made the effort to be there in time to see the ceremony.

Turns out someone figured that this was too special a ceremony to be carried out every day, so instead, a “peace committee” decided that the rose would be changed every 29th day of every month, to honor the date of the accord. People that shed blood and tears trying to bring peace to Guatemala were naturally chosen to carry out that honor.

That went on for a while until the peace committee again decided this was too special of an honor to let “normal” people place the “rose of peace.” Instead, they would choose a special “Ambassador of Peace” to do it.

So today, only people of importance, as designated by the committee, are honored, such as the Dalai Lama. Or UN Secretary Ba-Kin Moon. Or the President of the International Football Federation. Or very successful and influential businessmen. Or political appointees.

In short, people that had little to nothing to do with bringing peace to Guatemala. Oh well… at least the initial sentiment that started it was right. And at least the flower is real, not a plastic version (I checked).

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Just behind the peace monument is another monument, to the “anonymous heroes of peace.” This one has an ever-burning flame kept on to honor those who died to bring peace during the conflict.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Touring the Rest of the Palace

After we were done with the courtyard, we swung by a relic: Guatemala’s first switchboard console. Below is the original equipment.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The building has various styles mixed throughout. Ubico liked Spanish-style buildings as well as Arabic accents, such as the fountains below.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Historic Murals

Scattered throughout the building are huge murals depicting Guatemala’s history. From Mayan ancestors, through Spanish rule, all the way to Guatemala’s independence.

Below is a depiction of a bird being sacrificed. No human sacrifices needed that time, apparently.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The Spanish came and fought the Mayans…

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

… and the Mayans lost.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The rails on the stairs are made of brass, recovered from spent bullet casings. There were a lot of shots fired apparently. Par for the course during a dictator’s run.

Also, rails have a copper bar running through them, installed so that they could be heated or frozen, depending on the weather, to prevent people from leaning into them.

Sheesh… jerk move, Ubico…

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The Finest Salon in Guatemala

Below is the reception room, one of the finest in the country and reserved for special ceremonies, such as the appointment of new ambassadors. The floor has a symbolic star signifying “Kilometer 0”, although the true location is right at the entrance.

The chandelier is huge and weighs 2 tons. In the back, lower center in the picture is a “3D” representation of the Guatemalan flag, which contains a stuffed quetzal, the super-rare national bird of Guatemala.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

The finest talent available in Guatemala was on hand to create everything, from design to execution. Below are the stained-glass doors that lead to the presidential balcony overlooking Plaza Mayor.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Traffic Lights… Inside a Building?

A curious design feature was the installation of “traffic lights.” Ubico did not like people milling about when he was walking the hallways, so he installed a light system to warn everyone about who could be outside.

Different lights indicated who was allowed about, so it was best any worker be on their best behavior if they ran into any of them. Lights were also inside the rooms, so it wasn’t necessary to poke one’s head out to see what the state of the hallways was at any time.

Red Light? Ubico was out and about, so nobody better be caught unless they ran the risk of incurring his wrath.

Yellow Light? Only government functionaries were to be walking the halls.

Green Light? Anyone, including janitors, could move freely around the building.

Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Another interesting fact is that every single door handle at the Palace (over 500!) bears Ubico’s thumbprint.

Doorknobs - Palacio Nacional de la Cultura - Guatemala

Even though Ubico was in power over 15 years, he was removed only 8 months after having moved into the Palace. And so ended the tour. Pretty interesting and made me learn more about the history of Guatemala. If you’re ever near Zone 1 in Guatemala, I would highly recommend it. At the right time, you might even catch some goats feeding at the Plaza.

Goats - Plaza Mayor - Guatemala

*****

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How To Stay Safe Overseas And In Guatemala

Clowning in Antigua Guatemala

Friends and family were dumbfounded when I told them of my plans to move to Guatemala. They reasoned Guatemala was dangerous and not a good place to live at all. Of course, none had ever set foot here before.

This is fairly excusable if you are to believe the information put out there by other governments that Guatemala is a dangerous place where caution must be exercised at every turn. And they have stats to back it up, as Guatemala is one of the top 10 countries in the world when it comes to homicide.

But not all is as black and white as the numbers would lead you to believe. While the murder rate is high, it’s almost half that of El Salvador and Honduras (currently most dangerous country in the world), it’s two neighboring countries.

Mexico has seen a huge rise in crime in the last two years, and now has 5 of the top 10 most violent cities in the world, with Honduras (2), Brazil (2), and Venezuela round out the top 10. Still, many Americans choose to make Mexico their home and find it safer than the US city where they came from.

How could this be?

Not All Cities Are Created Equal

It all depends on whether you have done your homework before making the transition. Just like many people have no problems living in beautiful Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I did my homework and found my ideal city to live in Guatemala.

Turns out, when you use crime statistics to gauge the safety of an entire country, not only are you doing a disservice to its people but missing out on great places to visit. It would be like saying you don’t want to visit Disney World because crime is high in Detroit.

In Guatemala, crime stats are heavily skewed by what happens in Guatemala City, the capital. And not the entire city at that, but zones (the city is split into sections known as “zones”) where gang violence and crime are much higher than everywhere else.

Watch the video below about urban renewal in the capital’s historic downtown, known as Zona 1, which I’ll cover more in-depth Friday:

[youtube]vkgnlrURkzA[/youtube]

The city I live in, Antigua Guatemala, is an example of an easy “transition city,” which are cities that are less likely to throw your world upside-down upon first arriving. They also have the advantage of being reasonably safe for foreigners.

What Makes a Good Transition City?

Everything is exciting and new when you first arrive at any country. You might recognize a few global chains dotting the landscape, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks. But aside from those, things will likely be very different from those back home.

In addition to looking for a safe place to live, a few other factors will help your move be a successful one. What are those factors?

Make sure you consider these factors as they relate to your transition destination:

Built-In Expat Community

A transition city, assuming you have moved into a non-English-speaking country, will have a moderate to a high population of expats from your home country. Having an established community makes adjusting to the new surroundings much easier. Plus they can point what are the best places to live.

In Antigua, the best way to find out about local happenings is Que Pasa and Revue.

You can meet with like-minded people for all sorts of things, whether it’s over your shared love of curry and Indian food, or to get involved with local volunteer groups.

Language

This is another stumbling block for brand-new expats and world travelers, especially if the expat community is small. And doubly hard when the language is hard to learn.

Antigua Guatemala is well-known for its many quality Spanish schools. Spanish is relatively straightforward and easy to pick up for most westerners. The same can’t be said for other languages in popular expat destinations, such as Thai and Japanese.

Something to keep in mind if planning to live overseas for the first time. You’ll feel less anxious and less awkward around the locals when you can understand the language and assess any situation quickly.

Availability of Comfort Food

If you’re kind of adventurous with your food, this shouldn’t be a problem. Not everybody is so quick to adjust to new flavors and spices, which is why having the availability of at least ingredients to prepare your favorite meals is a big plus.

Antigua has no shortage of restaurants catering to all tastes, including a very nicely appointed McDonald’s. Occasionally you’ll crave a few things that are hard to find, if not impossible (haven’t found Nathans hot dogs, yet), but you learn to adapt to what’s available.

McDonald's Courtyard - Antigua Guatemala
Ronald McDonald Never Had it So Good as He Has it in Antigua

Best to keep yourself looking at the positives and learn to find new favorites. Plus it’s nice to save some cash by eating as the locals do.

Stay Safe Overseas

Finding a great place to live overseas is not a perfect science. Do your due diligence and learns the ins and outs of your new location before you make a move. It helps to connect with fellow expats online, or even better, make an exploratory trip before you commit to a city and ask the local what they think.

Safety should not be your primary concern when in the country if you chose your neighborhood wisely before settling in. Knowing what to expect realistically will make the transition that much smoother.

Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!

stay safe overseas

Clowning around in Antigua Guatemala

*****

What’s most important to you

when moving to a new city?

 

Lake Atitlan: Heartbreak at The Most Beautiful Lake in The World

San Pedro Dock Underwater

Check out the Part I of my visit to Lake Atitlan here.

To recap, we stayed at Hotel Casa del Mundo the night before and by next morning were ready to do some exploring around Lake Atitlan. Lake Atitlan has many villages, some big, some small, but each has its own vibe and character.

We had decided to travel to Santiago Atitlan, home of Maximon, a strange Mayan/Catholic effigy that is the object of worship. Not to visit Maximon, but to walk around town and take in the sights.

As we were looking for a launch to ride, one of the attendants mentioned that the “patronales“, or patron saint festivities, were underway at San Juan La Laguna. Not wanting to miss a chance to take some great pictures, we headed towards San Juan La Laguna, so named after Saint John the Baptist, not the apostle, as it turned out.

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San Marcos La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

The launch’s first stop was at San Marcos La Laguna, the mecca for all things hippie and New Agey. It is reputed to be the prettiest village on the lake. We’ll make it a point to visit it in-depth at a later date.

San Marcos La Laguna - Lake Atitlan

San Marcos claims to have the cleanest shore, suitable for swimming. It’s a haven of massage and holistic therapies, yoga, meditation, and other interesting activities for spiritual seekers, who claim this site has a special energy of its own.

Whether this is true or not, I cannot attest, since we didn’t disembark at the village.

The place certainly seemed peaceful.

Fisherman - Lake Atitlan

As we motored past San Marcos, we saw an imposing structure located lakeside. Whether a private or commercial residence, I’ve yet to figure it out. If anybody has any info on this interesting building, I’d be glad to hear about it in the comments.

Lake Atitlan Hills

 

Strange Building - Lake Atitlan

Tropical Storm Agatha Wreaks Havoc

As we arrived at the dock of San Juan La Laguna, the damage caused by 2010’s Tropical Storm Agatha was evident. The storm brought so much rain that the water level at the lake rose 7 feet in a month. This was aggravated because the storm occurred during summer, smack dab in the middle of the rainy season.

The storm hit the lake area pretty hard, causing mudslides and with them, death and the destruction of many homes.

The level of the lake has reportedly risen 18 feet total since the storm, leaving many structures near the shore underwater, such as the one below.

San Juan La Laguna - Submerged Dock

It is uncertain how much time the long, makeshift boardwalk will remain in place.

San Juan La Laguna - Submerged Dock 2

San Juan La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

The town of San Juan is pretty pleasant to walk around in. More so than other bigger towns, which can be somewhat crowded and a little chaotic at times.

I’ve heard that if you’re at Lake Atitlan to learn Spanish, you go to San Juan. If you’re there to party, you go to San Pedro, the village next door.

San Juan is known for weaving and painting and that was obvious as soon as one stepped off the launch. Weaving going on to the right, art galleries dotted the entire street leading into town.

Textile Making - San Juan La Laguna

Below, a tuk-tuk awaits for passengers looking to catch a fare. Tuk-tuks are a fairly fuel-efficient mode of transportation. At the core, they’re just low-powered motorcycles with a small carriage attached to the backseat.

Many a time I’ve been just about ready to bet that the little engine was about to blow up, exhausted from the weight in the backseat. But somehow those little-engines-that-could pull the load up the hill against all odds.

I was wondering why anybody would need one, given San Juan’s size. My answers would lay just around the corner.

Waiting Tuk Tuk - San Juan La Laguna

Rising Waters

As I made my way from the docks, up the very steep hill, I couldn’t help overhearing a tour guide talking to his group about Lake Atitlan’s former water levels.

According to his account, water levels at the lake have risen and gone down wildly throughout its history. Old time villagers, the guide continued, claimed that water levels had at one time been as high as the point where I stood to take the picture you see below.

Old Water Level - Lake Atitlan

At first, I thought this might have been a tall tale to impress tourists. Or maybe the guide was honest and the old timers had amused themselves playing a mean joke on the guide, as one would do when telling a child ghost stories.

However, there seems to be some truth to the cycle of rising/decreasing water levels, just like what the Elder Mayans around the lake talk about.

In 1996, divers discovered an ancient Mayan site, dating back 2,000 years. At the site, there were five stone docks, submerged 115 feet!

While it certainly would’ve seemed impossible to those ancient people to expect levels to one day rise to what they are today… how do we know the current water level couldn’t rise much higher, as the Mayan elders have claimed it has in the past?

For more insight into how the rising water levels have affected expats and locals living around the lake, read this heartbreaking piece by local expat and homeowner Joyce Maynard in the New York Times. Eye opening.

After we got to the top, I stopped for a breather and some pics.

Down the Road Toward Docks - San Juan La Laguna

Holy Wars Heat Up

The festivities for the patron saint would officially be held Sunday, but the party was well underway. Music could be heard almost all the way to the dock. There was a reason for this, as you’ll see later.

The population around the lake is split between Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. Lately, the Evangelicals have been winning and have the big churches in town to prove it.

Not to be outdone, Catholics in San Juan are rallying and making their presence known by doubling the size of their church.

Below, you can see the outline of the old church to the left, and the much bigger addition being erected to the right, which effectively doubles the church in size.

Church - San Juan La Laguna

Below is the Evangelical church, currently the tallest building in town.

Evangelical Church - San Juan La Laguna

Childhood Memories

Carnival rides on this side of town were not yet set-up. Even though it would’ve been tempting to see the lake from atop the Ferris wheel, there was no way I’d be getting up on one of those.

Let’s just say upon close inspection, they weren’t in the best mechanical shape.

Old Carnival Rides - San Juan La Laguna

The ride below caught my attention, as it displayed the characters of El Chavo, a beloved Mexican TV series that generations of Latin American children grew up with. All the show’s running gags are well known and catchphrases can be readily identified by nearly anyone that grew up in Latin America during the last 30 years.

A curious note is that the show has been transmitted in all Spanish-speaking countries, except Cuba.

It is easily the most-translated Spanish show in history. It’s still being shown here in Guatemala and I can tune in to get my fix three times a day: at midday, at 1 pm, and at 6 pm.

From right to left on the merry-go-round, the characters are El Chapulin Colorado (superhero parody character – missing its antennas, Chapulin is the basis for Bumblebee Man in The Simpsons), El Chavo, La Chilindrina, and Quico.

El Chavo Carnival Ride - San Juan La Laguna

The World’s Largest Bazooka Speaker

After some more walking around, we finally found the source of the loud music.

Empty Party - San Juan La Laguna

A lonely band, playing what sounded like Tex-Mex music, was on stage performing for virtually no one. And no surprise, since there were at least 25 SPEAKERS BLASTING MUSIC AT EAR-SPLITTING LEVELS. Speakers that were conveniently turned away from the band, who seemed oblivious to the loudness.

How those poor souls inside managed to sit through it for more than 10 seconds, I’ll never know. I guarantee you someone came out of there with a permanent hearing loss.

Music Band - San Juan La Laguna

After being unable to take in more than the 15 seconds necessary to snap a couple of pics, we moved on to walk the streets and see what else was going on.

Che Needs a Haircut - San Juan La Laguna
When I think of a haircut, I don’t think scraggly-haired revolutionaries. But that’s just me.

Something I’ve had trouble with here in Guatemala is finding shoes, of any type, in my size (12.5US). Manufacturers here don’t have a need to produce them since it’s a rare size.

So imagine my excitement when I came across a store advertising American shoes.

The joy quickly disappeared, as I noticed that the merchandise was just haphazardly spread around the floor in a big pile. I did not feel like digging through a pile of used shoes to see if I got lucky finding a pair, so I moved on, disappointed. Didn’t even set foot in the store.American Shoes - San Juan La Laguna

San Juan’s central plaza is not laid out in the typical fashion of Spanish towns. This is after all a semi-remote Mayan village. While the plaza was small and not in an apparently central location, the walls were at least freshly painted and the grounds very clean.

Located between the huge auditorium and facing away from the direction of the speakers, the plaza was as good as any place to enjoy the music.Saint John the Baptist - San Juan La Laguna's Patron Saint

 

Streets of San Juan La Laguna
The streets are in better shape than Antigua’s. It helps that vehicular transit is almost exclusively limited to tuk-tuks.

San Juan and San Pedro have the advantage of being connected to the Panamerican Highway (CA-1). Unfortunately, the shuttles that travel that road are few and far between, since safety seems to be mixed heading out to CA-1 from here.

The recommended option is to arrive at the lake via the well-traveled road to Panajachel and take a public launch to any of the villages around the lake.

View from the Top - San Juan La Laguna

A Brush With Danger?

Once we had our fill of San Juan, it was time to visit San Pedro La Laguna, the much more lively neighboring village.

There are two ways to travel between the two villages: by launch or by tuk-tuk.

Since we had already done the launch, we decided to go via tuk-tuk this time. We hired a nice, young man, who for 15Q drove us to San Pedro and pointed sights along the way.

One such place was Indian Head mountain, below. Popular with locals, they offer guided hikes for tourists as well.

Indian Head Mountain - 1
Indian Head mountain is named so for its shape, though the politically correct name is “Mayan Face” – “Indian” is a slur, as the locals preferred to be referred to as “indigenous”.  If you need a hint, the highest peak is the nose, eyes are to the left, mouth to the right.  San Juan’s docks are at the left-center of the photo.

We caught a glimpse of San Pedro, which definitely seemed much bigger than San Juan. The big building towering above all? San Pedro’s Evangelical church.

Heading to San Pedro La Laguna

The driver mentioned a lookout point, just past the entrance to San Pedro, on the road to Santiago Atitlan. This road is well known as holdup central, and it’s been said that anyone who travels it runs a 99% chance of being robbed.

If you look at it on Google Maps, it is a lonely, long stretch of road, meandering behind San Pedro Volcano. Which is why it’s recommended that anyone wishing to go to Santiago Atitlan from San Pedro, do so via launch.

The driver assured us the lookout point wasn’t very far in, and that we’d be ok to visit, take a few pictures, and return to San Pedro.

As we went past the entrance to San Pedro, towards the lookout point, I began to feel uneasy, since the road quickly became very desolate. It didn’t help matters when halfway up, we encountered a Police checkpoint.

The Police officer questioned the young man about where he was taking us. The young man stammered a bit and seemed at a loss for words. I had to step in and tell the Officer where we were going. Since the lookout point was supposedly only half a mile up the road, the officer reluctantly allowed us to continue.

At this point, the driver got eerily quiet. I was close to asking him to turn around when we reached the lookout point.

Just as the driver had said, the views above San Pedro were stunning.

View from El Mirador - San Pedro La Laguna

 

Cool Soccer Field - San Pedro La Laguna
Best location I’ve ever seen for a soccer field.

By now I was on edge. I took a few pics while keeping one eye on the view, another on the tuk-tuk. I was there for less than a minute when we hurriedly came back down to San Pedro.

I didn’t relax until we hit town a few minutes later. Not totally sure how close, if ever, I was being the victim of a planned hold-up. The young man seemed nice, so I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

San Pedro La Laguna, Lake Atitlan

The driver dropped us off in front of San Pedro’s main plaza.

The town was in full-swing, preparing for their own Patron Saint celebrations (Saint Peter), which were to occur right after San Juan’s celebrations ended.

San Pedro - San Pedro La Laguna's Patron Saint

The main plaza and church were definitely more picturesque than San Juan’s as well as more crowded.

The huge Evangelical church also towered over everything else in town. Even over Saint Peter’s giant, colorful statue.

Evangelical Church - San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro has a deserved reputation as a backpacker’s paradise due to its abundance of cheap lodging, flowing alcohol, and easy-to-acquire drugs. It seems the party never stops here.

Although to be fair, most of the action is concentrated at the establishments near the docks (San Pedro has two of them). The upper part of town is more family-oriented and quieter. It is also home to a large influx of expats and long-term vacationers.

San Pedro La Laguna Docks
The road to the launch dock.

 

Handcrafts for Sale - San Pedro La Laguna
Handcrafts for Sale – San Pedro La Laguna

Since we didn’t want to get caught by evil winds on the wrong side of the lake in the afternoon (read the first part to know what I’m referring to), we headed out to Panajachel in order to make it back to Antigua before nightfall.

San Pedro’s dock, below, showed signs of rising water levels. A platform had to be constructed to allow the public to pass on through to the shore.

San Pedro Dock Underwater

 

San Pedro La Laguna Public Dock
Definitely one of the more crowded docks.

As we were waiting for the launch to depart, a roving “band” of street musicians played rollicking Spanish-rock songs for the crew and passengers. Great entertainment.

Entertainment by the Lake - San Pedro La Laguna Public Dock

On the return trip, we saw more signs of rising water levels.

Submerged Dock - Lake Atitlan

 

Fisherman - Lake Atitlan

While I initially lusted after the lake’s houses, with their own docks near the lake, I gained a new appreciation for the houses higher up on the hills.

Lake Atitlan - Afternoon Launch Ride

 

Tzununa Dock - Lake Atitlan
Docks for Tzununa. Too small to be a village, it’s more considered a hamlet.

A hotel that rivals Casa del Mundo in the views department is Lomas de Tzununa. While lacking in the charm department compared to Casa del Mundo, Lomas de Tzununa more than makes up for it in expansive lake views.

Lomas de Tzuzuna Hotel - Lake Atitlan

More beautiful houses… oh so close to the lake’s shore…Houses - Lake Atitlan

 

Houses - Lake Atitlan

A hotel/restaurant well-worth checking out is Club Ven Aca, an oasis inside an oasis if you can imagine such a thing.

Club Ven Aca is right next to Casa del Mundo and it’s an excellent option for lunch or dinner (call ahead for the latter) no matter where you’re staying at on the lake.

Excellent food, reasonably-priced cocktails, and an infinity pool overlooking the lake, I’d be willing to drive from Antigua just to spend the day there.

Club Ven Aca - Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan

And so ends a virtual tour of the lake and a small sample of what it has to offer.

Knowing what I know now about the water-level situation around the lake, it really makes me appreciate more the beauty of the surrounding areas. I can only hope that the situation is resolved without further loss of life or property.

It would really be a shame to lose such a pretty place, but as it’s been said, nature always goes to bat last.

 ♦♦♦♦♦

Have you been to Lake Atitlan?

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You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Stay at The Most Beautiful Lake in The World

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Balcony - Jaibalito, Guatemala

I had already visited Antigua on my first trip to Guatemala, back in 2009, and fallen in love with it. I vowed to one day live there.

 

Mission accomplished.

 

On that first trip, I also visited one of the crown jewels in Guatemala, Lake Atitlan. It’s been described as the most beautiful lake in the world, and it doesn’t disappoint.

 

Driving Directions to Lake Atitlan

 

There are a few main roads that lead in/out of Antigua. The one most tourists are familiar with is the winding road coming down from San Lucas (RN-10), as you make your way from Guatemala City. This roads connects with CA-1, which goes East/West, from Mexico to El Salvador.

 

Another popular road is RN-14, which goes past the eastern side of Antigua in a North/South direction. Head South via RN-14, towards Ciudad Vieja, and you’ll reach Escuintla and the roads that lead to the Pacific Coast beaches. Head North, towards Jocotenango, and you’ll eventually reach CA-1, close to Chimaltenango.

 

Take this route and you’ll save a significant amount of time, if heading to Panajachel, Quetzaltenango (Xela), and the Eastern side of Guatemala by not having to go all the way to San Lucas to catch CA-1.

 

I love this stretch of road as it’s nicely paved, free of chicken buses, and not nearly the brake-buster that the much higher-grade road to San Lucas. And the scenery is hard to beat.

 

RN-14 Antigua Guatemala

 

My Sworn Enemies: Chicken Buses

 

Driving bliss ended once I hit CA-1, a highly congested two-lane highway, replete with trucks and chicken buses from hell.

 

Let me tell you a bit about chicken buses. Most of the population uses these colorful, cheap, formerly-a-school-bus cast-offs from the US as the main mode of transportation. They get the name “chicken bus” due to the fact that you’ll find all kinds of cargo being bandied about them by passengers. Including… ** drum-roll please**…. chickens.

 

If you’re a backpacker, they are a Godsend. For a fare of anywhere between 1Q [worldcurrency curr=”GTQ” value=”1″] to 10Q [worldcurrency curr=”GTQ” value=”10″] (usually), you can get around almost anywhere in Guatemala. Chicken bus trips to Lake Atitlan are lengthy because of all the stops in between destinations.

 

Unfortunately, bus drivers are often shot at by extortionist demanding their “protection fee” from bus’ owners.  Or a pack of robbers will board the bus and demand everyone give up their valuables.  Rare, but it happens.

 

For the most part, they’re safe, though cramped and crowded.

 

But woe if you have your own vehicle. Chicken bus drivers are on par with the most reckless drivers you’ll find anywhere.

 

They will pass other vehicles around blind corners, compete and race each other on narrow streets to catch the next fare first, go through residential streets if detours are too long to their liking, ignore stop signs and traffic lights as well. They are a menace to other drivers.

 

It’s a wonder they’re not involved in more accidents. That is, if the driver doesn’t commit a hit-and-run and gets away as fast as possible from the scene.

 

While they make for pretty pictures, I’ve lost all romantic notions about them.

 

Chicken Buses - CA-1

 

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s move on.

 

At the Chimaltenango overpass, stay left and follow directions to Quetzaltenango (Xela), which is on CA-1 and past the entrance to Lake Atitlan. If in doubt, always follow signs for Quetzaltenango.

Road Signs for Quetzaltenango (Xela)

 

Last time I was in Guatemala, CA-1 highway was undergoing a huge rebuilding effort. I’m glad that it seems like it’s all finished now and only a couple of sections of the road are being worked on.

 

Cement-Paved CA-1, Guatemala

 

Another problem with roads here are mudslides, which happen often, and sometimes block roads for hours. The government is building retaining walls along many sections of the road, but it’s still an ongoing project.

 

Mudslide-prone Areas, CA-1

 

Caught a lovely glimpse of Volcan Agua, Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Fuego (the smoking one on the right). Volcan Fuego is prone to small eruptions from time to time. In fact, it’s smoking all the time it seems. Amazing to watch lava flowing when it happens at night.

 

View of 3 Volcanoes, Guatemala

Roadside stands are common along the highway.

 

Roadside Stands - CA-1

 

After about 2 hours, around Kilometer 130, you’ll see signs for Los Encuentros, a popular bus stop. Drive a few kilometers (less than 10) past Los Encuentros and you’ll come across the turnoff point for Solola, Panajachel and Lake Atitlan (RN-1).

 

Los Encuentros - CA-1

Passing Through Solola

 

As you make your way down RN-1 towards Panajachel, you’ll encounter the town of Solola at about the halfway point.  The town’s main attraction is its food & handicrafts’ market, which many people prefer to the famous Chichicastenango market.

 

Solola’s market is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, though Friday is the day with the most vendors, followed by Sunday.

 

Solola, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

It is not necessary to go through Solola to get to Panajachel. You can follow the signs and make a left right before you enter the main strip that leads to Solola and bypass it all together.

 

Attractions To See Before Arriving to Panajachel

 

As you continue making your way down, you’ll see a couple of road attractions.

 

Welcome to Lake Atitlan

Welcome to Panajachel

 

On the way down, to your left, you’ll see San Jorge Waterfalls. People routinely stop to take a closer look, but beware that there isn’t much extra room for vehicles to park.

 

Also, be mindful of speeding buses. The strong smell of brake dust should serve as warning to stay out of their way.

 

Catarata de San Jorge, Panajachel

 

The showstopper, however, is the lookout point as you drive past the falls.

 

El Mirador is situated on another dodgy bend on the road, but unlike the falls, there is a little more room to park and maneuver and even a couple gazebos to sit and contemplate the view.

 

When we pulled over, enterprising kids swarmed the vehicle and placed rocks underneath the tires to prevent the car from accidentally rolling and falling into the lake. My parking brake was more than enough, thank you, but I appreciated the gesture, for which I would no doubt thank them later with a few quetzales, before I left.

 

They also sold the ever-popular hand-made bracelets, which a bought a few of to help them out, if anything.

 

The view of the lake and Panajachel was spectacular from here.

 

Panajachel, Guatemala - Vista de El Mirador

 

It is worth noting here that Lake Atitlan is a caldera that was created when a super-volcano exploded thousands of years ago. So huge was this explosion, that volcanic ashes were found from Florida to Ecuador.

 

And that’s as close as I felt comfortable parking the car for the famed “road-trip” shot.  Besides, I had “protective rocks” under my vehicle’s tires as insurance anyway.

 

El Mirador - Panajachel, Guatemala

Arriving in Panajachel

 

Since we arrived kind of late in the afternoon, we immediately looked for a place to park the car and find a place to eat. Parking near the docks is inexpensive, at 35Q [worldcurrency curr=”GTQ” value=”35″] for 24 hours.

 

We found a great place to eat at Calle Santander, Panajachel’s main business road, where most restaurants, hotels, and shops are located.

 

Since I’m getting tired of writing out Panajachel’s full name, I’ll tell you here that everyone else here and in Guatemala calls it “Pana“.  Which is how I’ll refer to it from this point forward.

 

Once we finished eating in Pana, it was time to head to the hotel we were staying the night at.

 

Which meant getting on a launch or “lancha“.

 

As a side-note, one of the most striking, and out-of-place structures, you’ll see when you reach the lake at ground level are the three, huge, garish-green towers rising from the shores. Those building are what is known as hotel La Riviera de Atitlan, by most accounts a nice resort.

 

I believe their green color was an attempt to blend the buildings with the surrounding environment. I’ll let you decide how that worked out.

 

La Riviera de Atitlan, Panajachel

Lake Atitlan Lanchas

 

Villages of different sizes surround Lake Atitlan, each with distinct attractions and activities.  Some are only reachable by launch.

 

Since Pana is the easiest town to reach by vehicle, most people use it as a jumping-off point to sleep and stay and go on day-trips to villages around the lake.

 

The fares for lanchas are posted at Pana’s two docks and depend on what village you’ll be heading to.

 

As soon as you near the dock, runners for lancha owners will come up to you trying to sell you on the idea of hiring them for a private trip, for about $30 [worldcurrency curr=”USD” value=”30″]. Completely and wholly unnecessary, as the public lancha will make stops along all possible destinations around the lake.

 

Do pay attention to posted prices, as they’re prone to overcharging tourists. Look for the posted prices and negotiate if you don’t see them.

 

For our trip to Jaibalito, the fare was 15Q [worldcurrency curr=”GTQ” value=”20″] per person. The most expensive fare is 25Q [worldcurrency curr=”GTQ” value=”25″], to Santiago Atitlan, the town furthest from Pana. When returning to Pana, or if traveling to any other towns, make sure you negotiate, before getting on the boat, what the per-person fare will be.

 

The lancha ride is usually enjoyable if it occurs in the early morning hours.

 

It is a tooth-feeling, jarring, kidney-crushing ride in the afternoon, when the wind, which has its own name (Xocomil), picks up and the waters get mighty choppy.

 

The lake itself is fairly clean, for the most part, but currents tend to carry debris to the middle of the lake. Lancha operators usually have to slow down through the debris field to avoid clogging up their motors with junk.

 

Other than an outbreak of foul-smelling bacteria in 2009, the water was tested and found not to pose a health risk.

 

 

If you’re going counter-clockwise around the lake, your first stop will be Santa Cruz La Laguna, a sleepy village compared to the other ones around the lake.

 

Santa Cruz La Laguna Docks, Lake Atitlan

 

The main attractions here are a couple of interesting hotels (Isla Verde Atitlan and Arca de Noe) and Hotel & Restaurant La Iguana Perdida, which hosts a well-known, buffet-style barbecue dinner on Saturdays.

 

Santa Cruz La Laguna Docks

 

La Iguana Perdida is also home to ATI Divers, who offer PADI open-water diving certification courses.

 

Boats - Santa Cruz La Laguna

 

The Most Charming Hotel in Guatemala

 

While I’d like to visit Santa Cruz one day, this trip was all about revisiting the most impressive hotel (in terms of setting and vistas) I’ve ever been to in Guatemala: Hotel Casa del Mundo.

 

High on a cliff, it offers great views of the lake.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo, Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

The hotel has its own dock, next door to Jaibalito village, which can be accessed by climbing paths that lead to a hill above the hotel.

 

I visited Casa del Mundo a couple of years ago and I liked it so much I came back for one more night.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Sign - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

While there are other hotels with great vistas of the lake, it is worth it to visit Casa del Mundo at least for a couple of nights.

 

The hotel has a number of terraces, balconies, and secluded garden spots, which give you all the privacy you could ever want , even when it is fully booked.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Lower Balcony - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

The main dining room and reception are mid-climb to the hotels’ highest point. Most rooms are higher up, affording better views still.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Steps - Jaibalito, Guatemala

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Steps 2 - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

The dining room area offers great views of the lake, specially those next to windows. Menu is a-la-carte, except for dinner, which is served to all guest at the same time. You can ask for vegetarian options if you’d like, and they will accommodate you.

 

I’m not a fan of communal-style dinners, though I may need to readjust my opinion since both times I was here, I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with other travelers seated next to me.

 

These type dinners may be a solution to the curse of hotel Wi-Fi.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Dining Room - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

There are plenty of great spots for picture-taking. The balcony of our room was such one place.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo View - Jaibalito, Guatemala

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Vista - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

A million-dollar view, for less than $80 [worldcurrency curr=”USD” value=”80″] a night.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Dining Room Below - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

This balcony is my favorite of all.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Balcony - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

The rooms are clean and decorated with locally handcrafted items.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Bedroom #11 - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

Last time I was here, I stayed in room #13 (the best room in the hotel, in my opinion). This time I chose a cheaper room because it had two beds.
Meh, who am I kidding? The hammock in the balcony is what sold me.

 

Room #11 Balcony, Hotel Casa Del Mundo - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

After a nice dinner, we settled in and drank hot tea on the balcony, watching glimmering lights of villages across the lake.

 

Occasionally, we’d see the faint light of a lancha skipping across the lake. Probably a privately owned one at that, since public lanchas stop making trips roughly after 7 pm.

 

Back to Pana

 

We woke up after a good night’s sleep and headed to Pana for breakfast. The plan was to check out the main strip before heading off to Santiago Atitlan to explore and take pictures.

 

We didn’t have to wait long at the dock for a lancha, as one arrived less than 10 minutes since we first arrived.

 

Hotel Casa Del Mundo Dock - Jaibalito, Guatemala

 

Lake Atitlan Lancha, Guatemala

 

Rainy season is from May through October and views of the volcanoes are not always optimal. This is as good as it was going to get that day and we were fortunate the temperature was great and the sun was out, even if a little cloudy.

 

Vocan Toliman, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

We arrived to Pana’s dock 15 minutes later, starving.

 

Thought the “Forbidden to kill and throw rocks at ducks” sign was amusing. I think the ducks learned their lesson and stayed away, since I don’t recall seeing one the entire time I was there.

 

Don't Throw Rocks at the Ducks, Panajachel, Guatemala

 

Calle Santander, Pana’s main strip, was still half-asleep, though most restaurants were open for breakfast already.

 

Calle Santander Market, Panajachel

 

Had a nice, cheap breakfast and some good coffee.  The cute little containers milk was served in were amusing.

 

Coffee Time, Panajachel, Guatemala

 

There were colorful, embroidered throws for sale, though I’ve heard you can get better deals at Solola’s market.

 

Textiles for Sale, Calle Santander, Panajachel, Guatemala

 

Pana has two docks. The dock closest to the road to Solola has lanchas which take you counterclockwise to the smaller villages around the lake.

 

The dock at the end of Calle Santander is where you take the lanchas to Santiago Atitlan. Occasionally, lanchas will leave this dock and head out to the smaller villages, although they have a more irregular schedule than the ones at the other dock.

 

There’s a public beach between the two docks and a lifeguard on duty. This area was built not too long ago, since it wasn’t here on my first trip, nearly two years ago.

 

Public Beach, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

Panajachel Dock, Santiago-bound Lancha Dock

 

When boarding a boat, be mindful of how many people they try to fit in. Normal carrying capacity is 14 passengers.

 

A boat like the one below is great, because it restricts the number of passenger the operators can fit inside. Older boats, with benches for seats, can accommodate more people, which operators take full advantage of.

 

Something to think about if waters are rough.

 

Lancha, Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

Change of Plans

 

As we were approaching the dock to head to Santiago Atitlan, we heard a rumor that a local festival was going on. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity, we changed plans and headed to a different village.

 

Lancha, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

 

To find out more about where we went, check back next week, where I’ll continue the next part of the trip. I promise you there are great pictures coming up.

 

I’d love a shout out on Facebook and if you sign up for e-mail updates.

 

Also, check out my Pinterest page about Antigua Guatemala, one of the prettiest colonial cities in the world and latest digital nomad destination I’m trying out.