Lake Atitlán: the Como of Guatemala
We left Antigua, a charming colonial city in southern Guatemala, early to begin our journey to Lake Atitlán.
While most travel by car, we chose the slightly more adventurous option and decided to cycle. We cheated a little by driving out of Antigua – to avoid the hills – until we came to a manageable distance from where the boat was to meet us on the shore. We got out of the car excitedly, with our helmets on, ready to go. Our lovely guide, told us the route and showed us the direction in which we were heading and warned us to watch out for potholes.
We set off safe in the knowledge that our driver and vehicle were right behind us should we need some help. While the roads were steep and often bumpy, there is no better way to see a country than cycling through it, and it really was an extraordinary way to approach Lake Atitlán. We freewheeled most of the way and soon arrived in a town, where we slowly cycled through the streets to the water’s edge to meet our boat.
No sooner had we taken off our helmets had the bikes vanished into the back of the vehicle. We were sad to say goodbye to our guide after this exhilarating ride but ready for our next adventure. In no time at all, we were on board the small vessel, our bags in tow, and on our way to Laguna Lodge.
Despite the bumpy afternoon crossing, the setting is incredibly peaceful. Many refer to Lake Atitlán as the ‘Como of Latin America’.
Although we recommend Casa Palopó, a Relais & Châteaux hotel, to most of our clients, Laguna is a great place to spend a few days if you’re looking for a more affordable option.
It sits right on the lakeshore and has sweeping views over the sparkling water to a trio of dramatic volcanoes.
The rooms were large and spacious with sensational views, and the minibar was stocked with Guatemalan chocolate and coffee beans, which we devoured.
In the restaurant, we ate vegan food, namely fruit smoothies and vegetables grown from the garden behind the property. The spa was wonderful too.
Here, we spent our days rising early, waking up to the sight of those volcanic peaks and swimming in the cool lake. The water felt like treacle; it was so silky against our skin.
We spent hours gliding around, gazing at the dramatic vista, but there are also some brilliant experiences designed by our experts to be enjoyed in this spectacular region.
On one morning, we were picked up by boat and taken across Lake Atitlán’s calm waters.
Its temperament was extraordinary: in the morning it was like glass – not a ripple – but as the day progressed, it became choppy and traversing it was pretty bumpy. We crossed to the other side, arriving at a small village called Santa Cruz La Laguna, where we were met by our guide Pedro, who, it was quickly apparent was a very well-known figure in the village.
We made our way up the winding roads, climbing higher and higher.
We wandered into churches and stopped to chat with the villagers working on their allotments outside their homes. Pedro knew everyone, so we were welcomed like friends. Those who may not otherwise have stopped, did, and were keen to show us what they were up to.
The highlight of our morning here was a visit to Amigos de Santa Cruz, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of the area’s indigenous people through education and sustainable economic empowerment. They work hard to support young people, with the aim of breaking poverty cycles. Traditionally, women marry at a very young age here and, therefore, their education is cut short. This movement was created more than 20 years ago to offer women more employment opportunities, such as beading, sewing, cooking and much more.
We often arrange for our clients to get involved with all sorts of activities here, including beading or cooking classes. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday and so we were unable to do this, but we were still shown around. One of the most impressive rooms was a huge workshop in the basement, where local men were taught and practised carpentry skills. However, the roof terrace was the most exciting.
Here, they were building Café Sabor Cruceño, a restaurant run by young CECAP culinary graduates who had been trained by the organisation. We sampled some of the food, which was delicious, while admiring the breathtaking views of the lake.
We were able to chat to the team there who are the driving force behind this charity and its success.
It was a fantastic day and we felt like Pedro had become a friend.
We slowly made our way back down the hill to the lakeside, where our boat was waiting, ready to whisk us back across the lake to Laguna Lodge.