Set in the Guatemaltecan Highlands of the Sierra Madre, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America, originating from numerous volcanic eruptions throughout historical times. Originating from Nahuat, an ancient Aztec language, Atitlán literally means ‘between the waters’ and is the name of both the lake and the active volcano overlooking it from above, whose last eruption dates back to 1853. This view also led famous writer Adolf Huxley to compare the lake to the Italian lake Como, calling it the ‘most beautiful lake in the world’ because of its combination of Como’s beauty and the unique volcanic element.
Accompanying Volcano Atitlán are Volcan San Pedro e Tolimán, its two older brothers currently inactive, as well as a constellation of 6 different towns sprinkled along the lake’s coast which can only be reached by mountain roads or, at times, solely by boat. This makes travelling to this area a very special experience, which led Lago de Atitlán to be officially turned into a National Park in 1955, after which several campaigns were launched in order to attract tourism to this underrated spot.
In present day, some of the most visited towns along the lake are Panajachel, San Pedro and Santiago, with their local markets and peaceful vibe making visitors feel part of a warm and welcoming community of souls. Having only visited a couple of villages, Santiago definitely struck a chord with me. The largest village of the group, it is also the home of Maximon – Maya’s folk saint whom people devote their prayers to each day. A walk through the village will take you to one of many Maximon’s lairs, as the saint moves from house to house with every passing year. Donations to Maximon often involve cigarettes, alcohol or money, whilst his cult strongly revolves around a raw consumption of life and its substances. Santiago’s main square, on the other hand, presents a majestic church which acts as both a place of prayer and of encounter, whilst the rest of the town is adorned with street markets serving every need. The people’s serenity and simplicity really made me fall in love with this town, which is probably one of my favourite spots in the country to visit.
To find out more on other things to see in Guatemala, read here.