Ultimate survival guide to one month in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
If you’re looking for a town in Guatemala to hang out for a month or longer, it’s worth considering Panajachel. This small town is a commercial hub but is still very picturesque, offering easy access for day trips to Maya towns in the highlands, its own food markets, supermarkets as well as plenty of diversions such as Spanish Language Schools, restaurants and if you need to work as I do, reliable WiFi, banks with ATMs and transportation. It’s also very safe. By staying in Panajachel rather than San Pedro la Laguna or other villages on Lake Atitlan, you also avoid having to take a boat every time you want to go exploring. Read the post A Wild boat Ride Across Lake Atitlan for my account of what the boat ride can be like.
Getting to Panajachel is relatively easy and inexpensive. If you’re coming from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas or Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, read the post Night Bus to Guatemala for detailed instructions. If you’ve arrived in Guatemala City by plane, you can either stay in Guatemala City overnight or do as I do, and take a shuttle to Antigua, the colonial city.
Most hotels can arrange to send a private shuttle to pick you up at the airport for between $37 and $40 USD. You can save some money by taking a shared shuttle but that will add to the transfer time as the shuttle will drop off other passengers at their hotels along the way. You might get lucky and be the first dropped off, but if not, you might spend an hour (or more) bumping along the cobblestone streets of Antigua when you could be nicely settled in your room.
Check out my post 3 Budget Hotels you’ll love in Antigua for three hotels that are clean, well-located and safe. I’ll be adding some fabulous new hotels offering great value soon, so sign up for my newsletter to be the first to hear about them.
I recommend spending a few days in Antigua before taking a shuttle to Panajachel. You can take Spanish lessons, shop for crafts, buy some cowboy boots in Pastores, browse the jade shops, climb the volcanoes or visit a coffee plantation or just soak up the beauty of the historic churches in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To leave simply take the 1.5 hour shuttle to Panajachel. But choose your shuttle company wisely. Some companies use the oldest vans imaginable ( bald tires, poor brakes) and have a poor record of showing up on time. I’ve used Adrenalina Tours and Eternal Spring Travel Agency with good success. You can even book online. Read my Blog Post on 16 Safety Tips for Guatemala for advice on travel in Guatemala.
Be sure to book your accommodation before you arrive in Panajachel. The most popular hotels and apartments fill early. You can check with Real Estate Offices (such as Mayan Lake Realty mayanlakerealty.com) for long term rentals but my favourite place for a one month stay is Casa Alegre at 4-70 on Calle Santander. The six apartments are safe, eco-friendly, clean and come equipped with kitchenettes, balconies, a rooftop terrace and plenty of hot water. They’re also inexpensive.
Top things to do in Panajachel include (click for more info):
- Studying Spanish
- Volunteering with an NGO
- Enjoying a day pass to a luxury resort with views of Lake Atitlan
- Exploring the Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan
- Spending the day in Santiago Atitlan, one of the larger cities around Lake Atitlan
- Taking a day trip to the colourful Mayan market in Chichicastenango (Thursdays and Sundays)
- Visiting an authentic food market in Solola
- Visiting the Fuentes Georgina hot springs
- Soaking up local culture during festivals such as Day of the Dead, Dia del Diablo Semana Santa or the porcessions known as posadas during Navidad (Christmas)
Adrenalina Tours: This tour operator has been in business since 1994 and has an admirable safety and service record. In addition to their door to door shuttle service they offer hikes and treks around Lake Atitlan as well as Tikal, El Mirador and more. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.adrenalinatours.com or one of their offices in Panajachel, Antigua or Quetzaltenango.
Alegre Apartments: This handy apartment hotel with just six suites is right on Calle Santander in the heart of Panajachel but thanks to the excellent quality construction, it’s blissfully quiet. You have your own balcony, a full kitchen, a lovely rooftop zone and plenty of books in the lending library. It’s spotlessly clean and safe and quite economical. Highly recommended.