Complete Guide to Panajachel, Guatemala
If you’re looking for a sunny town that’s budget-friendly, picturesque, safe and convenient, it’s worth considering Panajachel on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
I often use Panajachel as my home base when exploring Guatemala. Not only does it offer easy access for day trips to Maya towns in the highlands, it has reliable WiFi, banks with ATMs and a pleasant climate that’s neither too hot or too cold, all of which makes it ideal for a visit any time of the year.
Lake Atitlan is so beautiful it also happens to be one of the top wedding and honeymoon destinations in Central America. It’s also the jumping off point for exploring regional cuisine of the Mayan highlands such as pulique (ceremonial chicken), pepian (spicy red mole) and jocon (chicken in green sauce).
Here’s my guide to the best hotels, excursions, Spanish Language Schools and other things to do in Panajachel, Guatemala.
Reasons to Choose Panajachel
Panajachel offers 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, yoga classes and a range of dining options from vegetarian restaurants to typical Guatemalan food stands.
If you’re planning on living in Guatemala but you’re a digital nomad and need to work as I do, Panajachel also offers reliable WiFi, several banks with ATMs and easy transportation in and out.
It’s also very safe. I’ve lived in Panajachel for several months at a time and never had problems with pickpockets or felt unsafe even when venturing out solo.
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 Lake Atitlan to hike a volcano or attend one of Guatemala’s many fascinating festivals.
How to Get to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan
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.
Stay in Antigua enroute to Panajachel
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 Safety Tips for Guatemala for advice on travel in Guatemala.
How to Choose a Panajachel Hotel or Apartment
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.
If you’re looking for a romantic stay for a unique destination wedding or honeymoon, a top choice would be Casa Palopó.
For more suggestions of memorable spots for a wedding or honeymoon, check out this post on 17 Unique Wedding Destinations.
Top Things to Do Around Lake Atitlan Guatemala
- Study Spanish or take a cooking class at one of the Spanish Language Schools.
- Volunteer with an NGO
- Enjoy a day pass to a luxury resort with views of Lake Atitlan
- Explore the Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan
- Spend the day in Santiago Atitlan, one of the larger cities around Lake Atitlan
- Take a day trip to the colourful Mayan market in Chichicastenango (Thursdays and Sundays)
- Visit an authentic food market in Solola
- Visit the Fuentes Georgina hot springs
- Soak up local culture during festivals such as Day of the Dead, Dia del Diablo Semana Santa or the processions known as posadas during Navidad (Christmas)
- Take a hands-on course to learn Guatemalan Backstrap Weaving in San Juan la Laguna.
Travel Guide to Lake Atitlan Guatemala
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 email@example.com 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.
Read more about some of the other most beautiful lakes in the world.