The villages of Lago Atitlan, Guatemala


Lago Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America at just over 1100 feet deep and it rests in the Highlands of Guatemala. It doesn’t drain into any rivers, but instead seeps into the fissures around and under the lake that were caused by earthquakes and volcanic activity. There are 3 volcanoes on the southern shore of the lake, and several Mayan villages lay along its edges.
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We stay with our friend, Tammy, in a small village called Jaibalito for two weeks. For the first week I take the boat back and forth to Panajachel each day, a 20-minute ride that costs me somewhere between $2-$3 USD each day depending on the mood of the boat captain and how rich I look that day. Boats are the main mode of transportation here and are needed to move supplies to some of the smaller villages that are only accessible by boat, like Jaibalito.
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Most of the villages along the lake are populated with Mayan people. The women do their laundry in the lake most mornings and I often see people bathing too.
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Men fish in their small wooden boats to feed their families.
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Small docks line the entire lake edge. Some provide access to small villages (like Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos, San Pedro and San Juan de Laguna). And others are private docks that lead to elegant and beautiful homes, usually owned by ex-pats.
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I take the lanchas (small boats) from Panajachel to Jaibalito and from there to Santa Cruz and San Pedro and San Juan. The lancha stops in Tzununa and San Marcos along the way allowing me glimpses into these small villages as well. I see lots of gringos and turistas and hear a lot of English. I see lots of hippies and backpackers. And I see lots of Mayan people on the lanchas too, going back and forth for some kind of work I think.
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I catch myself more than once thinking some of the lakeside homes remind me of Italy with their red tiled roofs and stucco walls. This place is so beautiful.
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We hike to Santa Cruz a few days and then to Pamakanya. There are trails all over the lakeside hills, but some aren’t safe for hiking as there are occasional robberies and other problems. So even paradise has its troubles. But its lovely all the same and well worth a visit.
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