Lake Atitlàn was said by Aldous Huxley to be the most beautiful lake in the world. I doubt that he had seen all of them, any more than I have, but it certainly has to be in anyone’s Top Ten. Lying a mile above sea level and ringed by mountains and three perfect volcanoes (Atitlàn , San Pedro and Toliman), its silvery blue waters are a photographer’s dream, especially in the early morning when they are at their most reflective.
The lake was formed in an immense volcanic explosion 85,000 years ago. As with Pompeii and Mount St. Helen, volcanic pressure built up and was released with devastating results. However the explosion here was much more destructive. The explosion at Mt. St. Helen released 2 cubic kilometres of rock and ash, Pompeii blew out 6 cubic kilometres. Atitlàn discharged over 180 cubic kilometres of hot ash and rock. An immense hole was left in the earth's crust, and everything died for thousands of kilometres around. One of the more interesting effects of the explosion is that large fissures were formed in the depths of the crater, out of which the water flows. Atitlàn is unique in that it is a fresh water lake with no river outlet.
Out of such devastation came beauty: the word "Atitlàn" is a Mayan word that translates as "the place where the rainbow gets its colours".
Favorite thing: I was traveling with my buddy Ryan and both of us really needed a vacation before we came to Guatemala. Panajachel's laid back, Bohemian feel was great for both of us. We spent a couple days here chilling out, shopping, relaxing and eating good food. Ryan was a good travel partner since he was up for anything, including jumping off a mountain with a modified parachute strapped to his back. He also didn't mind that we sometimes had different agendas. At 6 am, when I would often wake up and go on long walks, he was content to sleep in and just meet up with me later.
Favorite thing: I took this photo near the beach on Calle Santander. Panajachel isn't as picturesque and clean as Antigua Guatemala. It doesn't have Spanish Colonial architecture around every bend or a beautifully planned park and main square. However, instead of just one volcano like Antigua has (Agua Volcano), there are 3 within sight, San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlan, not to mention the gorgeous, immense lake itself. You'll also find a lot of interesting travelers here. Unlike the tour-group crowds and Spanish students that dominate Antigua, here you'll find hippies that never left from when they first flocked here in the 1960s as well as a newer generation of young hippies and artist types.
This area is located in a tropical, humid climatic zone. Rainfall takes place mainly between May and September., with June and August being the rainiest monthes with amount of 200mm. During the driest months the rainfall levels decrease to 10 mm/month.
The average temperature in the winter is 11C and 14C in the summer. At night you mayl also see brilliant lightning storms in the mountains surround the lake.
Favorite thing: Don/t trust the water especially if you go swimming in Lago de Atitlan. Occasionally, mainly in the afternoons, there is a wind called the "Xocomil" that blows in from the southeast making whirlpools and waves up to 2 metres which are greatly feared by the fisherman
Bargaining in many of the craft shops/stalls in Pana is totally expected. When asked the shop/stall keeper will give you a price that is more than they are expecting to get. Don't be afraid to counter with an offer that is less than 50% lower than the initial price. Eventually you will arrive at a mutually agreed to price somewhere in the middle that is fair for both of you. Sure, you can probably afford to pay the initial price and you're totally fine in paying it but you'd be missing out on the fun of bargaining! Keep in mind that some items are more difficult to bargain for due to the effort and skill in making them, such as hand-embroidered huipils (women's blouses) and the like. When you counter the shopkeeper will simply state why they can't go lower. In a lot of ways it's also an educational experience because you'll learn more about the item and how it's made.
My bargaining tips:
1. Check around and compare prices to get a feel for what things should cost.
2. Decide before asking ("Cuanto cuesta?" or "Cuanto vale?") how much you're prepared to spend.
3. Be prepared to walk away if you can't get the price you want. Many times the shopkeeper will cave in or further reduce his/her price in an effort to not lose a potential sale.
4. Above all, have fun!
There are tons of beautiful things to buy in this town and the surrounding areas, BUT you will be expected to bargain. Pay a fair price but dont be taken either! There are tons of people selling beautiful jade jewellery, rings, brightly colored earrings, earrings made of Quetzal feather, beaded bracelets and and necklaces, hair handkerchiefs (perfect for when you dont want to deal with you hair!), woven scarfs and blankets, pashminas, great skirts. The jewelery and scarfs can be bought usually for Q15 or less!
Fondest memory: The stunning beauty of nature mixed with the physical beauty of the people, their clothing and their traditions.