I had a wonderful stay in Antigua, one of Guatemala's former capitals and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You might like to see my post on Antigua here. From Antigua, I booked a shuttle van service to visit the open-air market in Chichicastenango. You might like to see the colourful handicrafts and textiles that I posted here.
From Chichicastenango, I continued on and stayed overnight in Panajachel, the gateway to Lake Atitlan and the twelve indigenous villages around the lake. The next morning I woke up to a beautiful view of Lake Atitlan at sunrise.
I took a boat ride across Lake Atitlan to visit Santiago Atitlan village and had a fantastic time there. I interacted with a few local women, visited the village church and market, and explored the village on foot, before taking another boat ride back to Panajachel.
Guarded by the volcanoes Atitlan, San Pedro, and Toliman, Lake Atitlan is a great combination of scenic beauty, peaceful atmosphere, and rich in Mayan culture. The Lake is Guatemala's national and international main attraction.
On the morning of my visit, the weather was sunny, with clear blue skies, and the wind was calm as I waited for my boat to arrive. Knowing that Lake Atitlan is the deepest lake in Central America, with its maximum depth at 340 meters (1,120 ft), I was pleased to see life vests handed out to the boat passengers. The boat that I was on could accommodate twelve passengers and three crew members. Fortunately, we had a smooth ride both ways and did not need to use our life vests.
|Lake Atitlan, Guatemala|
|The boat is coming!|
At first, the sound of water hitting the bottom of the boat seemed loud but I soon settled in the rhythms and enjoyed the spectacular scenery around us. The lake water glimmered in the bright sunlight. At a distance, I could see Fuego volcano actively spewed ash into the air every ten minutes or so.
|Glimmering Lake Atitlan, Guatemala|
|View of active Fuego volcano from Lake Atitlan|
As we got closer to our destination, I got a better look at the surrounding volcanoes and the local fishermen. It was very peaceful and beautiful. The boat ride lasted about twenty five minutes and we soon arrived at the dock of Santiago Atitlan village.
|Volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan|
|A fisherman in Lake Atitlan|
SANTIAGO ATITLAN VILLAGE
Santiago Atitlan (or shortened name Santiago) is one of the twelve lakeside Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan. The first inhabitants of the Lake settled here and it's where the Mayan villagers keep their traditions at its purest.
Upon landing, I followed the pier and walked slightly uphill to the main street of the village. There are small shops and local businesses lined up on both sides of the street. No matter where I looked, it was a visual treat. Fortunately, there was no tourist crowd so I took my time to walk and enjoy the village.
|First view of Santiago Atitlan village|
|Boat by the pier, Santiago Atitlan village|
|Boat dock, Santiago Atitlan village|
|The main street in Santiago Atitlan village|
|Paintings at a local art gallery|
SANTIAGO ATITLAN TRADITIONAL CLOTHING
Santiago Atitlan village is known as a boat building and arts and crafts center by Lake Atitlan. The village is also famed for its striking purple clothing.
I had read that if possible, visit Santiago Atitlan village on a Sunday to see literally every local woman wearing their best typical clothes as part of their traditions. Well, I was there on a Friday so when I saw two local women in a textile shop, I stopped to browse and spoke to them with my basic Spanish.
I learned that the older lady is 73 years old and was a mid-wife in the village. Both women wore colourful tops and long skirts with a fabric belt. Their tops showed embroidered birds and flowers. The fabric belt was a mix of Mayan red and purple, the colour of Santiago Atitlan village. The older lady gave me a shy smile and showed me how she created her head dress.
First, she let her long hair loose on one side. Then she wrapped the thick and very long red band around her hair. Next, she wrapped the band around her head several times until she reached the end of the band and tucked it neatly into the folds. It was an interesting process. The best part was she calmly sat down with her complete head dress and gave me a smile with pride. I thought she looked beautiful!
|1. Let loose of the hair to one side|
|2. Wrap the band around the hair|
|3. Wrap the band around the head several times|
|4. Done! Here's the front|
|5. Here's the back|
|6. A beautiful smile with pride|
The women in the village keep the Mayan culture alive by wearing their traditional clothing. I saw a few men wearing traditional shorts or pants with embroidery, however, most village men were wearing khakis or jeans.
SANTIAGO ATITLAN CHURCH and MARKET
Santiago Atitlan village is known for its worship of Maximon, a Saint created by Mayan priests back in the days. I visited the local church but did not take any picture inside.
The village market was busy and lively with many local villagers when I arrived. Once again, the colourful handicrafts were eye-catching. The vegetables and fruit were fresh and abundant.
|Santiago Atitlan village market|
|Making corn tortillas|
|Woven baskets at Santiago Atitlan market|
There are many buses and tuk tuks in Guatemala. All the buses are painted in bright colours. One of the well-known local bus lines is Esmeralda. The public bus tickets are charged by kilometers and gas price! The tuk-tuks are usually red.
|An Esmeralda bus in Santiago Atitlan village|
|A tuk-tuk in Santiago Atitlan village|
SANTIAGO ATITLAN BOAT DOCK
A boat ride is a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery by Lake Atitlan and the surrounding villages. Once you arrive at any of the twelve villages, it's straightforward to walk from the dock to the village main street as I had done in Santiago Atitlan.
|Santiago Atitlan boat dock|
|Boats by Santiago Atitlan village|
All in all, I had a perfect day by Lake Atitlan and a wonderful visit to Santiago Atitlan village. The vibrant colours and what I experienced there will stay with me for a long time. My next and final stop is Guatemala City, before flying home.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.