Lake Atitlán is one of the most beautiful natural settings in the world. I know; that’s a big statement. And yes, it’s not Capri or a Greek island. Still, it’s good. Aldous Huxley compared it to Italy’s Lake Como “with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.” While we haven’t been to Lake Como (yet), it’s hard to imagine a more perfect lake. Maybe we need to go to Lake Tahoe for a “lake-off”…
First, the setting. It sits just about a mile above sea level and has a surface area of 50 square miles, running about 7 miles across north to south and 11 miles east to west. With an average depth of nearly 1,000 feet, it is the deepest lake in Central America and is remarkably blue, clear, and clean. Created by a massive volcanic eruption 85,000 years ago as water filled the enormous caldera, today the lake is surrounded by three volcanoes, one of which is still active, and steep escarpments.
The main town on the lake in Panajachel, where you can find some good restaurants and lots and lots of tourist shops. We stayed at Hotel Atitlán, a gorgeous resort with huge gardens and tropical birds maybe a mile from Panajachel. The hotel claims there are over 500 different plant species in its gardens, a number that’s not hard to believe.One of the great challenges of staying on Lake Atitlán is to climb Mount San Pedro, one of the three volcanoes on the lake. Mark & I did that four years ago when we were here and … we didn’t do it again. We both have vivid memories of how beautiful the hike up was, and how spectacular the view was from the top. And how unbelievably sore we were, primarily from the descent. I was seriously tempted to do it again, but decided I didn’t want to spend the next week limping around.
Instead, with Mark’s parents, we hired a boat to take us across the lake for a day trip to Santiago, the largest of the indigenous communities that still circle the lake. Suddenly we were in a different world, where older men still wear these traditional white-striped embroidered pants. They were on sale in the markets but I somehow resisted the temptation. Instead we wandered around town a bit before stopping for a great lakeside lunch and then heading back to our own little paradise.
That was it. We remain a bit surprised at how cool the weather is, but under the midday sun it was warm enough to enjoy sitting around the hotel’s pool. As late afternoon moved in the large hot tub next to the pool would call, though unfortunately it would often call numbers of people from the packaged tours who stay at the hotel. All in all, a beautiful place to stop for a few days – or longer. We’re going to have to make it to Lake Como and Lake Tahoe to make our own judgments on which is the most beautiful.