Getting Active Among the Volcanoes – Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

The trip

Journey Latin America offers an active six-day trip based around Lake Atitlán. It includes artisan fishing, hiking Cerro de la Cruz and Cerro de Oro, kayaking, mountain biking, ziplining and a local homestay. If you are on a tight budget, there are lots of backpacker hostels and B&Bs in Panajachel, San Pedro and San Juan.

Getting there: Iberia flies London Heathrow-Guatemala City via Madrid. Returns start at £514; journey time is around 16-17 hours, including a short stop in Spain.

Getting around: Around the lakeside each town or village has a playa publica (public jetty or pier) from which motorboats known as tiburoneros depart.

The skipper leaves when he has 12 passengers, to make the journey worth his while. A typical crossing from Panajachel — a major hub for lake traffic — to San Juan La Laguna costs GTQ35 (£2.80).

To get between villages using overland transport, choose between pickups (which carry as many people as they can squeeze on), tuk-tuks (which carry three passengers) and local buses — known as chicken buses. All these are very economical. Chicken buses compete with smarter, air-conditioned buses for the longer routes to Antigua and other major cities.

Cost of travel: Guatemala is a cheap country for travellers. Food and drink prices are low — generally, expect to pay £3-5 for lunch, a little more for dinner, less than 70p for a bottle of beer. Even a fancy meal in a hotel such as Casa Palopa will rarely cost more than £15. Wages are low, so a small tip (10% is typical) is appreciated.

Travelling by public transport is very cheap; ultra-budget travellers can use pickups and chicken buses to get around the whole country. Budget hostels and dormitories can cost as little as £4 a night. For £15 and upwards you can expect some comfort.


Hotel Villa Santa Catarina

Villa Santa Catarina, part of a small Guatemalan-owned chain, is a lakeside resort five minutes from Panajachel. It has a big pool, a small whirlpool and carefully tended gardens. Its 38 rooms are simply decorated, with a few crafty touches. Service is patchy, but staff are generally friendly. Doubles from US$90 (£50) including breakfast and taxes.

Casa Palopó is one of the swankiest properties on Lake Atitlán. A nine-room luxury boutique hotel, it is set above the lake, which means it has great views. Rooms are lavishly decorated with colourful indigenous and contemporary art, and feature Italian luxury bed linens and L’Occitane bathroom goodies. No under-12s are allowed. Doubles from US$185 (£113), including taxes and tip.

Rupalaj K’istalin is a community organisation that has 20 homestays in the area; it can also help with wider plans for lakeside wanderers.

Food & drink: Guatemala’s cuisine has not been fully bulldozed by US-style fast food. In areas where Maya culture dominates, such as Lake Atitlán, the diet is based around maize tortillas (savoury pancakes), frijoles (beans), rice, plantain, yuca, chicken, avocado pears and mild-ish chilli sauces.

Tortillas come with just about everything. Often the fare is basic, but do look for traditional dishes such as adobo (aromatic chilli-based sauce) and hearty meat and bean stews. Fresh fruit is widely available, so you can stock up on bananas, pineapples and more exotic items for hikes.

In the touristy centres of Panajachel and San Pedro, you can feast on steaks, good pizzas and pastas. Good organic coffee is available in cafés in most towns and cities.

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