Lake Atitlán – Panajachel, Altiplano, Guatemala

Ancient Beauty, Ancient Ways

The Altiplano, Guatemala’s western highlands, is the country’s most beau­tiful region, and perfect-blue Lake Atitlán – mirroring three Fuji-like volcanoes – is the image that most readily comes to mind and stays there. Around the lake (itself a collapsed volcano cone), descendants of the ancient Maya still live off the ash-rich land, their simple maize­-farming methods unchanged over time. Small towns top the olive green hills and promise interesting day trips, particularly when market day enlivens the village squares.

The lakeside town of Panajachel retains something of its 1970s hippie heyday, when it was nicknamed Gringotenango. It is still the best jumping-off point for the other, more traditional lakeside towns on the western and southern shores, whose indigenous charm remains intact despite decades of tourism. The most visited, Santiago Atitlán still clings to the traditional lifestyle of its proud Tzutujil Maya; the women wear their colorfully hand-embroidered huíp­iles (blouses), and the Friday market is justly famed as a center for hand-woven textiles. Don’t miss staying at the Posada de Santiago, nestled between two dormant volcanoes by a lagoonlike offshoot of the lake. It offers six small garden-surrounded stone bungalows that brim with local flavour, plus a well-known kitchen that does the same.

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