Lake Atitlan Travel Guide

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Mountains in the mist at Atitlan

Mountains in the mist at Atitlan

Benjamin Salazar

When English novelist Aldous Huxley visited Guatemala, he referred to Lake Atitlán as "the most beautiful lake in the world" and this same phrase is often heard from the European and American visitors that constantly travel through the narrow winding road that leads to Lake Atitlán. The beautiful lake, as it is seen from Panajachel, Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó, has three volcanoes (Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro), as its backdrop.

Lake Atitlán is volcanic in origin. Its surface is 1562 meters above sea level, although this figure varies somewhat from year to year as the lake rises and falls. The maximum recorded depth is 324 meters but the lake is probably somewhat deeper in parts. It is 12 miles long and between 4.4 and 7.5 miles wide. The total surface area of the lake is 81.25 square miles.

Here, on the shores of Lake Atitlan you will find the Nature Reserve of San Buenaventura. This Nature Reserve occupies half the valley of San Buenaventura in Panajachel, on the shores of Lake Atitlán It has more than 100 hectares of native forest. Its goal is the conservation of tine natural surroundings in the Lake Atitlán Basin.

The Nature Reserve is committed to biodiversity with the certainty that humans are as rich and diverse as their environment. This privately funded project intends to be an economically viable alternative to the traditional uses of land and natural resources in the area.

Its achievements already include the planting of more than 180,000 trees in the valley of San Buenaventura, the installation of efficient wood burning stoves in the neighboring communities, garbage recycling, and the use of solar energy and biodigestors. At present the Reserve has the following facilities:

1. Nature Trails with signs offer self-guided walks through the characteristic ecosystems of the North Shore, using a highly informative 12 page guide, printed both In Spanish and English.

2. Enclosed Butterfly Preserve with approximately 5,625 cubic meters (170,000 cu. ft.) of flight space, a 2,500 cu. ft. breeding laboratory for pupae and chrysalis with information on the butterflies life cycle more than 2,000 plants and approximately 500 live specimens of nearly 25 species of native Guatemalan butterflies.

The Butterfly Preserve illustrates the importance of these insects in nature and allows us to explore the relationship that humans have with their environment. The management of large populations of these insects will also allow their reintroduction in the area.

3. A Bird Refuge that at present has temporary trails for visitor to enter the area which will be developed into a formal, protected bird refuge over the next 2 years. Planting for bird sustenance will include an estimated 600 native fruit tress and thousands of native flowering and seed plants. This refuge will contain elevated walk-ways, tree platforms and suspensions bridges in order to allow the visitor traffic views of the area and its animal life without unduly intruding upon it. These measures should attract native and migrating birds while creating conditions for visitors and scholars to observe the birds without disturbing them. Completion dates for both the planting and the trail/platform/bridge systems is October 1995.

4. Orchid Garden Within the Butterfly Preserve with, at present, some 50 species of the more than 500 species native to Guatemala.

5. Visitors Center with a 110 m2 (1,200 sq. ft. visitor reception area which includes offices, men's and women's rest rooms a refreshment/souvenir area, a 140 mt2 (1500 sq. ft.) landscaped waiting/resting area, and a parking area for both buses and private vehicles (completion date scheduled for July. 1995).

Prices for entry into the Nature Reserve are as follows: Adults US$20.00; Students US$10.00; Children US$10.00: Families US$35.00; Groups with more than 6 people US$12.00 each. These prices include visit to the Butterfly Preserve, the Nature Trails and the Bird Refuge.

The Nature Trails and the Bird Refuge is open from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. , and is selfguided. Earlier visitation is possible with permission from the Administration.

The Butterfly Sanctuary is open from 10:00 A.M. to 3;00 P.M. daily, and is guided in either Spanish or English. A complete tour of the Reserve takes from 2 to 3 hours, while the guided visit to the Butterfly Preserve alone takes 30 to 45 minutes.

For more information, please contact Felipe Marín at San Buenaventura de Atitlán in Panajachel, Guatemala, tel/fax 502 7622059 or 7621441 ext. 2227 or write to San Buenaventura de Atitlán 16 Calle 4-53, zona 10, Edificio Marbella 3er nivel, Guatemala, Contral America.

In addition to all this information, it is also a good experience to visit some of the surrounding towns around the lake.  The main tourist arrival town is Panajachel, which is about a 1 hr drive from Chichicastenango, about  4 hrs from Guatemala city, (3 from Antigua).  Panajachel is a small town,  its main street is called Calle Santander...most budget places to stay  as well as fancier places are off this "main street".  A lot of the traffic there is via Tuk Tuk taxis, or just walking. There are many small restaurants in this area for tourists, and a great variety of them, there is an Indian restaurant (good vegetarian option),  a couple steakhouses,  mexican food, guatemalan food, even a few taco stands on the street. If you like seafood, you may inquire about the local lake fish, called MOJARRA (lake Perch)  Calle Santander is also the center of the small "nightlife"... some of the restaurants double up as bars in the evening hours.

There are several Spanish language schools in Panajachel. Classes are usually one-to-one with a teacher and, if you wish, you can live with a local family for the total immersion experience. On Calle Santander, at the opposite end to the Lake, is Spanish School Jabel Tinamit. This is a Mayan run school offering flexible lessons to international students.

Calle Santander ends at the lakeshore...within a few minutes walk.  There are some seaside small restaurants/stands in the area...also, there  are small boats which can be taken to visit the surrounding towns along the lake.  Every small town has its own character,  locals dress different clothing at each places, they even speak different dialects, so among themselves, they may need to communicate in Spanish.

Examples of other towns: San Pedro de la Laguna...within 50 mins by ferry from Pana.  You must walk a hill to get to the main town...nice church,  great views.  Also, check out the small market next to the church, very nice...you get to see how the locals do grocery shopping....not much in terms of souvenirs, though their coffee beans are supposed to be better than Antiguas'.  Another town is Santiago de Atitlan. This one is a little bigger....and one can go visit the small sanctuary to the deity, Maximon.  You need to ask a local person,as the place changes from time to time.

Lake Atitlan is wonderful.  Definitely a must see to any tourist visiting the area.

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July 25, 2005 change by worldtraveler19

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