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Guatemala: Antigua, Lake Atitlan, Tikal
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: Arguably the most beautiful lake in the world
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Lake Atitlan is a volcanic lake with a dozen of Mayan villages around it. In Mayan language Atitlan means 'the place where the rainbow gets its colors'. That neatly sums up the beauty. The Lake is the deepest lake in Central America. It is approximately 60 sq.kms. with a maximum depth of about 340 meters. It is surrounded by three volcanoes on its southern end.
After breakfast we left Antigua for Lake Atitlan. It's a 4 hour drive through beautiful landscape. However, we had to add 2 more hours for the journey as we planned to spend the time in the town of Chichicastenango, lovingly called Chichi.
Surrounded by valleys with mountains serrating the horizons, Chichicastenango can seem isolated in time and space from the rest of Guatemala. When its narrow cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs are enveloped in mist, it's downright magical. The crowds of crafts vendors lend it a much worldlier, more commercial atmosphere, but Chichi retains its mystery.
Mashenos (citizens of Chichicastenango) are famous for their adherence to pre-Christian beliefs and ceremonies, and the town's various cofradias (religious brotherhoods) hold processions in observance of their saints around the church of Santo Tomas. Chichi has two religious and governmental establishments. On one hand, the Catholic Church and the Republic of Guatemala appoint priests and town officials; on the other, the indigenous people elect their own religious and civil officers to manage local matters, with a separate council and mayor, and a court that decides cases involving only local indigenous people.
Some villagers still walk for hours carrying their wares to reach Chichi's market, one of Guatemala's largest. At dawn on Thursday and Sunday they spread out their vegetables, chunks of chalk (ground to a powder, mixed with water and used to soften dried maize), handmade harnesses and other merchandise, and wait for customers. The local Mayans wear their colorful traditional clothing for their own cultural reasons. Each color, pattern and design represents which village they are from and the majority of them could not imagine wearing anything else.
Tourist-oriented handicraft stalls selling masks, textiles, pottery and so on now occupy much of the plaza and the streets to the north. Things villagers need Ė food, soap, clothing, sewing notions, toys Ė cluster at the north end of the square and in the Centro Comercial Santo Tomas off the north side, whose upper deck offers irresistible photo opportunities of the business conducted below.
Before arriving at our hotel, it was prudent to have lunch at Panajachel - a town on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The town is amongst the busiest in the area and is the place for tourists to hang out. From the jetty one can cruise to the other villages that surround the lake. After a sumptuous lunch, fortunately vegetarian food was available in abundance, we drove to Hotel Atitlan just about 15-minutes away from Panajachel.
Hotel Atitlan is a larger hotel decorated in colonial style offering guests a beautiful location on the shores of Lake Atitlan. The hotel has beautiful gardens, inside and outside dining, a small pool, and bar. Its lakeshore location offers guests stunning views of the lake and its three surrounding volcanoes from most areas of the hotel. Rest of the day was free to enjoy the hotel's facilities and soaking in the majestic views of the lake and the volcano.
Volcano Atitlan is a large, conical, active stratovolcano adjacent to the caldera of Lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas range. The volcano has been quite active historically, with more than a dozen eruptions recorded between 1469 and 1853, the date of its most recent eruption. Atitlan is part of the Central American Volcanic Arc. The arc is a chain of volcanoes stretching along Central America formed by subduction of the Cocos Plate underneath the Caribbean Plate. These volcanoes are part of the Ring of Fire around the Pacific Ocean.
The next morning we had booked a private motor boat to take us to San Juan La Laguna; because that truly is a must do when at Lake Atitlan. San Juan La Laguna, is a quaint pueblo on the west shore of the lake. Like every town around Lake Atitlan, San Juan boasts lovely views of the expansive blue lake and lush vegetation in its vibrant gardens.
Though it was a lake that we were cruising, I must warn that the waters were real choppy. So much so, that we actually were in two minds to turn back! Thankfully, that was not to be. It was indeed an adventurous 30-minute speedboat ride. From the town's jetty we began our uphill walk.
The first thing youíll notice upon strolling through town is that itís almost completely free of litter. There are neither empty plastic bottles nor used chip bags strewn along its streets. San Juan La Laguna is sparkly clean, and that makes it a pleasant environment in which to spend time. Itís a tiny town, quiet and serene. Best of all, you can stroll along, gazing at the surrounding beauty in a relaxed leisurely way, without being accosted by any street vendors hawking cheap souvenirs or young boys offering to shine your shoes.
San Juan is home to several local cooperatives, from beekeepers to coffee growers to backstrap loom weavers, many of whom use natural dyes from carrot, coffee, beets and tons of other organic color sources. The vendors in San Juan tend to be super-duper awesome, friendly and kind.
For our group we had organised a painting workshop in one of the studios in town. The idea was to learn painting with a local artist. I too had my chance. My artist-supervisor had a tough time correcting what I had painted!
For the next hour we walked the town. Many walls had graffiti on them. Each was indeed a work of art. Some walls highlighted the history and some imparted education. The town had a beautiful church too.
Back to the jetty, and negotiating the choppy waters we were at our hotel late in the afternoon. For lunch we drove to Panjachel to the same restaurant, as the group was quite happy with yesterday's experience.
Rest of the evening was at leisure. The next morning we would drive to Guatemala City and onwards home.
Lake Atitlan Image Gallery Photo viewer
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