The Adven­ture Gem of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca: How to Max­i­mize Your Vis­it to Lake Atitlán

This past autumn, the Clymb Adven­ture pro­gram fea­tured an eco-trip to Guatemala that turned into the ide­al girls’ week­end: the per­fect bal­ance between adven­ture and relax­ation. The des­ti­na­tion was beau­ti­ful Lake Ati­tlán, nes­tled in the Sier­ra Madre moun­tain range in south­west­ern Guatemala. Sur­round­ed by three vol­ca­noes and sev­er­al charm­ing towns — each of which boasts lots of cul­ture set against a breath­tak­ing nat­ur­al back­drop, and many of which are acces­si­ble only by boat — mak­ing it the per­fect seclud­ed locale. Lake Ati­tlá­na hand­ful of places that allow for out­door thrill seek­ing and phys­i­cal chal­lenges, yet still offer plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to relax with a local brew and soak up the sun before a massage. 

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Hike Vol­cano San Pedro

While not the tallest or the most active of Guatemala’s vol­ca­noes, San Pedro makes for a chal­leng­ing day hike. The trip is about three hours up and two hours down and takes you through vary­ing ter­rain. The trek begins with a hike or tuk-tuk ride up to the trail­head and imme­di­ate­ly spills hik­ers deep into dense cof­fee groves. The cof­fee tran­si­tions into avo­ca­do trees and then into rows of corn­stalks. This is sur­pris­ing trail­side fau­na, but it’s reflec­tive of how Guatemalans use the land: as the town of San Pedro grows, fam­i­lies own pri­vate land high­er and high­er up the slope, which they use to resource their dai­ly needs. Along the way, hik­ers pass local men car­ry­ing large bun­dles of fire­wood on their backs. The trail even­tu­al­ly becomes more wood­ed and even cloudy as the alti­tude increas­es. And near the top of the vol­cano, hik­ers are met by stun­ning views of the lake and sur­round­ing vil­lages below.

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Take a Wild Ride

The trip from Guatemala City to Lake Ati­tlán is a thrilling one. The coun­try is known for its fan­tas­ti­cal­ly dec­o­rat­ed “Chick­en Bus­es,” which run the unkempt roads con­fi­dent­ly. Nav­i­gat­ing these windy moun­tain­ous roads as the local cul­ture whizzes by is quite an adven­ture, but for first timers, tak­ing the bus or hir­ing a dri­ver is prob­a­bly a safer choice. To con­tin­ue the adven­ture on wheels, hail a tuk tuk near Vol­cano San Pedro for anoth­er excit­ing ride. The streets are steep, but the pre­car­i­ous open-aired vehi­cles seem to hang in there, mak­ing the trip up to San Pedro Volcano’s trail­head much easier. 

Sip Cof­fee + Eat Tortillas

Eat­ing is good in Guatemala! Sip the local beer, Gal­lo, accom­pa­nied with food that feels close to the peo­ple. Many meals in Guatemala include hand-made corn tor­tillas. Their farm-to-table sto­ry is very easy to wit­ness along the jour­ney. The corn grows in the rich, steep soil of Vol­cano San Pedro and is very vis­i­ble along hikes. While perus­ing the local mar­ket at Chichi­cas­te­na­go, ladies mash and pat fresh tor­tillas to grill and sell street side. This local sta­ple leads to many meals of que­sadil­las, eggs with tor­tillas, and gua­camole with corn chips. Gua­camole is anoth­er treat that feels very fresh here. After hik­ing through acres upon acres of avo­ca­do trees grow­ing vol­cano-side it’s easy to enjoy this sat­is­fy­ing dish. Oth­er culi­nary high­lights include the fresh roma toma­toes, which are worked into many dish­es, along with the tasty picos and ranchero sauces.

Relax at an Eco-Resort

The eco-resorts sur­round­ing Lake Ati­tlán are local, small, and quaint. The hall­mark of a great accom­mo­da­tion is that it becomes more than a place to sleep. The Lagu­na Eco-Lodge tru­ly enhanced the expe­ri­ence in Lake Ati­t­lan and served as the home base for explor­ing and activ­i­ties. The Lagu­na Eco Lodge offered a hot tub, fresh water pool, mas­sage ther­a­py and a beau­ti­ful deck for yoga. Hav­ing a lodge that includ­ed trans­porta­tion to and from the main port was essen­tial in being able to coor­di­nate day trips to Chichi­cas­te­nan­go and near­by cities. Many offer nat­ur­al and veg­e­tar­i­an menus with a suf­fi­cient selec­tion of refresh­ments to unwind with after a full day. 

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Kayak or Dive in Lake Atitlan

If the weath­er coop­er­ates, this is the per­fect des­ti­na­tion for hop­ping in a kayak. With the vol­ca­noes and moun­tains sur­round­ing the lake, the per­spec­tive from the lake is quite breath­tak­ing. Be sure to cruise along the shore­line to check out the impres­sive homes and hotels built right into the rocky cliffs. Being on the water also allows for oppor­tu­ni­ties to observe local fish­er­man trolling for minia­ture perch and black bass. Scu­ba div­ing is anoth­er option in this very deep fresh­wa­ter lake. 

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Get Col­or­ful in Chichicastenago

Upon arrival, plan to take advan­tage of using a full day for an excur­sion to Chichi­cas­te­nan­go. This is a local mar­ket only open on Thurs­day and Sun­day. Chichi­cas­te­nan­go is a high­light of the trip, full of local peo­ple pur­chas­ing flow­ers, fruits, tex­tiles and oth­er hand-made crafts. While here indulge in the hand-woven bags and cloth­ing. There is also a beau­ti­ful assort­ment of hand carved masks, fig­urines, and jew­el­ry. If vis­it­ing off-sea­son, this mar­ket can feel quite untouched by tourists. While here, stop into Hotel San­to Tomas to enjoy the gor­geous gar­dens and a Guatemalan lunch.

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Get Crafty in San Juan

As a great fol­low-up to hik­ing Vol­cano San Pedro con­tin­ue your jour­ney by foot to near­by San Juan La Lagu­na. This is the spot to learn about local crafts and cul­ture. Do not miss the demon­stra­tion of how nat­ur­al dyed organ­ic cot­ton is made and woven at Casa Flor Ixca­co. Anoth­er great place to check out in town is the small urban farm, stop in to hear about Organ­ic and Nat­ur­al Med­i­cine. Anoth­er pop­u­lar activ­i­ty in San Juan is tours on local cof­fee grow­ing and pro­duc­tion. This small town is worth a stop on the water taxi even if you do not choose to hike there. From the water taxi, check out the beau­ti­ful views of the piers and boats along the waterline. 

Guatemala was nev­er top of my list as a vaca­tion des­ti­na­tion, how­ev­er the Clym­b’s Adven­ture pack­age made the oppor­tu­ni­ty too invit­ing to pass up. Add this won­der­ful spot to your list if you’re look­ing for the best that Cen­tral Amer­i­ca has to offer, all in one place.

For more infor­ma­tion on when this adven­ture will be avail­able, or for any oth­er ques­tions about Clymb Adven­tures, please con­tact