The lake and mountainous surroundings afford a variety of recreational opportunities. Panajachel’s public beach is not, at the moment, suitable for swimming pending the rebuilding of a water-treatment plant destroyed by Hurricane Stan in 2005. Some of the beaches in neighboring towns make much better places for swimming, though much of this depends on the presence of the lake’s recently exhibited algal growth.
Keep in mind the waters of this highland mountain lake tend to be a bit chilly. They also tend to get a bit rough in the afternoon because of the presence of a wind phenomenon known as the Xocomil. If you stop to look closely, you’ll see it blowing across the lake, turning the glassy-smooth surface choppy in a matter of minutes. There are kayaks available for rent here.
Hotel Utz-Jay (2-50 Calle 15 de Febrero, tel. 7762-0217, www.hotelutzjay.com) rents mountain bikes and also organizes mountain- biking trips on trails around the lake.
Antigua-based Old Town Outfitters (5a Avenida Sur #12, Antigua, tel. 5399-0440, www.bikeguatemala.com) runs a highly stimulating two-day Pedal and Paddle tour, dropping you 2,000 vertical feet along 20–25 miles of single track followed by sea kayaking across the lake for about four miles. You can add a third day of rock climbing and rappelling or climb San Pedro Volcano. The two-day trip costs $175 or $250 for three days.
Tolimán Excursions (Calle Santander 1-77, tel. 7762-2455 or 7762-0334) offers guided hikes up San Pedro Volcano across the lake, leaving early in the morning (6 a.m.) and returning late afternoon around 6 p.m. The trip costs $39 per person including food, transport, guide, and park entrance fee.
The possibilities for hikes to surrounding towns and villages are virtually limitless, though you should never hike alone and always inquire about the security situation with the local tourist office before heading out.
Although based in the nearby town of Santa Cruz La Laguna, ATI Divers has an office in Panajachel on Calle Santander in Plaza los Patios (tel. 7762-2621, ati_divers [at] yahoo [dot] com). You can do a fun dive for $25 or take the PADI open water course for $205. A high-altitude diving certification course is $75. You’ll have to spend at least one night at lake altitude before your first dive to avoid decompression sickness.
The high-altitude lake offers a unique diving experience, including the chance to see underwater volcanic rock formations and a fault line where you can see and feel hot volcanic mud.
If you’re the type who likes to fly by the seat of your pants, contact Canadian Roger Lapointe (tel. 5595-7732, paragliding [at] panajachel [dot] com) for exhilarating tandem paragliding from the lake’s steep mountainsides, costing $80.
The waters of Lake Atitlán have been stocked with largemouth bass since 1958 thanks to the efforts of tourism promoters at now- absconded Pan American Airways. These same largemouth bass were also largely responsible for the extinction of the rare Atitlán pied-billed grebe, which disappeared in the late 1980s as their young increasingly fell prey to the large fish. In any case, you can try your hand at catching one of these elusive creatures.
Most of the fish caught are in the five-pound range, though there are supposedly 20-pound fish here. The lake’s 1,550-meter (5,100-foot) maximum depth further complicates matters, as the bigger fish tend to hang out at greater depths except during the annual spring spawn.
Your best chance of landing “the big one” is between March and May, before and after the spawn. If you’re interested in learning more about Lake Atitlán largemouth bass fishing, email bass [at] panajachel [dot] com.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com