Amatitlán lies 30 kilometers south of Guatemala City on the road to the Pacific Coast. The lake is in the process of being rescued from what would have been certain ecological death caused by wastewater from nearby industry and uncontrolled urban growth. A new sewage treatment plant now filters the filthy waters of the Río Villalobos, which once flooded untreated sewage into the lake. Trees have been replanted, and the lake is being pumped with oxygen and cleaned of plants in an effort to reverse its eutrophication. It’s still not possible to swim in the lake’s waters, though it may be some day.

Aerial view of Lake Amatitlán, on the fringes of Guatemala City. Photo © Al Argueta.

Aerial view of Lake Amatitlán, on the fringes of Guatemala City. Photo © Al Argueta.

Recreation

A new sewage treatment plant now filters the filthy waters of the Río Villalobos, which once flooded untreated sewage into the lake.The public beach of Las Ninfas was being remodeled by tourism authorities to include boat docks (for sailboats and motorboats), new food stalls, walkways, and landscaping, but like so many other projects in Guatemala it was never finished. The long-closed Teleférico (Aerial Tram, 9am-5pm Fri.-Sun., $2 adults, $0.85 children) was reopened in 2006, in an attempt to kick off the rebirth of one of Guatemala City’s oldest recreational enclaves. The funicular climbs 350 meters up a mountainside along a 1.5-kilometer route. There’s a lookout point at the top of the mountain where you can get out, appreciate the view of the lake and Guatemala City, and grab a bite to eat at a small cafeteria serving snacks. The Teleférico was unfortunately not operational at the time of writing, and it’s anyone’s guess if it will be resuscitated any time soon.

If you’d rather just soak your weary bones in the warm waters of some pleasant hot springs, you can do that at Kawilal Hotel & Spa at Baños Termales Santa Teresita (Avenida Puente de la Gloria, Riveras del Río Michatoya, tel. 6644-1000, 9am-5:30pm Mon.-Thurs., 9am-7:30pm Fri., 8:30am-8:30pm Sat., 8:30am-6:30pm Sun. and holidays), where you can enjoy a private steam bath or a soak in a private tub filled with steaming hot water to your taste ($5). Several outdoor pools of varying temperatures are also available, and there’s a restaurant serving grilled meats and chicken, salads, sandwiches, and seafood. Rounding out the list of offerings is a spa, where you can enjoy a one-hour massage for about $20. A modern, 18-room hotel ($90 d) opened in 2013, with comfortable accommodations and its own swimming pool, restaurant, and bar.

Parque Nacional Naciones Unidas

This 491-hectare park near the lakeshore is managed by private conservation group Defensores de la Naturaleza (tel. 5651-4825 or 2310-2929) and is open 8am-4pm Monday-Friday and 8am-5pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $3.50. Facilities include picnic areas with barbecue pits, hiking and mountain biking trails with hanging bridges and lookout points over the lake, basketball courts, and soccer fields. A five-platform, 400-meter canopy tour, and rappelling were added in 2008. There are miniature replicas of Guatemalan landmarks such as Tikal’s Gran Jaguar temple and Antigua Guatemala in areas denominated “Plaza Guatemala” and “Plaza Antigua.” The park is one of five original national parks dating back to 1955.

Getting There

You’ll probably need to rent a car to get to Lake Amatitlán, though you could also hire a cab to take you there from Guatemala City for about $30. If you’re driving, take the Pacific Highway (CA-9) south out of the city. The main entrance to the Amatitlán lakeshore is at Km. 26. You’ll see signs. The exit veers off from the right side of the highway. From the exit ramp, you’ll come to a Shell gas station, at which you turn left. Follow the road until it dead-ends just past the soccer fields on your left. Turn left at the dead end. You’ll pass a bridge over the Río Michatoya on your right. The next left will take you to the Teleférico and farther up that same road is Parque Nacional Naciones Unidas. Turning right onto the bridge over the Río Michatoya followed by an immediate right will bring you to the Santa Teresita hot springs.


Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Guatemala.