Located in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, Panajachel (or just ‘Pana’, as the locals call it) is a small town on the north shore of the famous Lake Atitlan.
Panajachel is considered one of the best Guatemala City tourist attractions, despite being a 3 hour drive west of the capital. This goes to show the significance of the town on Guatemalan tourism and it’s an indication of how popular it is, too.
It’s small in size, with a population of a little over 11,000 and nothing more than a twenty minute walk away, but what it offers in panoramic views and natural beauty is quite huge.
If you’re wondering what to do in Panajachel, look no further than our handy guide. We will take you through some of the very best attractions you should see during your stay in this luscious lakeside town.
What are the top attractions to visit in Panajachel?
If you’ve been researching things to see in Guatemala City, you might be quite surprised to find Panajachel near the top of the list. After all, it is more than 110 km away and takes almost 3 hours to reach by car, so it’s not exactly in the immediate vicinity of the country’s capital. It is, however, one of Guatemala’s most visited tourist destinations and we’d highly recommend adding it to your Guatemalan itinerary.
Here are some of Panajachel’s top attractions.
Stroll down the main street, Calle Santander
Ok, so it’s a street. But it’s a little more than ‘just’ a street – it’s really quite unique! This vibrant, bustling street is Panajachel’s main road, and impossible to miss as it is lavishly decorated with the bright, bursting colours of the handmade clothes, costumes and accessories that hang from the market stalls.
The street is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and shops and stalls selling locally made handicrafts.
It’s packed with accommodation and travel agencies, so it’s a tourist hotspot. While this may be a little much for many, be sure to take at least one stroll through the street as you might be surprised at some of the goods and services you can pick up at a great price.
Take a tuk-tuk, just for fun
While you’re here you’re bound to come across the local taxis – tuk-tuk – and it’s like you’ll be intrigued enough to give one a go. These tiny, fun-looking vehicles whizz wildly through the streets picking up locals and tourists alike to take them to nearby places. It’s worth a trip, just for the experience!
Soak up the natural wonder of Lake Atitlan
This is probably the very reason you’re visiting Panajachel; Lake Atitlan. Guatemala’s third largest freshwater lake, this massive body of water sits in a volcanic crater and is the feature of the famous postcard-picture images you’ve most likely seen during your Panajachel research. Quite simply, it’s stunning.
Follow the views of the surrounding mountains as you head down to the shore, where you will soon see the bright blue waters sparkling in the sun. It is mesmerising.
There are plenty of coffee (and beer) spots around the lake, and one of the greatest things to do is simply stop, sit, and stare at the trio of volcanoes towering over the calm waters. We would highly suggest you head down to the lake for sunrise or sunset for a really magical experience.
Of course, if you’re up for something more active, there are plenty of options as well. You could rent a kayak and go paddling around the lake (top tip: the water is most calm in the morning) or perhaps go stand-up paddle boarding or rent a boat. There are places to cliff jump, and paragliding is a popular option, too.
Be at one with nature at the Atitlan Nature Reserve
Right outside of town is the Atitlan Nature Reserve, another top spot where you can enjoy all that the beautiful Lake Atitlan has to offer.
For hiking fanatics there are some tremendous trails that rival some of Guatemala’s best not for their intensity, but for their unique setting. Set in the lush green forest and surrounded by wildlife, you’ll trek through the trees over hanging bridges for exceptional views of the lake and volcanoes.
On ‘The Monkey Trail’ you’ll find a 23 metre high waterfall, and an observation deck where you’ll easily spot spider monkeys and coatis, and on ‘The Full Ride’ you’ll trek a longer loop across suspension bridges and through the coffee grove (the smell is quite delicious).
There is a butterfly reserve housed in the ‘Geo-Dome’, where butterflies lay eggs and flutter around happily in this safe, biodiverse environment.
Thrill-seekers can soar through the skies on one of two ziplines, whizzing through the forest and surrounding valley to the bay of Lake Atitlan for unrivalled panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
A little history at Museo Lacustre de Atitlan
This tiny museum is located in the Hotel Posada de Don Rodrigo. It is only small, but very informative as it displays pieces of history from the Atitlan region and tells the story of how volcanic eruptions formed the landscape you see today.
Panajachel’s oldest hotel, Casa Cakchiquel
The Casa Cakchiquel is Panajachel’s cultural and arts center, once a hotel (one of the town’s first, actually) and now lovingly restored and home to a museum and gallery. The house displays historical photos of the region, taking visitors on a journey through time dating as far back as the late 1800’s.
There is a peaceful garden, a restaurant and even a radio station on site! You’re free to take a walk around the station before you finish up in the house’s fair trade shop.
Take a trip to San Pedro Volcano for an epic hike
Just a couple of hours from Panajachel, you’ll reach one of the majestic mountains (well, volcanoes) that provides the stunning backdrop to Lake Atitlan from the shores of the town. It is the most accessible volcano in the region and one of the most popular trails for serious hikers. It takes around 4-5 hours to reach the summit, so it is not for the faint of heart.
The trail is very well maintained, though, so make sure you stick to the beaten path for the safest route to the top. The volcano is covered with tropical rainforest and provides outstanding views along the way, so make sure you bring your camera!