Lake Atitlan — one of the world’s most beautiful places

Lake Atitlan is one of those special places — one of my top ten most beautiful places in the world. I’ve been here previously in 1974 and 1993, but it still impresses me. Today was my day to explore it.

I was up before sunrise to catch a bus up the mountain to a lookout point of Lake Atitlan. I took pictures as the sun came up and cast its light upon the volcanoes.

After changing to a better hotel, I took a collective boat across the lake to Santiago Atitlan, which at 50,000 people is the largest town in the area. The Mayan culture is very strong there and people worship a god named Maximon, who chain smokes cigarettes and appreciates offerings of money and alcohol.

I hired a tuk tuk and driver two take me around. Tuk tuks are a recent innovation in Guatemala – they are a cross between a motorcycle and a rickshaw and are imported from India. The driver, Antonio, acted as a guide taking me around to some of the sites in Santiago.

From a viewpoint we looked out over the lake and volcanoes and could see many of the Mayan women washing clothes in the lake. We saw the site of a massacre of local people by the Army in 1990, where there is a grave of a five-year-old child – no doubt suspected of being a communist. And we visited the cathedral, built in the 1500s by the Spanish, and where an American priest was murdered by the Army in 1981 for being too progressive. We saw part of the community that was abandoned after a volcanic eruption of Toliman in 2005 that killed a number of people when mud came down the mountain. There was an abandoned hospitable, school, and police station.

And of course we visited that god Maximon, who I placated with the required offering in order to take his picture.

After that, I took another boat to another shoreline community, San Pedro. There were a number of tourists there, but more of the laid-back, semi-hippie type and then the hard-core tourists in Panajachel. It actually looked like a pleasant place to stay and maybe study Spanish if I had more time.

Finally I caught another boat back to Panajachel. I regret that they no longer run the slow boat that stopped at all the indigenous villages and which I took in 1993. The boats they use now are very fast and some of the pleasure of the trip is gone.

About Richard McGuire

Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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