Going to Lake Atitlán

Tags: Guatemala, Lake Atitlán, San Juan, Santiago

Date: December 23, 2019

We spent Christmas in a village called Panajachel. It is located on the shore of Lake Atitlán:

Lake Atitlán is an 18 by 8 km lake at an altitude of 1,562 meters above sea level. It has formed in an old volcanic crater and is surrounded by a number of very picturesque villages and three volcanoes. The maximum depth of the lake is 340 meters.

The water level is somewhat unstable making it a little difficult to build towns docks. It also creates some uncertainty as to the value of lakefront property. After the large earthquake of 1976, the water level fell two meters in a month. That probably got many people worried since there is a lot of boat traffic on the lake. In 2010 the water rose 2 meters in a month after a big storm in the middle of the rainy season. In prehistoric times, even more dramatic changes has occurred. A 2,000 year old Maya site has been found about 30 meters below the surface and it was probably abandoned around 1,700 years ago during a time when the water level is thought to have risen 20 meters in a relatively short time.

Here, Felicie is enjoying the view:

The San Pedro volcano:

View of a village on the slopes of the mountains leading down to the lake:

We went on a kayaking and hiking trip, finally ending up in the village of San Juan La Laguna:

The church at the top of the hill in the town is a combination of an old and a new church:

Felicie is learning to spin cotton yarn:

It looks like her teacher has little hope that she will succeed. In the background you can see a number of different natural products used to dye the yarn.

Walking down the steep streets:

The effect of the water rising is evident at the docks of Santiago Atitlán which was the next village we went to:

We split up in two tuk-tuks to go to the town centre:

In the town we saw a local shaman who was taking care of a wooden figure representing the indigenous deity called Maximón. Maximón likes smoking and drinking and wears many neckties at the same time. It is thought that he represents a mixture of Pedro de Alverado (the Spanish conquistador that conquered central Guatemala), Judas, Saint Peter, as well as one or more Mayan gods. Maximón is hosted in a private home and moves every year. It was a rather strange spectacle and we don't have any pictures. Here is the Catholic church instead:

It was built between 1571 and 1582.