Atitlán - Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó

Tags: Guatemala, Lake Atitlán, Panajachel, San Antonio, Santa Catarina

Date: December 25, 2019

From the living room of our rented house in Panajachel we had a nice view of the garden. One morning a squirrel sat in one of the trees, eating a fruit:

On December 25 we went on a trip to a couple of villages Southeast of Panajachel. First we visited Santa Catarina Palopó. Like many Guatemalan town and villages the name of has two parts, a Spanish colonial name and a indigenous name. As was the case in San Tomas Chichicastenango, the first part of the name is the name of a Catholic saint. Palopó is a composite word from the Maya Kaqchikel dialect meaning ficus tree. The majority of the 5,000+ inhabitants of Santa Catarina are of Kaqchikel descent and Kaqchikel is the most widely spoken language in the village.

In 2017 a project called "Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó" was started by a Guatemalan journalist in an attempt to create a pleasant living environment for the inhabitants and help the village attract tourism and gain new income. The idea is to paint the houses in bright colors with designs from the traditional weaved blouses of the indigenous women, the so-called huipil, which often have motifs related to Mayan symbolism. Each family choose the color and design they want on their home and then a mix of artists and volunteers do the actual painting. In the first year of the project the painting of about 340 houses were completed, the ultimate goal being to paint 850 houses. The house below shows two hummingbirds, facing each other, representing the avian aspect of the sun god:

The main square, with painted houses on the right and the village Christmas tree to the left:

The church facade:

Painted house with butterflies, possibly representing freedom or the souls of dead warriors:

Deer are symbols of strong stable energies signifying the binding forces between an individual and their family:

Pomegranate tree with fruits:

Many of passageways between the houses are very narrow and steep. Here, the ground was almost covered with shredded paper from all the firecrackers that had been lit the night before (on Christmas Eve):

We drove to the next village, called San Antonio Palopó. Here is a view of the village sprawled on the lake shore:

Here we all are with the hill called "Cerro de Oro" in the background (on the right):

Some people believe that Cerro de Oro was the inspiration for the snake that has eaten an elephant in "The little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, but while it is true that Saint-Exupery visited Guatemala in 1938 and spent some time in Antigua convalescing after an serious airplane accident, there does not seem to be any evidence that he visited Lake Atitlán. However, he might have found inspiration for the Prince's planet in the volcano encircled city of Antigua. Cerro de Oro means "Hill of Gold" and another of the stories about the hill is that the Spanish went there looking for gold hidden by the Mayas in the caves and tunnels under the hill but they got lost and were never seen again. One thing that does seem to be a fact is that the hill was used for religious ceremonies by the Mayas and that stones carved with Mayan hieroglyphs have been found on the hill.

Traditional and more modern boats at the shore of Lake Atitlán: