GUATEMALA, Lake Atitlán with Kids – Deep in the Guatemalan Highlands lies the serenely beautiful Lake Atitlán. Easily one of the country’s most visited, and most loved, destinations, it’s also a wonderful place for families. Formed some 85,000 years ago by a titanic volcanic explosion, the crater lake is today flanked by steep green hills, characterful Maya villages and three younger volcanoes – Tolimán, San Pedro and Atitlán.
It’s both the dramatic location and the lake itself (it’s the deepest in Central America reaching depths of 340 meters / 1,115 feet) that continue to wow visitors. Few places boast such crystal-clear skies, such brilliant sunshine and such breath-taking views as Lake Atitlán. The best way to explore the lake is by boat and you can spend days crisscrossing the waters visiting the lakeshore towns.
If you’ll be visiting Lake Atitlán with kids, here are 4 great things to do along with 1 great place to stay and 1 great place to eat while you are there.
Activity 1: Discover the Lake
El Lago de Atitlán is the star of the show and you’re guaranteed to fall under its spell whether you choose to hit the waters or simply admire them from the lakeshore. There are a number of ways to explore Lake Atitlán including scuba diving and kayaking, but the best way to get a feel for the lake, and its villages, is by boat.
Water taxis ferry folk across the cobalt waters from morning to night, and from village to village. There is no official timetable (not that we could find, anyway!), rather the taxis wait until they are full before they head off. A better option for cruising the lake with kids is to hire a private boat or book a tour. Hiring a boat is easy to do and you’ll find any number of “captains” down at the docks offering day tours of the lake; most include stops at the villages of San Juan La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna and Santiago.
Activity 2: Learn to Weave
Guatemala is world famous for its incredible textiles and weaving techniques. At the village of San Juan la Laguna you can learn all about this traditional art in a fun, hands-on way that kids will love. This small lakeshore town is home to a number of weaving cooperatives established by the Tzutujile Mayan people to both preserve their art and to create a sustainable income.
Demonstrations take visitors through the entire weaving process, from preparing the cotton to dying the thread and weaving using a traditional back strap loom. Particularly fascinating for kids is the part that details how different fruits, vegetables, plants, and herbs are used to dye the cotton. There’s a shop on site and all profits are injected right back into the community. Find out more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Juan_La_Laguna
Activity 3: Fly Through the Air
Although the waters of Lake Atitlán are the main attraction there are activities on dry land to keep kids busy, too. The Atitlán Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Atitlán) is well worth a visit for its butterfly garden, its walking trails and its zip lines. Fly through the air above waterfalls and canyons with spellbinding views of forests, volcanoes and the shimmering lake waters. There are two circuits and both are suitable for kids; children can choose to fly solo or go in tandem with a guide.
If that all sounds too extreme, then the reserve is home to three main hiking trails that wind through coffee groves, across hanging bridges, and past monkeys! You may even spot a coati if you’re lucky; this South American mammal is closely related to the raccoon family. Find out more: http://Atitlánreserva.com/wp/en/welcome/
Activity 4: Get Cooking
To get a real taste of Guatemalan cuisine and an insight into local life try a cooking class with Lake Atitlán Cooking School run by Anita. This half-day class is a wonderful way to learn about village life and local flavors. Best of all, it’s very kid-friendly. The class starts with a trip to the local market to choose ingredients before heading back to Anita’s home to begin prepping dishes.
Our kids were involved from the get-go (even choosing our menu) and were responsible for most dishes from prepping the tamales to making potato pancakes. At the end of the class you get to sit down and enjoy your lunch. For us it was one of the best meals that we had in Guatemala! Find out more: http://kayakguatemala.com/mayan-kitchen-cooking-classlake-atitlan-guatemala-culinary-recipes/
1 Great Place to Stay: Hotel Atitlán
The villages surrounding lake Atitlán are full of backpacker hostels and spiritual retreats that can only be reached by boat. For somewhere a little more family-friendly head to Hotel Atitlán. Located just outside the town of Panajachel, one of the few villages accessible by road (and your first point of call when arriving from Antigua), this 60-room hotel sits directly on the lake shore.
All rooms come with unobstructed water views, and a balcony from which to enjoy them. The swimming pool and Jacuzzi overlook the lake, making for a magical sunset-watching spot. The hotel is also well-known for its gardens, which are beautifully maintained, a riot of color, and home to oodles of birds. Find out more: http://www.hotelAtitlán.com/default-en.html
1 Great Place to Eat: Mr. Jon’s
If it’s local fare that you’re after, better book a cooking class (see above!) as the majority of restaurants in Panajachel cater to foreign taste buds. That’s not to say the foodie scene is not good, however; there are lots of yummy eateries to choose from. Our favorite was Mr Jon’s, home to some of the best breakfasts in town.
This is the place to come for stacks of buttermilk pancakes, bottomless coffee and the perfect poached eggs with homemade hollandaise sauce. The décor is simple (if not a little sparse) but the food more than makes up for it. Find out more: http://www.mister-jon.com