Christmas in Bolivia

One of the most beautiful aspects of Navidad in Latin America is that each country has its own traditions, but they all still have the underlying feeling of Hispanic Christmas. Christmas in Bolivia is no exception.

Like many parts of Latin America, the Christmas season in Bolivia lasts from December 24th to January 6th. The Misa de Gallo (Mass of the Rooster) is perhaps the most important event of the Christmas season for Catholics. As in many parts of the world, Bolivian Catholics attend a midnight mass.

After the Misa de Gallo, a meal is shared as a family. The main dish is traditionally a spicy soup called La Picana, which has chicken, beef or lamb, and pork, and Bolivians serve with corn and potatoes.

On Christmas morning, breakfast is generally buñuelos, or fried dough, served with a drink such as api (made of corn) or hot chocolate.

Traditions of Christmas in Bolivia

In homes, Bolivian Christmas decorations often center around a pesebre, or Nativity Scene. Also called a nacimiento, mangers can be simple, with just the primary characters of the Christmas story, or more elaborate, with up to hundreds of figures.  Pesebres are sometimes made of local gourds which are hollowed out.

Another important aspect of la Navidad en Bolivia is the Spanish Christmas songs, or villancicos. Because of the large number of indigenous people in the country, these traditional songs are not only in Spanish, but are also in languages such as Quechua and Aymara.

The carols are so ingrained in the culture that even people who don’t speak the Quechua and Aymara languages are familiar with them. On Christmas Eve, children will sing and dance to these carols in their homes.

Traditions regarding Christmas trees and presents vary among parts of Bolivia. For example, in certain regions, Christmas trees are common both at home and in cities, as public decorations; in others, no.

Also, some families exchange gifts on Christmas Day, others after eating dinner on Christmas Eve, and yet others on Three Kings Day (Jan.6, Epiphany).

Poverty and Christmas

Activities for underprivileged children are common at Christmastime in Bolivia.

Activities for underprivileged children are common at Christmastime in Bolivia.

Bolivia is a very much a developing country, with more than half the population living in poverty.

In fact, many families do not exchange Christmas gifts at all due to a lack of resources. As such, it’s not surprising that many Christmas traditions have to do with the poor.

For example, it’s common for social organizations to organize campaigns to collect food and toys for families.They also organize parties called Chocolatadas where underprivileged children are served hot chocolate and treats, and are often given presents.

Poverty has impacted Christmas in Bolivia in other ways. For example, in cities it’s common to see people from rural areas who arrive in hopes of receiving a handout from those in the holiday spirit of giving.

Poor children also sing and dance to villancicos on the streets as they ask for money.

Gift Baskets for Christmas

Another important and touching tradition is that of the traditional gift basket that employers give to their employees.

Large enough to be shared with families, the Canastón de fin de año is filled with basic groceries, as well as traditional Christmas goodies, especially cidra (non-alcoholic cider) and panetón, a sweetbread with raisins, nuts, and dried fruit.

Employers give this basket as an end-of-year appreciation for hard work, the gift is particularly special since bonuses are not generally offered throughout the year.

Perhaps the most joyous aspect of Christmas in Bolivia are the famed fireworks, or pólvora. Said by some to rival Fourth of July celebrations in the United States, these bright colors light up the night on Christmas Eve.

Have you spent Christmas in Bolivia? Tell us about it in the comments!

Day of the Dead in El Salvador

Most Latin American countries celebrate El Día de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead.  Each country has its own traditions. Day of the Dead in El Salvador, also known as the Day of the Faithful Departed (Día de los Fieles Difuntos), has an especially painful difference from the celebration in other parts of Latin America.

Day of the Dead in El Salvador

In 1980s, much of Central America was embroiled in civil war, and El Salvador was no exception. During the revolution, some 75,000 people were killed or disappeared. Of those whose bodies were found, many are in mass graves.

Others have been located but are still to be reburied. As such, November 2 has a much more somber meaning in El Salvador. For a culture that honors its dead, it brings great sorrow to be unable to visit them in their final resting place on this important day.

Honoring Those Lost in the Civil War

Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad, a common gathering place on the Day of the Dead in El Salvador.

Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad, a common gathering place on the Day of the Dead in El Salvador.

In honor of those lost and unrecovered in the war, there are monuments to the dead that attempt to give families a place to go on Day of the Dead in El Salvador. The most prominent example is the Monumento a la Memoria y la Verdad (Monument to Memory and Truth) in San Salvador.

Much like the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., the Monumento lists the name of known victims of the violence, and it is heavily visited on the Day of the Dead by families who leave flowers and candles at its base.

The date has also become an important one for organizations working on behalf for victims of the civil war. By commemorating those lost through vigils and religious ceremonies, they continue to advocate for reparations and legislation, as well for more information about the whereabouts of victims.

La Calabuiza

A more joyful aspect of Day of the Dead in El Salvador dates to much before the 1980s – in fact, it was celebrated even before the arrival of the Spanish in Latin America. It’s called La Calabiuza, and in El Salvador, it is one of the reasons that Halloween has yet to make as big of impact on its culture as it has in other parts of the world.

La Calabiuza is Held in Tonacetepeque, north of San Salvador where this festival turns November 1 into a celebration of the popular culture of El Salvador.

From the word “skull” in the language of the local indigenous people, the La Calabiuza festival was able to hold its own for centuries, even with the pressure from Spanish colonists to convert to their own traditions.

Revelers, mostly young people, dress as characters from Salvadoran legends and myths, as well as skeletons and other painted characters.

Examples of characters include La Siguanaba, a beautiful woman who abandons her son and is then cursed, and El Cipitío, her son, who wears a pointy hat. You’ll also see La Llorona, the crying woman common throughout Latin American legends, and the frightening Central American mythical creature El Cadejo.

With the upheavals of the civil war, people abandoned the tradition of La Calabiuza. But after its end, community leaders did their best to bring it back, in part to pre-empt the import of Halloween.

Nowadays, the festival has modern touches such as a costume contest, food stalls, and a dance.

Both the vibrant La Calabiuza and more emotional Day of the Dead traditions are part of El Salvador’s culture of respect for those that came before them and fit squarely into the Hispanic tradition of Day of the Dead.

Want to know more? Hispanic Culture Online is one of the Web’s best resources on the Day of the Dead. Check out our archives here.

Does your family celebrate Day of the Dead? Tell us in the comments.

Oktoberfest in Argentina: Beer Festival

When we think about Oktoberfest, most of us only think of Germany, but did you know that Latin America has its own version that it is actually very popular worldwide? It’s in Argentina, and this Oktoberfest is the world’s biggest German celebration outside of Germany.

Oktoberfest in Argentina is known as the Fiesta Nacional de la Cerveza (National Beer Festival). Starting on the first Saturday of October and finishing a week later, this celebration of beer in South America attracts almost 100,000 tourists every year.

History of Oktoberfest in Argentina

Beer factory and restaurant in Villa General Belgrano, home of Oktoberfest.

Beer factory and restaurant in Villa General Belgrano, home of Oktoberfest.

It all started thanks to the first German immigrants in the small town Villa General Belgrano, Córdoba, where the beer festival has taken place since the 1960s.

Adopting the style of an Alpine village, architecture included, these residents preserved traditions from the old country such as food, language, and music. In fact, Villa General Belgrano is the largest German settlement in Argentina and is considered a prominent tourist destination thanks to this festival.

There are a lot of activities during Oktoberfest in Argentina, so it’s good to do your research and plan ahead.

Despite the name, the celebration is not all about beer. One of the things about this festival is that family is always included in the festivities.

In the parades, for example, there are carriages, orchestras, dance groups, musicians, and even the villagers dressed up with traditional German outfits.

Tourist Tips for 2015 Oktoberfest in Argentina

One of the most unusual activities during Oktoberfest is the Hot Dog Parade. And when they say hot dogs, they really mean hot DOGS.

This parade has dachshund after dachshund in hot dog costumes, which, as you can imagine, is quite a sight. The Hot Dog Parade is definitely one the most popular activities at this beer festival, so if you get the chance to enjoy the Oktoberfest in Argentina, it’s one for the must-do list.

Another activity on your to-do list should be the coronation of the Reina Nacional de la Cerveza. Each year, a beautiful young lady is selected as the National Beer Queen for that year’s festival; she will then participate in many parades and activities for the two weekends of the festival.

You also should make a point to attend an “Espiche”. This is the beer version of shaking a bottle of champagne so that the froth goes everywhere when it’s opened. But instead of a bottle, they shake up a barrel of beer and spray the contents on those in attendance. It’s done each day to start the festivities, so watch out for flying beer.

With this beer festival and Latin party, Argentina gives us a great example of how cultures can mix and evolve around the world, combining different traditions. Not a bad lesson for Oktoberfest.

Would you go to Oktoberfest in Argentina? Let us know in the comments!

What Are The Nazca Lines in Peru?

As human beings, it’s in our nature to try to find explanations for phenomena that seems impossible to explain. One of the most fascinating- of these ancient mysteries is the Nazca Lines in Peru. This series of geoglyphs, or a large-scale artwork, in Southern Peru, is the subject of research and theories due to the immense size of the structures and the unusual figures that they reflect.

The Nazca Lines are series of hundreds of designs created dragging shallow lines in the ground of the dry Pampa soil.  By breaking through the surface of the red dirt, the white soil below was revealed, creating the figures.

The most impressive aspect of the Nazca Lines is how huge they are: the largest are over 200 meters (660 feet) across. That’s more than two football fields.

History of the Nazca Lines in Peru

The Astronaut, one of the most famous of the Nazca Lines.

The Astronaut, one of the most famous of the Nazca Lines.

The Nazca Lines date to between 400 and 650 AD and are named after the indigenous people believed to have created them.

The designs reflect a large variety of different figures, many of which represent animals or human figures. Some of the most famous figures are the Spider, the Hummingbird, the Condor, and the Whale, a surprising choice for the Peruvian pampa.

There is even one that has been called the Astronaut. This other-worldly figure fed the theory that extraterrestrials were somehow related to the creation of the Lines.

Another category is figures from nature such as plants, trees, and flowers. There is also a collection of geometrical figures, such as triangles, rectangles, spirals, and circles, as well as straight and wavy lines.

If you’re wondering how they have been preserved all this time, it is thanks to the area’s climate. The soil has a great deal of lime, meaning that the lower layer of soil would eventually harden. Combined with the pampa’s general lack of wind and an isolated location, the Nazca Lines were preserved for these hundreds of years.

They are, however, only 10 to 30 centimeters deep, and so there are concerns about seeing the Nazca Lines destroyed by human activities as well as extreme weather.

Explanations of the Nazca Lines in Peru

Like other mysterious phenomenon, people have made up all kinds of stories about them. Given their size, it’s easy to see why some believe that they were flight paths for aliens or designed to be seen by gods.

It is indeed hard to understand how it was possible to make such huge, yet accurate, drawings without being able to see them from above. Even now, to see many of them in their full glory, it’s best to view them from a plane.

There are endless proposed explanations for the Nazca Lines in Peru: aliens, irrigation schemes, maps of water sources, fertility symbols, and astronomical calendars. Explorer Jim Woodman even theorized that the Nazca must have invented the first hot-air balloon.

Visiting the Nazca Lines in Peru

It is possible to view them from the foothills nearby. In fact, that’s how they were discovered (or re-discovered, actually) in 1927 by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia.

Still, despite decades of archaeological research into the Nazca Lines in Peru, facts haven’t been found that create a consensus as to their meaning.

The Nazca Lines in Peru were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and, as such, are a protected area.

The best way to see the lines is to fly over them, preferably in the early morning before sunlight makes them hard to see. 200 miles south of Lima, the area is also accessible from Cusco and Arequipa. They are fairly near Machu Picchu, making them a popular tourist destination.

If you are fascinated with unexplained phenomenon, the Nazca Lines in Peru are a must-see in any trip to South America.

Are you intrigued by the Nazca Lines? Tell us your theory in the comments!

Food Festival of Mistura Peru: One of the Best in the World

If you pay attention to food trends, you’ll know that in recent years, Peruvian food has been exploding in popularity throughout Latin America and the rest of the world. Peru itself has also become a favorite travel destination for food lovers and for three years’ running has been named the World’s Leading Culinary Destination by the World Travel Awards.

Whether you are already a fan or are intrigued by the popularity of this unique South American cuisine, your best opportunity to try it is this September at the food festival Mistura of Peru in Lima.

History of Mistura Peru

Mistura, or mixture in Portuguese, is the largest food festival in South America and one of the largest in the world.

In 2014, over 400,000 people attended during the ten-day run. Some 30,000 of those were foreign tourists.

With over 200 food and drink stands and a market with some 1,300 people selling fruits, vegetables, and other raw ingredients, this food festival is a feast for the eyes, the nose, and the palate.

The APEGA (Sociedad Peruana de Gastronomía – Peruvian Gastronomy Society) organizes the event.

The festival started in 2008 as Perú Mucho Gusto, and in its first year it was able to attract some 23,000 visitors. Since then, each year the festival has grown both in scope and in number of attendees.

In recent years, Mistura has incorporated themes such as sustainability, nutrition, and biodiversity, with the intent of showing the many facets of Peruvian food and agriculture.

Tips for Attending Mistura Peru

Vendors at Mistura Food Festival in 2012.

Vendors at Mistura Food Festival in 2012.

Mistura Perú is held each September, with the date announced in the spring. Since it’s in Lima, travel to and from is as simple as an international flight. But it definitely takes planning.

In order to see everything – as well as to have room to try a number of dishes – you may want to visit the festival more than once.

Try going during the week, as weekends tend to be very crowded. For most food purchases, you have to buy “Mistura money,” so be sure to leave time for the lines – they can get heavy around lunchtime when locals visit the festival.

If you are headed all the way to Peru, don’t just make time for Machu Picchu.  You’ll also want to take the time to check out the fair’s schedule, as well as details of the Mundos (worlds), which are the different sections of the fair.

Past examples included Carretillas (pushcarts that sell street food), regional sections such as Del Sur (From the South), Andino (Andean) and Amazónico (Amazonian), and Dulces (Sweets).

What to Try at Mistura Peru

Food on offer runs the gamut: drinks like pisco, chilcano, and uvuchado; desserts including suspiro a la limeña, queso helado, and rafañote; and more exotic fare, such as cuy (guinea pig), anticuchos (beef heart), and frog milkshakes.

Beyond the opportunities to try Peruvian dishes, there are also activities at the festival like master classes, talks, cooking competitions, and even dance performances and concerts. So you will have lots to fill your time while you rest your stomach.

With some planning, a plane ticket, and an appetite, you’ll be on your way to one of the most unique culinary experiences on the planet.

Are you planning to go to Mistura or have you been? Tell us about it in the comments!

Lake Arenal Hot Springs in Costa Rica

At Lake Arenal Hot Springs in Costa Rica, my husband and I soaked our troubles away in an amazing variety of naturally heated pools, some of which are attached to luxury resorts and offer amenities like swim-up bars or spa treatments.

Before starting our trip to Costa Rica we thought this amazing country was simply another touristy place, and to our surprise it was completely different. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that a visit to Lake Arenal in Costa Rica can’t be exciting.

The region around the lake and hot springs features dramatic vistas of volcanic peaks, abundant wildlife, and plenty of opportunities for adventures on the water or in the forest.

I come from South America where we have plenty of wild and green, and I can say the Arenal area took my breath away.

Tips for Travelers

How to Get There: If you fly into Costa Rica’s capital, San José a short 3-hour drive or bus ride will bring you into the heart of the Arenal region, 100km away.

My Gringo and I rented a truck for a reasonable price and it was the right decision. It allowed us to explore the region way deeper than if we would’ve taken the bus. You can rent the car right at the airport and simply drive away.

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

When to Go: The rainy season in Costa Rica extends from May to November, so most people prefer to visit between December and April. After all, it would be kind of an odd sensation to sit in a hot spring with cool rain falling on your face.

During the rainy season rains a lot and the rivers grow tremendously making it very hard for busses, trucks or any kind of vehicle to mobilize around the “off the beaten path” areas.

We saw several people on the side of the road unable to cross because of the increased water level of the rivers. That is why we recommend you to rent a truck.

Costa Rica Volcanoes & SurfCosta Rica Volcanoes & Surf
Mountain bike along Lake Arenal with breathtaking volcanic views and catch a wave on this action-packed 9-day tour of Costa Rica.

Get your adrenaline pumping with optional extreme sports like whitewater rafting, rappelling and ziplining through the lush jungle canopy. Learn to surf the famous Pacific breaks at Playa Santa Teresa and enjoy plenty of time to relax on tropical beaches. Throw in the opportunity to see incredible rainforest wildlife and you’ve got a unique adventure you’ll be talking about for years.

Where to Stay: In order to make the most of your time at Arenal Hot Springs, plan to stay in one of the many local hotels that have their own hot springs pools. With so many quality hotels to choose from, it’s hard to say which one is best.

TIP for Lodging at Lake Arenal and Hot Springs in Costa Rica

If you want to save a bit of money, you can also try finding accommodations in the town of Fortuna. You will be close to all the attractions the area has to offer, and you can still visit the hot springs pools at select resorts like Titoku Hot Springs even if you are not a guest.

There are also locals who have something called “Cabinas” and they are tiny rooms with a comfortable bed and no luxuries. My husband is a big guy so we only rented a cabina once and from there on we rented hotel rooms. But if you are on a budget by all means this is a good way to wing it.

3 Must-Do Activities

Cool Off in a Hot Spring: It sounds absurd, but taking a dip in the steamy waters of Arenal Hot Springs can actually make you feel cooler, even on a humid summer day in Costa Rica.

Not only will you get to wash away the dust and dirt of your day, you will also get to soak in waters so hot that the afternoon air will seem cool by comparison when you emerge.

Go Birdwatching in the Rainforest Canopy: The rainforests around Lake Arenal in Costa Rica abound with wildlife, from nosy coatis that tried to beg snacks from us -tourists to loud howler monkeys and hundreds of species of birds.

I must be honest, we are not birdwatchers however, one of the best ways to see the birds is on an early-morning canopy tour at Arenal Hanging Bridges.  We thoroughly enjoyed this adventure.

Arenal Hanging Bridges is an eco-reserve featuring a 3-kilometer nature trail with a twist: bridges on the trail to let you ascend across ravines and high into the forest canopy, for a birds-eye view of the rainforest. That was amazing! As a bonus, you’ll get a nice view of the volcano at the end of your birdwatching tour.

See Arenal Volcano: In the past, Arenal volcano erupted quite regularly, and you could often spot red-hot rocks tumbling down the volcano’s slopes at night.

Because the volcano hasn’t put on a show since 2010 and is now considered to be in a resting phase (we visited when it was considered to be active), don’t be crushed if you don’t get to see any lava or magma.

Instead, you can hike over old lava flows that have turned to rock on the slopes of Arenal or view the picture-perfect lagoon that has formed in the crater of nearby Chato Volcano.

Have you visited Lake Arenal?  Share your experience and leave a comment!


Planning Your Atacama Desert Vacation

Start planning your Atacama desert vacation today and experience the beauty of this region for yourself.  Many of us grew up hearing about the Sahara and thought that to love a desert adventure we had to travel into the far east however, here in Latin America you can find one of the most beautiful landscapes a dessert can offer, Atacama Desert.  You might imagine a desert vacation would bore you, but in the vast, unearthly landscapes of the Atacama, you can easily find more than enough attractions to keep you enthralled for 5 days or more.

The Atacama includes crunchy white salt flats, turquoise lakes, dramatic volcanic mountain ranges, and an incredible variety of rock formations.  Though some regions of the Atacama have never received rain in recorded human history, nonetheless you will find life here including graceful Andean flamingos, shaggy alpacas, and of course colorfully clad Andean villagers, many of them still living a traditional lifestyle. Start planning your Atacama desert vacation today and experience the beauty of this region for yourself.

Tips for Travelers


Valle de La Luna near San pedro de Atacama

When to Go: Because the Atacama desert enjoys stable temperatures and clear weather throughout the year, any time qualifies as the best time to visit Atacama desert. You can expect clear, sunny days between 70 and 80 degrees F and nights dropping to the 30s or 40s whenever you visit.

How to Get There: If traveling to Chile directly from the US, you can easily find a flight into the capital city of Santiago. Enjoy the city for a day or so if you like, then fly two hours to Calama, where you can get a car transfer to the gateway city of the Atacama desert, San Pedro de Atacama.

What to Bring: In order to enjoy the Atacama desert, you absolutely must prepare for the heat, cold, and sun you will find here. Bring a mix of lightweight trekking clothes for the day and warm layers for the evening. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and chapstick.

Atacama Desert Vicuñas

Atacama Desert Vicuñas

How to Get Around: You will find an abundance of tour operators in San Pedro de Atacama willing to take you anywhere you want to go. However, if you like getting off the beaten path, you should consider renting a Jeep to explore the dusty roads on your own. Either way, allow yourself a few days to acclimate to the altitude before you do any serious hiking or biking.

Choosing a Tour: You may actually need to book several different Atacama desert tours in order to see all the famous sights like the Salar de Atacama, the Valle de la Luna, el Tatio Geysers, Ojos de Salar, and more. Plenty of tour operators compete for your business right in San Pedro de Atacama and you can often get a discount by booking several tours through one company. If you stay at a nice hotel you can ask the front desk to recommend a good tour company.

3 Must-Do Activities in Your Atacama Desert Vacation

Besides taking in all the most famous Atacama desert sights on your own or on a tour, you can experience the landscape by:

Swimming: Thanks to the unique geology of the area, you have two options for taking a dip in the Atacama desert. Head to the Laguna Cejar to experience water so salty you float in it effortlessly, or visit the Puritama Hot Springs for a soothing soak followed by a mad scramble to get your clothes back on in the chilly mountain air.

Sandboarding: Ever surfed a sand dune? In the Atacama desert you can. For about $30 US, a sandboarding instructor will take you out to the dunes in Valle de la Muerte, give a brief demo, and let you slip and slide to your heart’s content. This makes a great activity for older kids who like to get dirty.

Intrigued by the name?  It has nothing to do with scary happenings on the site.  Many years ago a Belgium priest who visited the site say it looked like Marte and the indigenous people confused that word with “muerte,” the name stuck and today it is called Valle de la Muerte.

Atacama desert vacationStargazing: The remote Atacama desert offers some of the best stargazing in the entire world, with some experts saying that visitors can see a shooting star every 4 seconds. Hop a tour to the Paranal Observatory or simply walk out past the edge of town for night skies like you’ve never experienced before. This peaceful activity makes the perfect finale to your Atacama desert vacation.

Atacama desert is like no other place on earth, and we don’t know it as one of the top destinations in Latin America.  However, if you think about it who would not love to go sand boarding, stargazing and enjoying the incredible landscape this desert offers jus here in South America?  We frequently dream of exotic location without knowing we have many of them here where our Hispanic culture was born.

Why Visit Lake Atitlán in Guatemala

I used to dream of relaxing beside the waters of famous Lake Cuomo in Italy, but that was before I discovered Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. In my opinion, Lake Atitlan is America’s answer to Lake Cuomo—a relaxing destination that is superior to its European counterpart in almost every way.  It is more peaceful, more dramatically beautiful, and best of all, more affordable.

I can spend almost a whole week at one of the mid-range Lake Atitlán hotels for what it would cost to stay just one night on Lake Cuomo. Needless to say I will be going back. Hope to see you there!

Exploring Lake Atitlán in Guatemala: 3 Must-Do Activities

Lake Atitlán in Guatemala

Lake Atitlán in Guatemala

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala really does feel like a little corner of paradise. The huge, brilliant blue lake sits nearly a mile high up in the mountains, in the ancient crater of an extinct volcano. Lush green hills and the peaks of three volcanoes form a dramatic backdrop for the play of light over the lake at sunrise and sunset. As you explore Lake Atitlán and the many villages that dot its shores, be sure to fit in these 3 must-do activities.

Experience Mayan Culture

Lake Atitlán and the surrounding countryside is home mostly to indigenous Mayan people. During your Lake Atitlán vacation, you will have plenty of opportunities to interact with them, sample local foods, and learn about Mayan culture.

The best way to really immerse yourself in the local culture is to make a point of visiting some of the local villages, like Santa Catarina Palopo or San Antonio Palopo. Both of these villages are home to Kaquichel Mayan people, and they are easily reached by paved roads from Panajachel. You can even walk to San Antonio Palopo in about two hours.

Kayak on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala

Atitlán a perfect place to kayak

Atitlán a perfect place to kayak

Lago Atitlán Guatemala takes its name from a Nahuatl word meaning “at the water.” When visiting Lake Atitlán, you absolutely have to experience the lake up close and personal. While swimming provides welcome relief from the warm sunny weather, and you can always hop a ride on one of the many water taxis that serve the villages in lieu of roads, the best way to explore is by kayak.

You can rent a kayak at La Casa Del Mundo, which, incidentally, is also a great hotel to stay at. Be sure to set off early in the morning so you can enjoy your kayaking before the afternoon winds start up.

Climb a Volcano

Lake Atitlán has lush vegetation because of the volcanic soil

Lake Atitlán has lush vegetation because of the volcanic soil

Climbing one of the volcanos that rise above the south side of the lake gives you a whole new perspective on Lake Atitlan. San Pedro is the most popular volcano to climb, and guided tours start from the village of San Pedro.

My recommendation? Wait until you arrive to hire your guide, and you will avoid paying huge fees to a middleman. Your guide will likely be an indigenous Quiche who can tell you a lot about the region.

How to Get to Lake Atitlán in Guatemala

Getting to Lake Atitlan is pretty easy. All you have to do is hop on a bus in Guatemala City, and about three hours later you will arrive in Panajachel, the largest and most popular city on the lake.

From Panajachel you can take a shuttle bus or a water taxi to other villages around the lake. If you don’t want the typical, crowded Latin American “chicken bus” experience, there is a first class bus every day at 7:30 am.

Where to Stay on Lake Atitlán

There are almost too many hotels and hostels around Lake Atitlán to count.  If you want to stay outside of any town, La Casa Del Mundo is a beautiful boutique hotel with a stunning cliffside location and its own restaurant. This hotel is widely regarded as one of the best values for your money in Lake Atitlán.