Lake Atitlan : Guatemala


What It Is Like to Retire in Lake Atitlan

The towns around Lake Atitlan represent an interesting merge of cultures. The lake is the most popular tourist destination in Guatemala. Communities of hippies settled in during the 60s. And yet, some of these towns remain among the most traditional in all of the country. Men still wear traditional clothing, and many do not speak Spanish, instead relying on more ancient, pre-Columbus language.

The setting itself is jaw dropping. Three jungle covered volcanoes jut into the sky, barricading in the startlingly blue lake. Several towns are scattered around the lake. Four are home to significant ex-pat populations. Panajachel (Pana) has the most tourists and access to everyday needs. Across the lake are Santiago, San Pedro and San Marcus. Santiago is the largest, with a more local feel. Both San Pedro and San Marcus attract many foreigners with their small town feel and yoga studios.

The area offers much for active adults. The more touristy towns rent kayaks, bikes and horses, and offer guided hikes up the volcanoes. Swimming is also possible. The area has several language schools, a few national parks and plenty of markets and galleries to explore. In the towns, you can find restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, markets, bars and book exchanges.

Everyday cost of living is quite low here and throughout Guatemala. The area still struggles with extreme poverty. The government has improved, but that's not saying much. Recent landslides near Santiago destroyed an entire town. Many foreign volunteers live in this area, helping with various development projects. You can't find everything you need here, but nearby Antigua and Guatemala City offer most everything else. Photo of Aerial panoramic view of Lake Atitlan courtesy of Wikipedia chensiyuan, photo of Hike down from the east rim to Lake Atitlan courtesy of Wikipedia and Murray Foubister, Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/

Where to Retire in Lake Atitlan and Home Prices

Homes in the area generally fall into different categories: waterfront and not waterfront, lake and volcanoes views or not, in villages or outside villages  but in any of the cases you can expect to receive great value for your money. Because of the volcanic soil and weather expect to have great gardens (your own  lime, coffee trees, bananas, avocados etc).Each Location offers different options depending on if you are a bar-fly, a nature lover, a lover of Mayan culture , swimmer, hiker... There are basically 4 differents location to choose from.. Panajachel which is the entrance city of the lake, East Shore from Panajachel to San Antonio Palopo the area of most appreciacion with great views. North Shore from Panajachel to San Marcos La Laguna mostly only accesible by boat and little mayan villages and the rest...


What Is Special about Lake Atitlan

The towns around the lake offer a unique mixture of Guatemalan tradition and a significant foreign community. It is rare to find a place that has such a strong traditional culture with yoga centers and a granola lady. It also is set in one of the most stunning areas of Central America. Aldous Huxley called it "the most beautiful lake in the world."

What Is Not Special about Lake Atitlan

Panajachel has become overbuilt, and it might be off putting for some to see so many foreigners in the streets. Safety is definitely an issue here. Most foreign property owners employ a full time gardener/guard to keep an eye out for trouble. Walking in certain areas at night and hiking alone are unsafe. This is the third world, and setting up any sort of technology requires patience.

Who Will Like Retirement in Lake Atitlan

The lake area has a reputation as the hippy capital of Central America. Those who fall under this category, or who get along with people from this category would enjoy retiring here.

Local Economy Is Driven by

The local economy is driven by agriculture, coffee, artisanal crafts and tourism.

Climate and Physical Environment

This area is at 5100 feet above sea level, so it never gets too hot here. The area does have a wet and dry season. The rainy season, between May and October, means sun in the morning, with afternoon showers.

Restaurants & Cultural Scene

There are several excellent restaurants in the larger towns, and a few nightlife spots in San Pedro and Pana. Throughout the year, the more traditional towns have impressive indigenous festivals. Santiago, Pana and San Pedro also all have numerous galleries and weaving stalls selling indigenous art.


As a resort community Lake Atitlan is one of the safest places in Guatemala.

Medical Facilities

Santiago has a small hospital, primarily staffed by foreign doctors and volunteer western medical students. Larger hospitals are found in Guatemala City.


Guatemala is extremely well serviced by chicken buses, Pullman buses and tourist vans, all of which go wherever you would like to go. All are remarkably inexpensive, although none are entirely safe. Panajachel is 1.5 hours away from Antigua, and 2.5 hours away from Guatemala City. The major towns around the lake are connected by inexpensive lanchas (motorboats).

Valuable Links


What people are saying about Lake Atitlan

I feel very safe here. San Pedro La Laguna. Its very beautiful and the people are very accommodating...and generous... Its a poor country by Western standards but the people in general seem very happy. This is one of the pueblos that are on the lake. Its considered (with justification) the party town. Its a Mayan pueblo that attracts people from all over. Very inexpensive and because of the people who have come here has the best restaurants on the lake. Eclectic and fun.
Posted by Soli on June 23, 2016

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