Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lago de Atitlán and Panajachel.

Nestled 1,574m (5,238 feet) in the Guatemalan highlands lies Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán). The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera (collapsed volcano cone) formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. Hemmed in on all sides by volcanoes and steep hills, it's at least 320m deep and is the deepest lake in Central America. The lake is an irregular shape, with three main inlets but it has no visible outlet, draining as it does through an underground passage to the Pacific coast. On it's southern side, 3 volcanoes - Toliman, Atitlán, and San Pedro dominate the landscape.


Approximately fifteen towns or villages lie on the perimeter, mainly inhabited by traditional Mayan peoples.  Of the towns, Panajachel or Pana as it is called by many locals, is the largest and of course, most touisty.  According to the guidebooks, Pana is a town full of interesting sights, sounds, and smells.  Hmmm.... wonder what the smells are about.  Anyway, there's also a busy market street - Calle Santander and Pana is reputed to be one of the best places in Guatemala to shop for souvenirs so you know where I'll be for at least part of my time in town.  Otherwise, the area around the lake is perfect for hiking and horseback riding. I see several companies offering boat tours around the lake and to visit nearby towns and villages.....and I even saw two companies that offer fishing trips and paragliding.  I don't think we'll be short of things to do.

The strong mix of Mayan and Spanish culture is very strong in Guatemala.....maybe more so than in any other Central American country.  We'll experience that mix in Antigua but I'm truly looking forward to seeing and experiencing the Mayan culture without the Spanish influence.  It will be interesting to see if that exists in the Guatemalan highlands.