Triking Lake Atitlán

Walking down Santander, one of the busiest streets in Panajachel, you’ll find really nice restaurants, great cafés, plenty of street vendors selling a multitude of artisan wares, and if you’re lucky, a gringo riding a big-wheel tricycle right in front of his tattoo studio, Deep Ink. Benjamin has been building and riding tricycles around Lake Atitlán for the better part of four years. You won’t see him simply cruising the streets of Panajachel. Benjamin is looking for two things: altitude and speed.

A lancha loaded with people at Lake Atitlán

Navigating the towns and cities along the shores of Lake Atitlán would be expensive, time consuming and impractical by land. That’s why residents and tourists in the Atitlán area use lanchas colectivas (collective boat taxis) to get around. Tuk-tuks still make sense within city limits (and in some cases between small, neighboring villages), and hiking is certainly worthwhile for its own sake, but boats are the modus operandi for most people intent on moving between Atitlán’s many unique and visit-worthy towns.

A cheese plate at El Artisano, San Juan del Lago

Health food stores, vegetarian hot spots, carne-wonderlands; a little of each and what you end up with is El Artisano. Nestled in the small town of San Juan del Lago, trekking up the plenty-steep street will help work up an appetite as you pass many small cafés, fabric shops, and dogs.

The walk will be pleasant, with plenty of vibrant colors from the chickens to the buildings. Don’t fret stopping for a small café to keep one’s energy and focus. Taking a break from your journey somewhere is not frowned upon. It’s encouragement to engage with the city. Word to the wise: make sure not to get stuck!

Semuc Champey arial view

Hiking in Lanquín is very beautiful. The rolling green mountains, winding blue-green rivers and velvety wrinkles of foothills are really breathtaking. In fact, most visitors to Lanquín will notice how gorgeous the landscape is before even arriving, simply by gazing out of the windows of their shuttle or bus.

Unfortunately, hiking trails in Lanquín aren’t very well developed or documented. Part of that is an issue of demand, in that few tourists seem to arrive in Lanquín looking for hiking day-trips. And that’s understandable considering the primary attraction in Lanquín is Semuc Champey, and plenty of visitors only stay in the area a day or two.

A group of guys prepared for the zip line tour in Lanquín

A zip line tour in Lanquín wasn’t on my personal agenda. In fact, a zip line tour anywhere is not my sort of thing. Or at least I don’t think it is. I’ve never actually tried zip lining, and yet certainly consider it a little hokey. Seems fair, right?

But when Max at El Muro Pub invited me along to photograph a zip line tour, I couldn’t refuse. I’m a sucker for taking pictures, and I didn’t have plans for the next couple of hours. I’m glad I went.

Just want the pictures? There's a slideshow at the bottom of this post.

Las Grutas entrance, complete with rickety stairway.

The caves in Lanquín are pretty incredible. There are two main cave systems in the area, Las Grutas at the beginning of the Lanquín river, and K’an B’a across the bridge from the Semuc Champey Natural Monument. Both are awesome, but Las Grutas is definitely the winner in my book. The most important difference is guides aren’t required at Las Grutas, and the cave system is not 100% explored.

That was pretty much the deciding factor for me.

Tortugal in Río Dulce ($56), Doña Magdalena in Acul ($3.35)

Guatemala travel is perhaps easier now than it has ever been, and yet there are still plenty of untouched destinations in the country. It’s no surprise that Guatemala travel is continuing to enjoy some popularity, either. The intersection of geographical and cultural diversity, ease of access (for North Americans and South Americans) and a very low cost of living go a long way to make Guatemala a favorite among budget vacationers, longterm travelers and backpackers alike.

Las Fuentes Georginas in Zunil, Quetzaltenango

Fuentes Georginas is a natural hot spring in the beautiful mountains of Zunil near Xela, Quetzaltenango. The hot springs are definitely worth a visit. If you’re spending more than a day in Xela, the springs should probably make your short list of things to do. I’ve already written up pretty detailed instructions on getting to Las Fuentes Georginas in Zunil. So why am I revisiting the subject?

Visiting Fuentes Georginas is cool. Staying there is cooler.

Semuc Champey in Lanquín, Alta Verapaz

Semuc Champey is a natural monument in Lanquín, Alta Verapaz. Lanquín’s accessibility issues (no paved roads) don’t prevent it from being a favorite destination among national tourists and backpackers. If you’ve scheduled a shuttle to Lanquín, you’re certainly in for a long rocky ride. It is, of course, worth every bump.

Check out this brief video for a quick look at the Lanquín area.

View of fuego from acatenango

One of the most striking geographical features in Guatemala is the chain of volcanoes that go all the way from Mexico to El Salvador, forming the geographical backbone of the country. At 3,976m, Acatenango is the 3rd highest of these, and being conveniently situated near to Antigua, makes it a very possible little adventure.

If you book a tour in Antigua, it will cost you about $70, but this guide will explain how to do it practically for free. It's possible to do the hike in a day, but camping overnight is recommended, as at the time of writing (June 2015) Acatenango's twin volcano Fuego was continuously erupting, making for pretty spectacular fireworks (you cannot see the lava during the day, but at night it glows a strong red).

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Elesha Piper
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Anna Sondergaard
Eric Toupin, blogger & web developer
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Matt Wicks, traveler, writer, photographer