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You could be forgiven for not knowing much about lovely Jaibalito. Or knowing anything, for that matter. This tiny Lake Atitlan village is well off the beaten path even though it is incredibly scenic and wonderfully peaceful.
Outrageously photogenic Lake Atitlán is surrounded by villages, each with their own style, feel and personality from backpacker favourites like Panajachel and San Pedro to alternative enclaves such as San Marcos and Tzununá. However, if all you’re looking for is a quiet, traditional and friendly place with stunning views, well, Jaibalito may be just the place for you.
With no road access, no big hotels and only a few restaurants, Jaibalito is the ultimate lake getaway. Even though there are practically endless activities available around the lake – just a short boat ride away – most people who choose Jaibalito are more interested in simply slowing down and finding a place with fewer tourists.
The 11 Best Things to Do in Jaibalito
Despite its somewhat remote location and tricky access, there are still loads of great things to do in and around Jaibalito Guatemala.
1. Hike the Mayan Trail
This beautiful ridge hike between Santa Cruz and San Marcos is one of our two or three favourite hikes on the lake. The entire walk from Santa Cruz to San Marcos takes 2-3 hours and offers a superb combination of spectacular views, mild inclines and rural life.
From Jaibalito, it takes 20-30 minutes to hike to Santa Cruz la Laguna (up and over a hill) or, in the other direction, 1-1.5 hrs to walk to Tzununá. After Tzununá, you follow a dusty road back from the water for 30 minutes to San Marcos so many people choose to take a tuk tuk or lancha from there instead.
There have been occasional robberies on this trail so we recommend hiking in a group and not carrying any valuables with you.
For a GPS track and even more hiking options around the lake, check out our Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan.
If you aren’t keen on working out your own transportation or following a GPS track, you can sign up for a scenic 4-hr hike ridge hike on the crater rim above Santa Cruz la Laguna. The tour starts in Panajachel but you could meet them in Santa Cruz. The hike will take you past a sacred Mayan site before finishing in the traditional town of Sololá with lunch at a local comedor.
2. Sample German Food at Posado Jaibalito
Usually just known as “Hans’ Place”, it is run by a quiet German guy who has been in Jaibalito for many years and is very involved and supportive of the local community. Not surprisingly, they serve very good, authentic German food (the spatzle and sauerkraut are a particular favourites among our group of friends).
The prices are lower than most restaurants around the lake and he also sells homemade bread, cookies and even coffee for takeaway.
We stop by here at least once a week when hiking from Pasajcap to Jaibalito and can confirm that the beer is always cold and the limonadas also hit the spot.
To get an idea of the atmosphere at this outdoor Atitlán institution, all you need to know is that that the tables are vastly outnumbered by cats, dogs, chickens and even ducks.
3. Go for a Swim
With no roads running in or out, the only vehicles you’ll find are the handful of tuk tuks waiting by the dock to haul supplies up into the village. Between that and the overall lack of development and population, the bay in front of Jaibalito has some of the cleanest water on the lake.
There are also fewer boats to worry about and, as always, phenomenal views of the volcanoes.
4. Shop for Traditional Handicrafts
There are a couple small traditional craft shops in Jaibalito owned, run and supplied by local artisans. While the village lacks the volume and variety of products found in the busier tourist villages, you can often find unique gems in these charming little Jaibalito stalls and know that you are supporting local women.
5. Enjoy the View at El Indigo
Whether you just stop in for a drink or stick around for a full meal, El Indigo Bistro has the best views in Jaibalito (and some of the best on the entire lake). This Iranian restaurant offers a surprising range of food from traditional Persian dishes to excellent curries, tacos, sandwiches and pasta. Laynni’s swears by the nachos, declaring those the best on the lake as well.
Maybe the biggest compliment is that we have gone there with large groups who have sampled almost everything on the menu and walked away with everyone pleased with their meals. No easy feat.
They have also put a lot of work into their grounds which you can wander and enjoy.
6. Check Out the Street Art
There aren’t many streets in Jaibalito (and those barely qualify for such a grand title) but as you wander the village, keep your eyes peeled for all the great paintings and mosaics decorating the walls.
Local artists have been encouraged to express themselves on every available space, particularly on the street leading to the dock, adding an artistic dimension to your leisurely stroll through Jaibalito.
7. Paddle the Lake
With amazing views and a relatively quiet bay, Jaibalito is one of the best places on the lake to paddleboard or kayak. While nobody in the village rents them out, Casa del Mundo (see below) provides kayaks for their guests.
Alternatively, you can make the short walk (or 5Q lancha trip) over to neighbouring Santa Cruz where Los Elementos Adventure Center rents kayaks and paddleboards for $8 per hour. They also offer 2-hour guided tours (2 hrs / $30) and one of the best all-day adventure tours that includes kayaking, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, cliff jumping (optional, obviously), archery, trampolines and, if you behave, even some time to relax with a view. This trip is very popular with families.
The lake is almost always calmer in the morning so we suggest getting started as early as you can.
Los Elementos also has a dedicated massage room where you can have a professional knead your tired muscles after you’re done paddling.
8. Tackle the Atitlan Bike and Kayak Trip
For a serious challenge, you can sign up for the Atitlán Bike and Kayak Adventure Tour which gives you a chance to experience the wilder side of Lake Atitlán away from the tourist shops and restaurants. Starting in Jaibalito, this 2-day tour includes meals and a night in Casa del Mundo and involves mountain biking down from the crater rim, hiking between villages, kayaking on the lake and even cliff jumping.
9. Take a Yoga Class or Join a Yoga Retreat
Also in Santa Cruz, beautiful Isla Verde is well known for its yoga retreats. They have two yoga shalas that hold up to 35 people and, as you would expect, you will have amazing views of the lake and volcanoes. And your retreat includes the use of their wood-fired hot tub and sauna as well as all meals, tea and coffee.
For more ideas, check out our full guide to Lake Atitlan Yoga Retreats.
10. Take a Mayan Cooking Class
If you are a foodie or an aspiring cook, you can head to Santa Cruz la Laguna for a Mayan Cooking Class where you’ll learn to make Mayan specialties. All the ingredients are included in the price, you’ll learn plenty about the local culture and get yourself a (hopefully) good meal to eat at the end.
11. Explore Lake Atitlan’s Villages
Every village on Lake Atitlan has its own character and at least one or two good reasons for a visit. If you are staying on the lake for a few weeks or more you should be able to explore them all one at a time. San Marcos is known for holistic and spiritual pursuits, while San Pedro is the busy backpacker hangout with the best nightlife and both are very close to artistic San Juan.
However, there are also Tzununá, Santa Cruz, Panajachel (Pana) and several others over on the other side of the lake, Santa Catarina Palopo, San Antonio Palopo, San Lucas Toliman and Santiago Atitlan.
If you don’t have a lot of extra time but still want to see the lake highlights, the most efficient way is to sign up for a full-day Lake Atitlan boat tour out of Panajachel (they can pick you up in Jaibalito). Along with enjoying the fabulous scenery all the way around the lake, this 6-hour tour includes stops in traditional Santiago Atitlán, gorgeous San Juan la Laguna and local coffee plantations and textile shops.
Where to Stay
Hotel Casa Del Mundo – Lake Atitilan
We have been recommending Casa del Mundo to visitors for years (whenever there is no availability at PasajCap Rentals, our favourite place on the lake). Located just outside of Jaibalito and perched on the side of the caldera, Casa del Mundo has spectacular views from its stone terraces and many of the rooms.
The terraces are a great place for jumping into the lake (it made our list of Best Places to Swim in Lake Atitlan) or simply relaxing. They have free kayaks for guests and a convenient private dock that makes it easy to catch public lanchas as they pass by.
There are rooms with either shared or private bathrooms, as well as a restaurant and bar. This isn’t the place to be if you’re looking for nightlife (the boats stop running around sunset) but it is an outstanding choice if you simply want to relax and soak up the scenery. Just be prepared to climb a serious set of stairs from the water…
Hans offers dorms and simple private rooms in a hostel atmosphere (but definitely not a party hotel feel). Prices are excellent, especially for long-term stays. And, as we already mentioned, the restaurant provides tasty, filling and great value food.
There are also quite a few Airbnb’s that have popped up in Jaibalito over the past few years if you are looking to rent an entire house, many of them with pretty spectacular views.
Where is Jaibalito?
Jaibalito is located on the northern shore of Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan Highlands.It is the only village on the lake that is not accessible by road. It can only be reached by boat or on foot from Santa Cruz la Laguna or Tzununá. Most people take the public boat (lancha) from Panajachel (15 minutes / 10Q).
Lake Atitlan Map
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How to Get to Jaibalito
Just about everyone flies into Guatemala City, with decent connections from lots of places around the world, particularly Mexico, the USA, El Salvador and Bogota. We generally find SkyScanner to be the fastest and most accurate place to find flights. To get to the lake itself, most people will be coming to Lake Atitlan from Guatemala City, Antigua or Xela.
First you have to get to Panajachel, either in your own car or by tourist shuttle or “chicken bus”. For a full breakdown on your options, check out:
From there you will take a local “lancha” (boat) to Jaibalito – we will explain those details in the next section. Shuttles from Guatemala City to Panajachel usually take 3-4 hours and cost around 200-250 quetzales ($US25-35). Shuttles from Antigua or Xela to Panajachel will be a bit shorter (2-3 hours) and cost just 100-150Q ($15-20) because it is a much more common route.
The best way to get around the lake, and basically the only way to get to Jaibalito, is by public lancha, the small boats that run roughly every 20 minutes (very roughly) all around the lake.
You pay when you get off and the price is based on how far you’ve gone, varying from 5Q ($0.60) between neighbouring villages to 50Q ($7) to go all the way across the lake. There are different prices for locals, expats and tourists but if you’re new you will probably pay 10-15Q from Pana to Jaibalito.
Once in Jaibalito its quite easy to walk everywhere you want to go but there are also tuk tuks at the dock to give you a ride anywhere in the village for 5Q per person.
Grocery Stores and Markets
There are a couple of little tiendas in Jaibalito with a variety of basic supplies but for a bigger shop you are best off going to Panajachel to the daily market or one of the several larger grocery stores.
Here are some of our most popular Lake Atitlan posts to help you plan your trip to Tzununa.
Quiet, scenic and authentically Guatemalan, Jaibalito is the place to stay on Lake Atitlán when you are looking to slow down, wind down and recharge. Whether you spend your days reading in a lounger, napping in a hammock, swimming in the bay or getting really wild and doing a little paddleboarding, you are sure to leave Jaibalito feeling more relaxed than when you arrived.
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