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. Just settle into that hammock in the shade, tuck into a good book and wait for the days to pass by.
For more detailed information on all there is to see and do around the lake, check out our Complete Guide to Lake Atitlan.
Where is Jaibalito in Guatemala?
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).
9 Things to Do in Jaibalito – Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Head Out on a Hike
The 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.
There are also a few trails in the hills above the town that can be explored with a local guide or by following the GPS tracks in our Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 are on a tighter timeline, or just want to check off a bunch in one fell swoop, you can book a private boat tour through one of the hotels or restaurants.
For an overview of all the villages, check out Lake Atitlan Villages: Where to Stay
Where to Stay: The Best Jaibalito Hotels
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 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.
When to Visit: Jaibalito Weather
Often called “The Land of Eternal Spring”, thanks to its position 1,500 metres above sea level, the weather on Lake Atitlán remains a comfortably moderate temperature all year round, ranging from lows of 10-15C to highs of 20-25C.
It almost never rains during the dry season from November to April. Rainy season runs from May to October but even then mornings are usually calm and clear with the rain only showing up in late afternoon and into the evening. And the sunsets are truly spectacular that time of year.
How do I get to and around Jaibalito, Lake Atitlan?
First you have to get to Panajachel, either in your own car or by tourist shuttle or “chicken bus”.
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.
Barceló Guatemala City
Considering the long drive to the lake, you may end up spending a night in Guatemala City when you arrive or depart. If so, the Barceló is one of the nicest hotels in the city and offers tremendous value with 5-star luxury at mid-range prices.
With impressive, modern rooms, a beautiful pool area and excellent breakfast buffet, it is much nicer than most places we stay. Yet it still only costs about the same as the cheapest hotels in Canada or Europe so we usually manage to talk ourselves into it, especially when we need to relax and recharge after some long flights. Click here to check out prices and availability
How do you get around Lake Atitlan?
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.
Helpful Details and Tips for Jaibalito, Guatemala
Money and ATMs
You should be able to use cards at some of the hotels and restaurants but will still need cash for the tiendas, street vendors, tuk tuks, lanchas and local markets. While there are no ATMs in Jaibalito there are several in Panajachel and one in Santa Cruz, located inside the CECAP building. The maximum withdrawal is 2,000 quetzales and all Guatemalan ATMs occasionally run out of money so don’t wait until you’re completely out of cash to try for a withdrawal.
You can sometimes change $US at the banks in Panajachel but don’t count on it. And try to break your large Guatemalan bills whenever you can since a lot of places have limited change.
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.
Internet & Mobile Data Plans
You can find wifi in most hotels and restaurants but never really know what the speed or reliability will be like. Plus, there tend to be lots of power outages. If your phone is unlocked we would recommend picking up a local SIM card with data (Tigo or Claro) so that you always have access on your phone and can use it as a hotspot if necessary.
Language in San Juan la Laguna
Everyone in Guatemala speaks Spanish (except for maybe a few old timers in very rural locations). However, in the Highlands, Spanish tends to be the second language behind one of the indigenous Mayan dialects. There is a fair bit of overlap but, in general, the people around Jaibalito (and everywhere along the north side) speak Kakchiquel. Between San Juan and San Pedro they speak Tz’Utujil and up the hill in Santa Clara and surrounds most people speak Quiche.
Is Jaibalito Guatemala safe?
Overall, yes. Violent crimes are very rare and we never feel unsafe during our stays on Lake Atitlán. However, there are enough incidents that you need to be smart and take reasonable precautions. Occasionally tourists are robbed at machete point while hiking, in particular on the popular trail that passes through Jaibalito. It is recommended to always hike in a group or hire a guide, and don’t carry valuables.
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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