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Lake Atitlan Swimming: 8 Fantastic Places to Go for a Dip

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If you’re reading this you probably already know that Lake Atitlan is stunning, definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America, possibly the world. An ancient crater lake surrounded by volcanoes, steep hills and traditional Mayan villages. So, obviously, it looks great. And, not surprisingly, Lake Atitlan swimming can be spectacular as well.

There is nothing quite like enjoying a morning swim in Lake Atitlan in crystal clear water with the three big Lake Atitlan volcanoes looming in the background. We’ve been swimming in Lake Atitlan since 2010 and most mornings are calm and gorgeous, perfect for a long exercise swim, some adventurous cliff jumping or maybe just some relaxing floating.

Woman sitting on a dock on Lake Atitlan

Usually the wind starts to pick up later in the morning and by afternoon there are more waves, although rarely any big enough to stop you from swimming altogether. The Lake Atitlan water temperature is cool but pleasant, like a Canadian lake in July, for those that can appreciate that reference, or simply “kind of cold” for everyone else.

Now, to answer the most common question about Lake Atitlan (although you can probably guess where we’ll land on the issue):

Can you swim in Lake Atitlan?

Yes, most of the lake is perfectly safe for swimming. Not everywhere, though. Unfortunately, Guatemala has a long way to go when it comes to environmental practices. While efforts have been made to improve things in the villages of Lake Atitlan, there is more pollution than there should be. As a result, some places are better than others for swimming in Lake Atitlan.

Avoiding the busiest dock areas in front of the main village drainage is the first step. Yes, I do understand that water doesn’t just stay in one place and tends to mingle. However, one thing Lake Atitlan has going for it is that it is very deep, like, over 300 metres deep, so it holds a LOT of water. Which means that the farther you get from the source of the pollution, the cleaner the water tends to be.

Calm lake with three volcanoes in the background

Lake Atitlan Swimming Safety

For the most part, we feel that swimming in Lake Atitlan is safe. However, even though it doesn’t happen very often, we should address the dreaded “algae bloom”. Normally the Lake Atitlan water quality is quite good but, historically, every 5-10 years Lake Atitlan has suffered an algae bloom, caused by cyanobacteria in the water. When the algae appears, it changes the colour of the lake and causes an unpleasant smell, both of which are pretty obvious indicators to stop swimming.

These algae blooms are caused by many different things and can occur naturally, although in most cases they are triggered by a combination of natural materials, fertilizers and sewage. The most recent occurrences in Lake Atitlan were in 2009 and 2015.

Now, obviously, when there is an algae bloom you’ll want to stay out of the water. We have never had problems any other time, however. I am not a scientist and have never attempted to test the water (except by looking at it really closely through my reading glasses, maybe) but our personal experience has always been fine.

We have visited Lake Atitlan annually since 2010, swim several times per week and have never noticed any ill effects. Which isn’t definitive, of course, but it lets you know where we stand on the issue. I wouldn’t drink it or anything, though.

For us, the more pressing concern is boat traffic. The lanchas of Lake Atitlan buzz back and forth between the villages constantly from morning until night. And, while most of the “capitans” are good, conscientious drivers, there are always a few cowboys who like to go really fast and don’t always pay attention.

Woman swimming in Lake Atitlan as a boat goes by

So, when swimming in Lake Atitlan it is always a good idea to stay close to shore and be especially alert whenever you’re near a dock in case a boat suddenly appears to drop someone off or pick someone up. Some people also tie colourful flotation devices to themselves to make them more noticeable. Not a bad idea, either, although I personally like to be able to dive down if necessary without anything holding me to the surface.

The final Lake Atitlan swimming danger is the sheer depth. The bottom of Lake Atitlan is over 300 metres down at the deepest point and even though it isn’t nearly that deep around the edges, it does drop off very quickly. This is definitely not one of those leisurely Thai beaches where you can walk out for hundreds of metres before the water goes above your knees.

No, if you are going to swim in Lake Atitlan, you need to actually know how to swim. Not wade, or frolic, or splash around giddily, or just bake in the sun in a lawn chair. Actually swim. But if you can do that, you should have no problem, since there are no giant waves, no strong current and no dangerous undertow.

And, as crazy as it sounds, we have had people ask if there are crocodiles in Lake Atitlan. The answer, to the best of my knowledge, is absolutely not. No crocodiles, alligators, dugongs or piranha. Just the occasional fish and, apparently, some crabs, although you literally never see them.

View of Lake Atitlan and three volcanoes

Lake Atitlan Quick Links

Now, here are some of our most popular Lake Atitlan posts to help you plan your trip to the best destination in Guatemala.

The Ultimate Guide to Lake Atitlan

Where to Stay: The Best Hotels on Lake Atitlan

Best Lake Atitlan Hikes

Best Lake Atitlan Photo Spots

Best Yoga Retreats on Lake Atitlan

Best Places to Swim in Lake Atitlan

Ok, now that we’ve covered all the practicalities of swimming in Lake Atitlan, it’s finally time for the fun stuff. Where should you go for the best Lake Atitlan swimming, and what can you expect when you get there?

Now, first of all, this list is purely subjective. But we’ve been coming to the lake for over a decade and these are pretty much the only places we would swim in Lake Atitlan. They are all at least a little way from the main population areas and all offer an intriguing range of benefits, from peace and quiet to adrenalin-inducing jumps to social beach settings.

Bottom line: whatever type of Lake Atitlan swimming you are looking for, you should be able to find an option that suits.

1. Reserva Natural del Cerro Tzankujil

This lovely protected park area next to San Marcos is easily the most organized place to swim in Lake Atitlan. There are nice walking paths, fantastic views, comfortable lounging areas and, best of all, several platforms specifically designed for leaping into the lake (known as “las trampolinas”).

deck in front of volcano

The Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve platforms are at a variety of heights – including a monster 12-metre jump which I emphatically have not tried myself – and there are also plenty of rocks that can be used for the same purpose. Performers will love the chance to entertain passing boats, as well.

But don’t worry, even if you’re not looking for an adrenalin rush, there are lots of easy lake entry spots and even more places to simply hang out and enjoy the amazing weather and great views. They also rent kayaks and paddleboards if you’re looking to mix it up.

Lake Atitlan swimming platforms near San Marcos la Laguna

Yes, when it comes to water cleanliness, maybe it is a bit close to San Marcos but the area out at the point sees a lot more waves and overall water movement which, theoretically, keeps it a bit cleaner than the section right near the public dock.

The only other downside is that you need to pay 20Q to enter the park (15Q for Guatemalans), although this is good for the entire day if you want to come and go.

2. Pasajcap

Proximity bias? Maybe a bit. But no matter where you’re staying, the pleasant little bay in front of Pasajcap Rentals (i.e. Casa Pierre) is one of the best places to swim in Lake Atitlan.

Woman swimming in Lake Atitlan with volcanoes in background

We always stay at Pasajcap Rentals when we’re in Guatemala, partially because it has such easy access to a terrific swimming area. Our general weekly “schedule” involves 3 hiking days and 4 swimming days. And we have never gotten sick from the swimming (at least we’ve never noticed a connection).

The Pasajcap dock is private but there is also public access to the shoreline via a steep set of stairs leading down from the road. It is also a popular stop for people coming by water on kayaks or paddleboards.

Boats rarely have any reason to enter the bay and people looking to get a little more active can climb up the rocks at the end for some good jumping spots.

3. Punta Tzan Kumibal

Rocky outcropping, hill and lakeside cottages

Not to be confused with the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Preserve in San Marcos, this impressive rock outcropping at the end of Cerro Tzan Kumibal features an important Mayan religious site (although it is mainly just ruins these days), fantastic views and calm water in front of Colibri and Casa Floresta. Not everybody has access to the great swimming dock at Pasajcap but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy swimming in this wonderful nearby bay.

There are a number of rocks that can be used for jumping, all of which vary considerably depending on the current water level in the lake. You’ll often see white herons perched on the rocks and there is public access from the road.

4. Hotel Casa del Mundo

Hotel Casa del Mundo on Lake Atitlan

Located halfway between Jaibalito and Santa Cruz la Laguna with no road access, this excellent mid-range hotel features a number of nice docks and terraces at slightly different heights, making it a very easy place to swim.

Beside Casa del Mundo is a calm, sheltered bay that almost never sees any boat traffic, making this one of the safest Lake Atitlan swimming spots. The hotel has kayaks and paddleboards available for guests, or you can rent one in Santa Cruz or San Marcos and make your own way there.

5. Playa la Finca

This remote, black-sand beach between San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan is about as far as you can get from any busy village area, which theoretically makes it one of the cleaner places to swim in Lake Atitlan.

Woman walking on rocky beach with volcanoes in the background

Plus, it’s an actual beach! And these aren’t exactly common around Lake Atitlan. So this is the perfect spot for those craving some sandy lounging time. There are also some pretty spectacular views of Toliman and Atitlan volcanoes from a much different angle than you get on the north side of the lake.

It takes roughly 45 minutes to walk to Playa la Finca from San Pedro but you can shorten this by taking a tuk-tuk to the end of the road, leaving you with just a pleasant 15-minute walk through forest and a few farms.

6. Playa las Cristalinas

The other decent beach on this side of the lake is Playa las Cristalinas, which is relatively close to San Juan la Laguna just off the road from San Pablo. This popular beach completely disappeared for a few years when the Lake Atitlan water level went way up but as it slowly dropped again, plain little Playa las Cristalinas has once again appeared.

Beach on Lake Atitlan Guatemala

It is certainly nothing fancy, with average, somewhat rough, brown sand. But the views are predictably exceptional and, unlike Playa la Finca, it is very accessible.

It is just a 2-minute walk downhill to the beach from a small parking area on the road above. You can also walk there from San Juan in about 15 minutes or access it by private boat.

Lake Atitlan swimming beach

It is one of the more popular places for Guatemalans to swim in Lake Atitlan and on weekends and holidays there might even be a stand or two selling snacks and drinks. And it gets VERY busy at Easter (Semana Santa).

7. Santa Cruz

I’m not entirely sure how clean the water is in front of Free Cerveza, one of the most popular backpacker hotels on Lake Atitlan, as it is fairly close to the main dock, but this is certainly the most social Lake Atitlan swimming spot.

View of Santa Cruz La Laguna from above
The bay in front of Santa Cruz la Laguna

Free Cerveza (at times there is a 5-7 free cerveza happy hour) is a very popular budget backpacker hostel and when everyone congregates on the docks and loungers out front it can get pretty festive. Kayakers, paddleboarders, swimmers, sunbathers, drinkers, music, etc. An honest to goodness beach party scene. Just without the actual beach.

Drinks and food are readily available in the restaurant and the atmosphere is exactly what a lot of Central American backpackers are looking for.

However, it isn’t the only option in the Santa Cruz bay. There are a few more docks with good lake access further west along the lakeshore path that each charge 20Q for use of their “zona recreativa”. Swimming and sunbathing, essentially. There are also a couple places to rent kayaks and paddleboards here.

8. Santa Catarina Palopo Hot Springs

Full disclosure, as cool as these hot springs are, they are actually located below the surface of the lake. So don’t envision a steaming hot soak with your arms draped over the edge of a tub while gazing out at the majesty of the lake.

Lakeshore and hotsprings

It is, however, still a great place to swim because the entire vicinity around the springs shares in the warmth and this makes it a much more comfortable temperature. Not that the lake is particularly cold, but I don’t think anyone would describe it as balmy. At least not if they were being honest.

So swimming here is a comfortable temperature and kids often seem mesmerized by the contrasting heat and cold in different spots near the rocks. In addition, there are some good rocky ledges here for jumping or simply hanging out, and the entire area is a good distance from the dock. Which means less motor pollution and essentially no danger of getting in the way of passing lanchas.

Lake Atitlan Swimming Map

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Swimming in Lake Atitlan Summary

Woman jumping into the lake with volcanoes in the background

In our personal opinion, we think swimming in Lake Atitlan is great. We’ve been doing it long enough to know we don’t suffer any ill effects and it is obviously one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever find to go for a swim.

So, whether you’re a long-distance specialist swimming all the way from Tzununa to San Marcos, a jumper looking for the next big leap or just someone who likes a refreshing dip with a view, you should be able to find the perfect place to swim in Lake Atitlan.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

San Marcos la Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s Spiritual Village

San Juan la Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s Artistic Village

San Pedro la Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s Most Popular Village

Santa Cruz la Laguna: The Best Views on Lake Atitlan

Jaibalito: Lake Atitlan’s Quietest Village

Tzununá: Lake Atitlan’s Holistic Village

Pasajcap Rentals: The Best Place to Stay on Lake Atitlan

Panajachel Guatemala: Gateway to Stunning Lake Atitlan

Santa Catarina Palopó: Lake Atitlan’s Most Colourful Village

San Antonio Palopó: Lake Atitlan’s Pottery Village

San Lucas Toliman: Lake Atitlan’s Secret Village

Santiago Atitlán: An Authentic Mayan Town

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