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Lake Atitlan Transportation: Getting There and Around

Lake Atitlan is a gorgeous, exciting place with fantastic scenery, wonderful people and near perfect weather. However, Lake Atitlan transportation can be another matter. Getting to Lake Atitlan is not always straightforward and getting around on Lake Atitlan is, to put it bluntly, confusing as hell.

Dock at Santiago Atitlan

However, we have been spending a few months at Lake Atitlan every year for over a decade and, eventually, we got it all more or less figured out. Although bear in mind that things to tend to change quickly – especially prices – so always be prepared to adapt if recent changes have thrown a wrench into your plans.

How to Get to Lake Atitlan

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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. All three have tourist shuttle options that can be arranged through your accommodation or one of the many tour companies and they drop you off in Pana which means you may need to take a boat to your end destination village.

These shuttles will feel pretty tight once full and will drive around for a long time picking everyone up and dropping them off so the trip can take longer than expected.

The shuttles from Guatemala City to Pana usually go through Antigua and do the whole picking up and dropping off process there too. Even if the shuttle says that they go to San Marcos or San Pedro, they often drop you off in Pana and put you on a boat to finish the trip.

Shuttle van
Shuttle bus in Pana

There is also the more expensive option of hiring a private shuttle but can reasonable if you have a group – we have used Chema based on the lake in San Pedro. His phone number is +502 5091 0433 or +502 5016 2148 but you will need to speak some Spanish to book directly with him.

This will usually cost $120 US from Guatemala City or pickup from the airport and $100 US from Antigua or Xela and is best if you are staying in San Marcos or San Pedro as he will drive you directly there and you won’t need to take a boat.

The cheapest transportation option in Guatemala is the chicken bus – old American school buses that are festively painted and filled to the brim. This option will cost about 40Q ($5 US) from Antigua to Panajachel and may require changing buses along the way.

Woman with backpack getting on chicken bus in San Pedro Lake ATitlan
Getting on a chicken bus in San Pedro

We have often used chicken buses and they are occasionally uncomfortable (always try to get on early and get a seat on the inside of the row as they put 3 people per row and the 3rd person only really gets one butt cheek on the seat), hectic and slightly dangerous but they are always entertaining and give you a true taste of Guatemalan life.

Tell the bus attendant where you want to go and they will tell you where to get off and point you to the next bus if you need to change buses. They have been unfailingly helpful every time we use one. We are rarely overcharged on these buses and they always eventually make change even if you only have big bills (quetzales only though).

If you are coming overland from Mexico you might want to read about our very long day from Huatulco, Mexico to Lake Atitlan or our journey from Lake Atitlan to San Cristobal de la Casas, Mexico.

Lake Atitlan Map

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How To Get Around Lake Atitlan

By Boat (Lancha)

The main form of transportation around Lake Atitlan are the public boats that go from village to village, known as lanchas. The most common boats start in Pana and end in San Pedro and there are two options.

Boat with volcanoes behind
Catching a boat at the private dock where we stay at Pasajcap

A faster direct one that cuts across the middle of the lake and the one that goes along the edge past the villages of Santa Cruz, Jaibalito, Tzununa, San Marcos and San Juan before stopping in San Pedro. It is always best to know the price and have exact change as being overcharged is common.

Some estimated boat prices for publico (public) lanchas (boats) are as follows, although they do tend to change without warning and if they can tell you are newly arrived you may have to haggle a bit to get these prices. Once you are sure of the current rate, make sure you have exact change, then just hand it over when yu get off the boat and keep walking.

  • Panajachel to Santa Cruz La Laguna: Q10
  • Panajachel to Jaibalito: Q15
  • Panajachel to Tzununa: Q20
  • Panajachel to San Marcos: Q25
  • Panajachel to San Pedro: Q30
  • Panajachel to Santiago Atitlan: Q30
  • San Marcos to San Juan: Q15
  • San Marcos to San Pedro: Q15
  • San Marcos to Tzununa: Q10
  • San Marcos to Jaibalito: Q15
  • San Marcos to Santa Cruz: Q20
  • San Pedro to Santiago Atitlan: Q30
  • San Pedro to Santa Cruz: Q30

If you are at a private dock you just wave down the boats as they pass and point in the direction you want to go. It is best to hand over the exact amount to to the boat driver or helper when you arrive at your destination. If they ask you to pay in advance you are probably being overcharged.

The boats go every 20 minutes and the last one from San Pedro to Pana leaves at 5 pm. The last one in the other direction leaves later for some reason, usually around 8 pm.

A public boat that is the most common way to get around on Lake Atitlan

At most of the villages there is also the option to hire a private boat but make sure to bargain. It can be a good deal if you have a group and is much faster and more comfortable.

By Tuk Tuk

All the villages have tuk tuks. The base price to anywhere within a village is generally 5Q per person. However, to get from village to village the price varies – e.g. 10-15Q from San Pedro to San Juan or San Marcos to San Pablo and more for a longer trip.

The main drivable street of San Marcos with the tuk tuks lined up waiting for customers

Make sure to confirm the price before leaving, especially village to village.

By Pickup Truck

The last option is the back of a pick up truck. This isn’t as common but it is our usual form of transportation when going from San Pablo up to Santa Clara on the edge of the caldera to go hiking. That trip is 5Q per person.

Traveling in the back of a pickup truck around Lake Atitlan
Crammed into the back of a pick up truck going from San Pablo to Santa Clara to go hiking

Summary

When it comes to transportation, nothing comes easy in Guatemala. However, as long as you know your options and have a rough idea what things should cost ahead of time, you should be able to get everwhere you want to go without getting (badly) overcharged.

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