San Antonio Palopó is one of the few towns on gorgeous Lake Atitlán where you stand a good chance of being the only tourist in town. It is one of the least touristy spots, with only a handful of hotels and restaurants and fairly inconvenient transportation options. Which can be either pros or cons for choosing San Antonio Palopó as your base, depending on what you’re looking to get out of your Lake Atitlán visit.
What it definitely has going for it are incredible views of the three Atitlán volcanoes (Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro) and friendly, open people who are generally still excited to see tourists. The name comes from the town’s patron saint, St. Anthony, and “palopó” is a combination of the Spanish word “palo” (stick or pole) and “po”, a Mayan word for a type of tree common in the area.
The local Mayans wear very distinct traditional clothing that sets them apart from other areas around the lake. Dark blue striped huipiles (embroidered tops), dark blue cortes (skirts) and decorated shiny headbands for the women and even traditional wool skirts for the men (the older ones, anyway).
Of course, San Antonio Palopó is mainly known for its fantastic ceramics and impressive traditional weaving. There are many places in town where you can browse, buy or even learn to make these beautiful local products. Most people visit either on a day trip from Panajachel or as part of a village-to-village boat tour by boat. I have tried both and they each have their good points.
For more detailed information on all there is to see and do around the lake, check out our Complete Guide to Lake Atitlan.
Things to Do in San Antonio Palopó – Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Shop for Ceramics
San Antonio Palopó is famous for its distinctive blue and green ceramics that you will find in numerous shops. Everything is hand-painted by local artisans and no two pieces are exactly alike.
Over the centuries, volcanic activity and earthquakes have exposed large veins of unique clay in the riverbeds around Lake Atitlán. As it turns out, this high-quality clay is ideal for producing top ceramics, something the ancient Mayans discovered as early 1200 AD during the “Red Pottery Period”. Since then, modern advances have refined the firing techniques to be more efficient and now they can even burn out the lead, making the pieces microwaveable.
While it is possible to find San Antonio Palopó ceramics in shops in Panajachel or San Juan, there are benefits to going straight to the source. Eliminating the middlemen (and women) means the prices are generally lower, plus you can often meet the artists themselves and even get a look inside the factory.
We bought mostly from Ceramica Palopó Multicolor and they happily let us wander around and watch all the different stages of making, baking and painting the ceramics, all by hand. When you see the amount of work that goes into each piece the modest prices will seem like even better value.
If you are arriving by boat, most of the shops can be seen just to the right of the dock along the lakeshore. If you come by pickup truck, though, you’ll be dropped off higher up in the main part of the village and will need to make your way a few blocks down to the waterfront via winding path between houses (a helpful local showed us the way).
Check out the Woman’s Weaving Cooperative
Tienda Candelaria is a traditional weaving cooperative where local women use backstrap looms to produce and sell huipiles, shawls and tocoyales (headdresses). If you’re lucky, you may be approached by a woman willing to show you where (and how) the magic happens. She gladly showed us how she prepared the weaving threads using a wooden warp board, then worked them on a backstrap loom.
See the San Antonio Palopó Church
This small, picturesque church is perched up high overlooking the lake and serves as the focal point of the village.
It features an impressive wide entrance and enjoys fabulous views out over the lake and volcanoes. Occasionally a local market will be held just out front.
If you arrive by truck, this is where you’ll be dropped off (and picked up when it’s time to head out later). If you come by boat, you’ll need to trudge up several steep streets to reach the church, or you can just take a tuk-tuk from the dock (5Q per person).
Head Out on a Hike
There is a nice hike from the village south toward Agua Escondida (1 hr) or you can follow the relatively quiet (and scenic) road north to Santa Catarina Palopó (1 hr)
There are also many other good hiking trails around Lake Atitlán that can be explored with a local guide or by following the GPS tracks in our Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan.
Enjoy the View of the Lake and Volcanoes
Really, the best thing to do in San Antonio Palopó (at least once you’ve stocked up on ceramics and weaving) is to simply wander around, enjoying the terrific views from the many different areas of town. Each angle offers something a bit different but, in my opinion, the best (and certainly most expansive) view is right from the main dock.
Explore Lake Atitlan’s Villages
Every village on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala 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.
Pretty Santa Catarina Palopó is within easy walking distance and nearby Panajachel is the oldest tourist centre on the lake. In the other direction, San Lucas Tolimán is another quiet village that gets very few tourists. Farther along on the south side is Santiago Atitlán, the largest town/city on the lake. Despite its size, it also sees a relatively small percentage of tourists.
On the other side of the lake, San Marcos and Tzununá are somewhat similar, both known for their holistic and spiritual pursuits. San Pedro, on the other hand, is the busy backpacker hangout with the best nightlife and pretty San Juan is the place to go for local art.
Los Elementos in Santa Cruz also runs 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.
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. The second time I visited San Antonio Palopo, a group of us hired a private boats to see four villages in one day.
Another option is to stop in at the Pana dock to discuss tours directly with the lancha capitáns.
For an overview of all the villages, check out Lake Atitlan Villages: Where to Stay
Where to Stay: The Best San Antonio Palopó Hotels
Most people visit on a day trip from Panajachel but if you want to experience a different side of Lake Atitlan consider staying overnight. San Antonio Palopó is much quieter and offers a much slower pace of life than busier tourist centres like Panajachel or San Pedro and if you’re looking for some peace and quiet in a lovely location, this quiet little village is an excellent choice.
Hotel Nuestro Sueño
Most of the cozy rooms at Hotel Nuestro Sueno have amazing views of the lake, especially for enjoying the sunset. The hotel has a sauna, steam room and free kayaks available, as well as a convenient location near the docks and lake. Enjoy the in-room fireplaces if you get a bit chilly in evenings and there is a restaurant on-site. This is one of the better midrange options on Lake Atitlán.
Hotel Terrazas Del Lago
Another option with great views of the lake, Hotel Terrazas del Lago has direct access to the lake from their private beach area. All the rooms have a kitchenette but there is also a restaurant if you don’t want to make your own food. At the very least, have a drink on the terrace and enjoy the view.
When to Visit: San Antonio Palopó, Guatemala 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.
San Antonio Palopó’s annual “feria” (festival) takes place on June 13 and is dedicated to the village’s patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua.
How do I get to San Antonio Palopó on Lake Atitlan?
San Antonio Palopó is located on the eastern shore of Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan Highlands. Driving from Guatemala City will take 3-4 hours.
However, most people take a tourist shuttle or “chicken bus” to Panajachel, then take a local pickup truck to San Antonio Palopó (30 min). 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.
From Pana the most common method is in the back of a pickup truck but you might be able to use a tuk-tuk (many to choose from) or taxi (although there aren’t many of these in Pana).
Another option is to negotiate a price with a private lancha. This will definitely cost more but will provide striking views of the lake and of the beautiful private houses that line the lakeshore.
The best way to get to the villages on the north and west sides of the lake is by public lancha, the small boats that run roughly every 20 minutes 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.
Helpful Details and Tips for San Antonio Palopó, 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. There are no ATMs in San Antonio Palopó but there are several in Panajachel. If you find yourself exploring other parts of the lake, there are a few ATMs in San Pedro and one each in San Juan, San Marcos and Santa Cruz.
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 several little tiendas in San Antonio Palopó with a variety of basic supplies but for a bigger shopping trip you are best off going to Panajachel.
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 Antonio Palopó
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 San Antonio Palopó, Panajachel 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 San Antonio Palopó 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 to Santa Cruz. It is recommended to always hike in a group or hire a guide, and don’t carry valuables.
San Antonio Palopó Summary
Visitors to Lake Atitlán are spoiled for choice, with a dozen unique villages to choose from. However, while most tourists make a beeline for the big centres of Panajachel and San Pedro, or settle into expat communities in Santa Cruz or San Marcos, the quiet, unassuming village of San Antonio Palopó offers a completely different experience.
Plenty quiet during the day, and if you decide to stay a few nights you’ll get a chance to truly enjoy the serene beauty of this hidden Atitlán gem.
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