exact location of the beginning of the world!
destination is south across the lake about an hour
Panajahcel to the shore
of a lagoon squeezed between these two volcanoes of Toliman
and San Pedro.
papier-m‚chť model of
Lake AtitlŠn showing the cities
built around the lake and the three volcanoes which encircle
the waters: Volcan Toliman, Volcan San Pedro and Volcan
Science tells us today that the first volcanoes in this
region originated 150,000 years ago. But 85,000 years
ago Los Chocoyos blew, and the volcanic ash from this
eruption was found as far as what we call Florida and Panama
amount of magma that discharged from this geological
event caused the surface to collapse forming a huge hollow
which soon filled with water.
AtitlŠn was created.
volcanoes we see today rose up thousands of years later
creating the dramatic vistas that make this area
virtually unsurpassed in beauty.
we show you our boat route for the day. Leaving
Panajachel, an hour later we arrive at Santiago. Then
off to San Pedro, then San Marcos, and - fighting the
heavy winds that rise up every afternoon making boat
travel dangerous and unpleasant - we head back to Pana for the
Launches that go across the shore are lined up at the
lake and depart at the foot of Calle del Balneario. If
you want to plan a personalized boat trip, it will cost
you considerably more than the public launches. Seeing
other towns on the lake is worth the time, even though
there are two different price systems in place: one for
the tourists and one for the locals.
Making plans to go to other locations around El Lago are
best done with a bit of planning. The day before, check
out which boats go where and at what time. Bring water
and maybe some travel food so you are covered in case of
the mornings, the surface of the lake is normally calm
and glassy, but by early afternoon the xocomil,
'the wind that carries away sin' blows and churns
up the waters, making them dangerous and uncomfortable to travel. It can be a hair-raising
experience... one of which we had no clue!
Mayans say that if it is a north wind, then the spirit
of the lake has claimed a soul and is casting out a
Traveling across these ancient waters, thinking of the
Mayan Calendar and their Creation Myths, watching the
volcano looming in the distance made for a sense of
expectation. But even putting all that fantasy
aside, the beauty of our surroundings is indisputable.
lake measures 18km by 12km at its widest point. Being
over 300 meters in depth with no visible outlet,
draining occurs through an underground passage to the
Pacific Coast. This lake is recognized as the deepest
lake in Central America and its bottom has not been
Comparatively, Lake Tahoe in California is 35km by 19km and at its deepest
is 501 meters,
with an average of 305 meters.
Looking back at Pana from our boat
waters are glassy and calm and Pana seems very peaceful.
Hard to imagine a Civil War raged in this country for
over 3 decades. Violence was difficult for the Maya
living around the lake from 1980 to 1990 with death
threats, woundings, assassinations and disappearances being commonplace.
Peaceful lifestyle of a Maya fisherman
AtitlŠn is in the southwest corner of the lake
in a sheltered horseshoe inlet lagoon. It is the largest
and most important of the lakeside villages and one of
the most traditional. The main center of the Tz'utujil-speaking
Maya, today it's an industrious yet relaxed sort of
city rises steeply from the lake shore as seen by the
pitch of this street.
Around the world we often see natives carrying heavy
loads in this manner. Firewood, baskets of vegetables or
sacks of potatoes, a wide strap is attached to their
burden and braced by their foreheads.
small plaza where we saw a smattering of vendors selling
clothes, vegetables and hand made items. Often in these
native cultures, men will wear updated western clothes,
but the women are still in traditional dress.
Clothes for sale are hanging up against the far wall.
This man in typical
village Maya dress has his 'store' in front of him. He
rings the bell hanging from his belt to announce his
location, his hat sitting high atop his head.
Simple fishing boats lined up along the shore, launches are tied to
whole lake area is known for its weavings, and while you
can see a fine selection displayed in Pana, coming
directly to the villages themselves might get you a
Maya had a mythology about the creation and destruction
of the world. The year 2012, with the end of the current
Maya calendar, has long been the subject of speculation.
Will the Earth's magnetic poles switch, destroying life
as we know it? Will it birth a new age of enlightenment
or will it end up being much like the Y2K fizzle in the
year 2000? It came, it went and nothing much happened.
Walking around, talking to the villagers best we could
(Spanish is the Mayan's second language, and ours as
well) We asked about their calendar, the Maya
prophesies, and the end of the world. We
asked them what they expected to happen, if life would
go on 'as usual' or would something spectacular happen
to change things?
Mostly we were met with blank stares, several Maya
admitting they knew nothing of the prophesies.
fin del mundo?!? ?Seguro?'
(The end of the world?!? Are you sure?
talked among themselves nervously in Kachiquel 'Do you
know?' 'Do you?'
isn't this the place where the Maya say the world began?
of course, sort of... Some people say so... Well the old
books say so...'
'Well, maybe Jesus will appear in the sky' said one
woman. 'Good people will go to heaven,' said another.
'And the bad will be punished,' added a third.
were on a roll now... but not the one I expected... Hmmm...
anticipated something mystical, something memorable,
something tangible, like deliverance from
seemed to be just a funky hill tribe village, with
current day Maya living their lives, making ends meet,
selling vegetables, having children, going fishing,
sure we were missing something, but our answers to
life's questions weren't
into the boat we go, off to San Pedro (photo center) to see what we
could find there.
doubts and musings
about Maya predictions of the future would have to be
answered another time, in another place.
Pedro has become an important center of Guatemala's
traveling scene, even surpassing Panajachel as a
visitor's spot. Drugs were a dominant problem in the
early 1990's - so much so that the locals wrote to a
national newspaper demanding that 'wasted gringos' leave
their peaceful town.
are now established language schools here drawing a
number of students. What a place to study! Vulcan San
Pedro rises to the east to a height of 3,020 meters, and
there are swimming holes and sunbathing flats.
The Adventurer's Guide to
Donít go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
Enjoying a Maya mountain paradise
Tradition in this small town isn't as powerful as in
Santiago, and few locals wear native dress.
Hiking, biking, canoeing, horseback riding, thermal
baths and even a weaving school will occupy any free
time one might have.
Glassy waters, marsh grasses line the shore
Pedro is about 30 minutes by launch from Santiago, and
40 minutes from Pana. You can also take a bus to this
town from Guatemala city and
with regular pickups around
the lake from San Marcos and
Pedro tucked away in a small curve of
were unsuccessful in pursuing the Maya creation and
destruction myths in Santiago and found that those
profound topics only made us hungry.
than $4US Dollars bought us this full plate of pork,
fries, rice, guacamole, fresh tortillas, salad and
beverage at Juanita's Restaurant.
Hippies live in San Pedro peacefully and the backpacker
tourists flock here to visit, drawn by the language
schools and the physical activities available here in
the magnificent setting of volcanoes, the huge lake,
decent weather and affordable pricing.
Brightly colored buildings with modern artistic flare
line the street.
the moment we disembarked our little launch and walked
up the inclining streets of San Pedro, the sense of this
place was obviously different from the staid and
traditional town of Santiago. It felt more like walking
into a small beach or mountain university town in
California than being in Guatemala. Certainly San Pedro
did not carry the heavy burden of proving to anyone that
the gods began all of life, animal and human kingdoms
here on their shores.
Already there was a sense of fun, of artistic expression
of modern individuality.
trails bring you to enchanting places reminding us of
Alice in Wonderland.
studios, restaurants, language schools, massage places,
hotels, beautiful marshes to the right leading to the
lake and open fields on the left.
lake, same history, same people, completely different
Bamboo fence with tropical greenery and palm trees.
was quiet here in San Pedro and we were astonished at
the obvious difference from Santiago.
majority of the inhabitants of San Pedro are Maya
Tz'utujil Indians, making up the second largest
concentration of indigenous people in Latin America.
There are 21 ethnic Maya groups that live in Guatemala,
and people here were very friendly and helpful.
was like walking into a secret, beautiful place in the
world where life seemed slower and more simple.
Card-eating, account-charging-but-giving-no-money ATM
wow, man, everything was groovy until we went to this
ATM machine. We saw a couple of people coming and going
seemingly with no problems in receiving cash. But when
Billy went in, he had to wrestle with this free-standing
ATM. Blank screens, buttons not working, no money coming
out, and he waited 5 full minutes before he was able to
retrieve his debit card.
recommendation: If you want cash, get it in Panajachel
before arriving in San Pedro. Who knows how many bank
cards have gone down this rabbit hole!
our way to San Marcos, clouds gathering, waters becoming
time was short in San Pedro since we still wanted to
find out what San Marcos offered before returning to our
hotel room in Pana. Believe it or not, these boat rides
began to beat on us, draining us of our energy. We
discussed skipping San Marcos all together, but we had
conversed with a man who thought that this small town
was his personal paradise.
opening a Jazz bar,' he said proudly as if the idea was
an original one.
let's give it a shot. After witnessing the remarkable
differences from Pana to Santiago, and from Santiago to
San Pedro, curiosity got the best of us and on to this
'paradise' we went.
Quaint outdoor restaurant with beautiful stonework, Maya
weavings and tropical plants
learned that this quiet little village was considered to
have a 'special spiritual vibe' and many foreigners have
established businesses here, all around a common healing
theme. It has become a center, of sorts, for holistic
healing methods, massage, yoga, meditation, and Reiki.
don't know how that International Jazz Bar will fit in,
but perhaps he will be serving wheatgrass martinis.
town's famous Meditation Center, Las Piramides
international spiritual refuge hidden in the Guatemalan
Highlands, San Marcos attracts weary travelers, those
who want a spiritual spa environment, or those who want
to learn esoteric skills.
structure in Las Piramides is made in the shape of a
pyramid and ordered to the cardinal points. You can
receive channelings, Tarot readings, take a Moon course
(a month-long lunar meditation) or learn yoga.
Meditation pyramids in a stunning garden setting
2,000 - 3,000 Kaqchikel-speaking Maya live here among
the international community. Since 1980, New Agers have
gathered here from all over the world, dedicated to an
alternative lifestyle. The Indigenous live mostly in the
highlands and the New Ager foreigners live in town.
you are looking for tofu burgers, hummus platters or
tempeh scramble, this is your place!
can take a 2 hour walk here from San Pedro, or catch one
of the regular pickup trucks that ride the roads between
private boats resting on San Marcos shore
a day of surprises this has been!
beginning and end of the world according to Maya myth, a
hippie hangout complete with Alice in Wonderland's
rabbit hole, a New Age spiritual vibe healing place, and
now - to our unsuspecting and fatigued minds - a late
afternoon boat ride across choppy waters through the xocomil,
'the wind that carries away sin.'
sun and clear skies have been replaced by low misty
clouds and grey choppy waters.
later in the day you wait to take any water transport,
the higher the chance you have of bouncing through cold
waters churned up by the mystical afternoon winds of
Lake AtitlŠn. In fact,
storms can rise up suddenly and if you are stuck out on
the Lake at this time you will find yourself hoping and
praying for delivery!
Everyone going home for the day.
boat going back to Pana from San Marcos is full. Sides
of the boat have rolled down plastic windows to keep
those on the outside seats reasonably dry from the
agitated waters which splash into our boat as we bang
across the waves. If you are not inclined to
seasickness, like adventure, and are familiar with the
ways of water, then you probably won't be affected by
this vigorous ride.
lake is deep, the water is cold and the day had been
long. What started out as a clear morning filled with
wonder and possibility ended up being replaced by an
early dark evening of cold winter.
couldn't wait to return to my warm hotel room and have
some hot soup!
next stop, one of the America's most enchanting colonial
more information, stories and photos of Guatemala,
Current boat prices we paid for our trip around
Panajachel to Santiago: 25 Quetzales each
Santiago to San Pedro: 20 Quetzales each
Pedro to San Marcos: 10 Quetzales each
Marcos to Panajachel: 20 Quetzales each
you are interested in learning more about the Maya
creation myths, Google the Maya ancient text Popol
read the newest discoveries about Maya End-of-the-World