2 Days in Panajachel

Lake Atitlán, described by Lonely Planet as “the closest thing to Eden on Earth”, is big, deep, and surrounded by fern-covered valleys and towering volcanoes. The volcanoes Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro (“The Three Giants“), on the shores of the lake, form an impressive landscape. Around the lake you can visit the the 6 Mayan towns of Santiago Atitlán, San Lucas Tolimán, San Antonio Palopo, Santa Catarina Palopo, Panajachel, and San Pedro La Laguna.

After our wedding, we decided to send 2 days in Panajachel with some friends. Panajachel, or Pana, as it is called locally, is perhaps the most tourist-friendly and built up of all the lakeside towns. Most, if not all, shuttles from Guatemala City or Antigua stop in Pana and it’s a jumping off point for boat trips to the other towns. It’s a roughly 3-3.5 hour drive from Antigua to Pana, which makes it a great next step if you’re hitting all the “must-see” spots in Guatemala.

Our first day was a bit of a travel day, so we stayed in and chilled at our hotel, Porta Hotel del Lago, which offer some of the best views of Atitlán.

Our first full day in Pana started off with a tuktuk ride to Reserva Natural Atitlán, a former coffee plantation turned nature reserve with extreme ziplining, forest hiking trails, a butterfly dome, and a hotel. They offer two zipline circuits: X-Tremos (280Q) and Ultras X-Tremos (410Q). Both zipline circuits require some hiking, with the Ultra X-Tremos being more strenuous. The Ultra X-Tremos does zip you across the the shoreline of the lake, so the views are fantastic.

For those of us who are a little less adventurous, you can also take a leisure hike through their hiking trails. There are tons of animals to see and a gorgeous waterfall along the way, which is reached by a series of hanging bridges. You can also hike down to the playa, or beach, for a gorgeous view of Atitlán.

They also have a really cool butterfly dome with all sorts of butterflies – and caterpillars and pupae who are in the process of becoming a beautiful butterfly!

We ended the day with some pool time and souvenir shopping along Calle Santander, the main street in Pana. There you’ll find tourist agencies, restaurants, all sorts of souvenir shops selling both your typical tourist souvenirs and more local, handmade goods. We love getting ceramics and hand-woven items when we’re in Guatemala and I highly recommend those as souvenirs.

Our second full day in Pana actually took us outside of Pana to the town of Santa Cruz for a Mayan cooking class. After a short 30 or so minute boat ride, we arrived at the docks of Santa Cruz, where we were whisked away on tuktuks to Centro de Capacitación, part of Amigos de Santa Cruz, a non-profit that runs programs that help to improve the lives of the indigenous people of Santa Cruz and its surrounding villages. CECAP runs a culinary program that trains locals and gives them the skills to obtain sustainable sources of income. Our instructor for the day, Claudia, is a graduate of the culinary program. Amigos de Santa Cruz also run a variety of other classes like beading classes and artisan weaving classes.

We had prebooked the Mayan Cooking Class with Kayak Guatemala who helped us arrange the class with CECAP. The cooking class takes roughly 2.5 hours and you learn how to make an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. For us, our menu was Tamalitos de Chipilín, Kak’ik con pollo, and Mole de plátanos. It was a lovely class – Claudia set us all to work on various portions of the meal, and the flow of the class was very natural. We all participated in some way to make each dish – including rolling out our own tortillas without a press, as is the Guatemalan way. At the end of the class, they served us the food we participated in making and it was delish! I loved the mole and it was great to share traditional Guatemalan foods with our friends.

And of course, we ended our day with more pool time and souvenir shopping. If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, stroll down Calle Santander and stop at Cafe Loco, where I had one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had in the country. There is also a beautiful ceramic shop where I definitely did not buy too many things.

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