This post may contain affiliate links, for which we earn a small commission at no additional expense to you. Click here to read our Disclosure.
Beautiful Lake Atitlan is one of the most popular places to visit in Guatemala and for good reason. This lake in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain is volcanic in origin, filling a caldera and has three volcanoes rising up out of the lake. Lake Atitlan is a great destination for families because of the relaxing pace of life, opportunity to experience Mayan towns and culture and great views. In this guide, we will explain the best things to do in Lake Atitlan with kids in 2023.
- 1 Guatemala Itinerary with Kids
- 2 How Long to Stay in Lake Atitlan
- 3 Getting to Lake Atitlan
- 4 Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan with Kids
- 5 Best Things to do in Lake Atitlan with Kids in 2023
- 5.1 1. Relax
- 5.2 2. San Juan La Laguna Mirador Kiaq’Aiswaan
- 5.3 3. Swimming and Cliff Jumping at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
- 5.4 4. Hike Between Santa Cruz and Tzununa
- 5.5 5. Rent Kayaks or SUPs
- 5.6 6. Sunrise at Indian Nose/Rostro Maya
- 5.7 7. Explore the Towns by Boat
- 5.8 8. Waterfront Restaurants
- 5.9 9. Visit the Markets
- 5.10 10. Reserva Natural Atitlan
- 5.11 11. Take a Tour
- 6 When to Visit Lake Atitlan
- 7 Is Lake Atitlan Safe?
Guatemala Itinerary with Kids
If you are visiting Guatemala with kids, we suggest you visit Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Both have so much to offer families and are fairly close to Guatemala City, where you will fly in to. Travel distances in Guatemala may look short on a map, but due to poor infastructure, traffic and mountainous terrain, it takes quite a bit of time to get anywhere. If your trip plan is longer than one week, you could add on a visit to Flores and the Mayan site, Tikal.
I would suggest starting your trip in Antigua since it is close to the airport (30-60 min) and I prefer to visit a city first and then the relaxing destination at the end (Lake Atitlan).
How Long to Stay in Lake Atitlan
Lake Atitlan is a place that is easy to settle into and there are many expats and long term visitors that have chosen to base themselves here. However, we would recommend a minimum of 4 nights if visiting with kids since it takes 3-4 hours to get to Lake Atitlan and you want to give yourselves enough time to enjoy your visit. We stayed at the Lake for 8 days because we were longterm travelling and really enjoyed our time there.
Getting to Lake Atitlan
Most visitors to Lake Atitlan will be arriving from Antigua or the airport (Guatemala City). We were unusual in that we arrived to Lake Atitlan on foot via our 3-day trek from Xela (Quetzeltenango).
There are three ways you can get to Lake Atitlan: a private transfer, tourist shuttle or the chicken bus (local buses). We would recommend a private transfer or tourist shuttle for families. We did use the chicken buses in Guatemala, but families will likely prefer the convenience and safety of the other transportation methods.
You will also want to decide where on the Lake you are staying since this will affect your transportation. The most common entrance point to the Lake is Panajachel (generally called “Pana”), however you can also take transportation to San Pedro and San Marcos. We talk about where to stay in Lake Atitlan with kids later in this post.
The towns along the lake are connected by public water taxis (lanchas) that are very affordable and safe and can get you anywhere you need to go. So even if you are arrive in Pana, but are staying in Santa Cruz, you can take the shuttle to Pana and then the lancha to Santa Cruz. They will put your bags on the roof and are usually half filled with tourists.
Lake Atitlan Private Transfer
A private transfer is the most convenient way to get to Lake Atitlan and won’t be much more expensive than paying for 4 or more shuttle tickets. You can book a private transfer at any travel agency in Antigua (they are everywhere) or through your accomodation. If you want to book your Antigua to Lake Atitlan transfer in advance, click here for the best price from Antigua (or vice versa). If you are coming from the airport and need a Lake Atitlan from Guatemala City transfer, you can book this private transfer.
Lake Atitlan Tourist Shuttle
These tourist shuttles are minibuses that accomodate about 15 people and they will usually put luggage on the roof. They are convenient and relatively cheap and other than a private transfer, provide the quickest way between places in Guatemala. You can purchase tickets at any travel agency or can purchase tickets in advance online:
Antigua to Panajachel – $20 USD/person – click here to book
Antigua to San Pedro La Laguna – $24 USD/person – click here to book
Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan with Kids
One of the things that makes Lake Atitlan so special is the distinct towns and villages on the lake and the opportunity to explore them. Although, that means it can be difficult to decide where to base yourself when visiting Lake Atitlan with kids. We think there are advantages of each of them and you have to think about what is important to you. But, you shouldn’t worry too much because you can easily explore the other towns by taking boats across the lake.
The main tourism hub on the lake is Panajachel, but we really wouldn’t recommend staying there. Some people love it and it does have great dining options, but we think families would prefer somewhere quieter. If you arrive in Pana but are staying elsewhere, go to the main dock and take a public boat (private boats are more expensive). Usually you pay before you board and will get a ticket – cost is about 5Q per town you go to with San Pedro being the most expensive at 25Q/person. If you do want to get to your accomodation quicker, you can take a private lancha, but make sure you negotiate a price before you board.
If you are looking for a quiet place to relax by the water, choose Santa Cruz, Jabalito or Tzununa hotels on Lake Atitlan. If you are looking for a budget destination with great food options, choose backpacker favourite San Pedro La Laguna. If you want to hippy it out, San Marcos should be your choice. San Juan La Laguna is a good choice for those looking for a more authentic town. There are other quieter towns on the southern part of the Lake if you want to really get away from everything. Here are some of the Lake Atitlan best hotels to check out.
Lake Atitlan Hotels, Guatemala
Lush Atitlan (San Marcos La Laguna) – Mid-High – one of the best Lake Atitlan luxury hotels, Lush is a stunning, eco-conscious property with lovely decor, each room has gorgeous views of the Lake. Just like the name suggests, the property is lush and green with an organic, locally-sourced, planet-based restaurant. They have a 2-bedroom suite perfect for families. Many feel that this is the best hotel in Lake Atitlan. Click here to check the latest prices
La Iguana Perdida (Santa Cruz) – Budget-Mid – Santa Cruz is a great place to really get away from everything and this hotel/hostel has a great community atmosphere, quad rooms, great views of the lake and fun outdoor spaces to relax in. Click here to check the latest prices.
Eco-Hotel Mayachik (San Juan La Laguna) – Budget – rustic eco-lodge surrounded by nature, this is a great place for families on a budget. The superior bungalow offers tons of space for families and the restaurant serves exellent, well-priced meals. Click here to check the latest prices.
Sababa Resort (San Pedro La Laguna) – Mid-range – this Instagram-cute Lake Atitlan Guatemala hotel has large, modern rooms with views of the Lake. Best of all, kids will appreciate the pool and garden area. Breakfast is included and quad rooms available for families. Click here to check the latest prices.
San Pedro Airbnb (San Pedro La Laguna) – Budget – we spent over a week at this fantastic Airbnb and loved everything about it. The hosts are great, it is located 15-20 min outside of town so peaceful and quiet, but still had great access to all the food options in San Pedro. We loved our Lake view and outdoor kitchen, the stylish decor, strong wifi and the 2 double beds. Alex and Ashley have a few properties to choose from.
Best Things to do in Lake Atitlan with Kids in 2023
All of these activities are easy to do if you are staying in any town on the popular northern side of the Lake. Remember the cheapest way to get between towns is with the public ferries between towns which are about 5Q per town you visit, maximing out at 25Q/person/one-way. Just go down to the public dock in whatever town you are staying in and you can buy your ticket from the worker on the dock or in the smaller towns, you pay the boat driver when you get to the stop you are going to. Boats go in both directions towards either Panajachel or San Pedro and leave every 15 minutes. If you get on a private ferry, make sure you confirm the price before you go. Below you can see a map of Lake Atitlan and the various towns and villages.
One of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan with kids is to settle into a hammock, relax and enjoy the gorgeous views of the Lake and surrounding volcanoes. Don’t overschedule your visit to Lake Atitlan – build in lots of relaxing time, especially if you were busy in Antigua.
2. San Juan La Laguna Mirador Kiaq’Aiswaan
This viewpoint (mirador) is an excellent way to get a beautiful view over Lake Atitlan. Take the ferry to San Juan de Laguna and then walk through the town to the base of the Mirador (use Google Maps). The town has done a wonderful job of creating the walkways and viewing platform. It costs 30Q/person and takes about 15 minutes to walk up to the viewpoint. Once at the top, you will be instantly rewarded by great views of Lake Atitlan and its three volcanoes. There is a nice shaded area to relax and take in the view and beautiful paintings on the platforms.
Combine this activity with a visit to San Juan La Laguna centro starting at La Calle de los Sombreros to Iglesia San Juan La Laguna to La Calle de las Sombrillas and the public dock. There are many galleries, artisan shops and restaurants in this area. We would also recommend visiting Alma de Colores, a social enterprise restaurant and shop that employes and trains disabled workers.
3. Swimming and Cliff Jumping at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve
If you are staying in one of the quieter towns like Santa Cruz, Jabalito or Tzununa you may have your own private dock at your accomodation for swimming. However, most people agree that the best swimming in Lake Atitlan is at Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos. This peninsula park on the west side of town is peaceful with many great spots for swimming and even a huge 40ft (12m) jumping platform. There are also small rocks to jump off, nice natural trails and miradors in the Nature Reserve. Cost is 20Q/person which includes unlimited daily entry. Jumping from the platform and swimming off the rocks was a huge hit with our kids and is one of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan with kids.
4. Hike Between Santa Cruz and Tzununa
Take a lancha to Santa Cruz and start walking towards Tzununa on what is called the Lower Mayan Trail. The trail is 7 km long with so many amazing views of the Lake and its three volcanoes. I kept stopping and procliaming how beautiful the view was constantly. While many blogs report that there have been robberies on this trail in the past, I can’t find any recent reports of this and we felt perfectly safe on the trail. If you prefer, you can hire a guide very inexpensively for security purposes.
The trail is well maintained and allows you to get a glimpse of many of the beautiful properties along the Lake. You will walk through the small town of Jabalito and continue on to Tzununa. Many will carry on to San Marcos (+3 km) although the trail is more of a road at that point and not as picturesque. We recommend finishing your hike with lunch at Maya Moon Lodge just outside Tzununa (towards San Marcos). The food is fantastic and you can swim from their dock.
5. Rent Kayaks or SUPs
Anyone visiting Lake Atitlan with kids should explore the Lake by kayak or SUP. In each town, there are places to rent kayaks or SUPs or your accomodation might provide them. Expect to pay 50Q/hour. The wind usually picks up in the afternoon, so plan this has a morning activity.
Many people rave about the SUP tours from SUP Atitlan, located in Santa Cruz. Their Eco Fun Tour is perfect for families with kids 8+.
6. Sunrise at Indian Nose/Rostro Maya
I don’t love the name “Indian Nose” that describes the mountain with a shape of a face overlooking the Lake, but it is what locals and tourist know this hike as. The alternative name is Rostro Maya (Mayan Face), but Indian Nose is much more commonly used. Indian Nose is accessed from San Juan, although there are tours that start in San Pedro or San Marcos. This is a hike that you will need to book a tour for and as you can imagine, involves waking up very early.
However, we think it is completely worth it to see the magic that happens as the sky slowly brightens and you can see epic views of Lake Atitlan and its volcanoes. Before the sunrise, you will see a room of stars and may get lucky and see fiery eruptions from Volcano Fuego in the distance.
Indian Nose is located 2,200 m elevation and if doing the sunrise tour, you will be picked up in San Pedro or San Marcos and driven up to Santa Clara and then will walk 2 km each way (30-45 min) to the “Nose” viewpoints. You will want to bring warm clothes and a headlamp if you have one, since it can be chilly in the dark. At the top you will be served hot drinks and hear more about the geology of the area.
You can do the hike during the day and without a guide. It will take about 2 hours up and 1 hour down and cost 30Q/person. However, we think the sunrise tour is completely worth the early wakeup. Even our kids agreed! You will be back at your hotel by 8 am and have the rest of the day to relax. You can book this tour at any travel agency in town.
7. Explore the Towns by Boat
One of the best Lake Atitlan things to do with kids is explore the various towns around the Lake. Each town has its own feel and is best known for something different. This is an excellent budget activity as you can take the public boats (lanchas) for 5-25Q/person. We would often take a ferry to a new town and spend half the day exploring and eat lunch and then return home.
San Marcos – hippy zen place, yoga, cliff jumping
San Pedro – backpacker fav, Gringo food
San Juan – street art, artisan products, best Mirador, Indian Nose
Panajachel – best place for supplies, huge market
Santa Cruz, Tzununa, Jabalito – get away from it all, quiet, good swimming
Southern villages/towns – less tourists, experience traditional Mayan life
8. Waterfront Restaurants
There are many Lake Atitlan restaurants where you can enjoy your meal overlooking the Lake. San Pedro offers many options including a lot of Gringo food choices. Some of our favourites there were Sublime, Sababa, Pita Sabij and Tacomex. You can also find waterfront restaurants in all of the towns along the Lake, many located within hotels.
9. Visit the Markets
Visiting the local markets is something we like to do whereever we visit. Panajachel and San Pedro both have bustling markets every day. Go in the mornings because the markets usually wind down by 1 pm and then reopen for street food in the evenings.
Kids will enjoy seeing all the exotic fruits and vegetables, and you can even pick up some souvenirs. We didn’t eat at the market, but we have heard there is some great food options there too. The market is definitely the cheapest place to buy fresh fruit and veg if you are self catering.
Another popular Lake Atitlan activity is to visit one of Central America’s largest and most interesting markets at Chichicastenango. Chichi is actually located 40 km north of Lake Atitlan in the Western Highlands and every Thursday and Sunday, the town balloons as vendors from all around come to Chichi to sell their wares. While you can take chicken buses there, it is recommended to take the tourist shuttles which leave at 8 am from Panajachel or a tour. The drive is 1.5 hour each way so you will want to spend most of your day in Chichi. You can find almost anything for sale in the market and the opportunity for people-watching is one of the highlights of a visit. Click here to book a tour to Chichicastenango.
If you or the kids aren’t up for the drive to Chichi, you can visit the markets of Solola (Tuesdays and Fridays). These markets are only a 25 min bus from Panajachel and are easy to visit independently.
10. Reserva Natural Atitlan
This is one place I really wish we had visited when we were in Lake Atitlan. With hiking trails, a zipline, butterfly geodome, hanging bridges and lots of wildlife, this is a great family activity. The hiking is easy and kids will enjoy seeing free-roaming coatis and monkeys. For older kids, the zipline gets great reviews with good safety procedures and friendly staff.
Open everyday from 8-5, admission is 80Q/adult, 45Q/child under 12. Admission includes all of the activities mentioned except the zipline which is 280-410Q/person and must be booked in advance. Reserva Natural Atitlan is located a 12 minute walk (west) from Panajachel on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
11. Take a Tour
From ATVs Village Tours to Mayan ceremonies to Kayak tours, there are a wide variety of tours offered at Lake Atitlan. You can book them at most travel agencies in the towns or book in advance through Viator.
Here are a sampling of some of the most popular tours in Lake Atitlan.
When to Visit Lake Atitlan
Most visitors come to Lake Atitlan in the winter months (November until the end of May) when the weather in Lake Atitlan is hot and dry. However, if you come in the wet season (early May to late October), it will be greener, but you will have frequent afternoon showers. Even though you are in the northern hemisphere, temperatures during the day and evening will be cooler in these months. Lake Atitlan can be affected by the hurricane season in August-September when you might encounter windy and stormy weather.
But, Guatemala is often called “the land of eternal spring” for a good reason and we don’t think there is ever a bad time to visit. Travelling in the rainy season is often better value and the scenery is greener and lusher (we found it very dry and yellow in February-March).
Is Lake Atitlan Safe?
Just like in Antigua, we found Lake Atitlan to be very safe and never had any uncomfortable experiences. We suggest taking the usual precautions and using traveller common sense.
Lake Atitlan is safe for swimming although it is best done outside of the towns. We did swim off the docks in San Pedro, but the water is cleaner the farther from town you go. Always watch for boats.
We managed to not get sick in Guatemala until the day we left and we think it had to do with some street nuts we bought from a roaming vendor. Drink filtered water; most hotels will filter water with an eco filter, so you don’t need to buy plastic bottles. We drank drinks with ice at restaurants and even ate salad and trusted that restaurants that cater to tourists are taking precautions.