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Published: July 23rd 2008
After a couple days in Antigua we took the long journey, on a road full of twists and turns, to the lake. It is about 2 hours and was quite similar to the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway in Oregon. Once here, we decided to put our death-defying adventures on hold for a few days and take it easy.
The first night we stayed in Panajachel, which is the main town for tourists and transport. We arrived mid-morning and were immediately helped/sought out/grafted by a guy at the bus stop. Apparently all the hotels in town are far more expensive than the new one that he could get us a room at, according to our new friend. To his credit, lodging is quite expensive in Pana and the prices have tripled or more since printing of the 2004 Lonely Planet that we have. Regardless, he was just trying to get a cut of our room rate. He hung with us at the hotel reception desk, checked out the room with us, and followed us back out to the street. We said it was nice but we´d keep looking and they lowered the price from Q350 to Q250 (about $50
to $35US)! We didn´t know you could barter accomodations but ended up going with that place because we needed a place to lay down and were unsure of other options. Anyway, the guy hung around on the curb until after we checked in waiting for a tip.
The hotel in Pana wasn´t anything worth mentioning but we had a great dinner at Guajimbo´s, located on Calle Santander. Live music, good food, and a diverse menu. It rained very hard all afternoon and evening and the street had a couple inches of water flowing over it on our way to dinner. A little surreal but still fun to hop from sandy island to sandy island in the street in our flip-flops. After being in the high heat and humidity of northern and central Guatemala for the past couple weeks it is refreshing to have some rain and only moderately-high heat and humidity.
Pana is actually fairly big by Atitlan standards and has a market with booths stretching for a dozen blocks or so along Calle Santander and onto the waterfront. It's an interesting mix of Guatemalans, local Mayan tribes some of whom don't even speak Spanish, and Euro-American transplants selling
Atitlan Nature Reserve
one of the 7-8 suspension bridges in the park.
necklaces and hacky-sacks to support their extended stays.
Now that we´re in Santa Cruz we have seen the pattern that we expected elsewhere in Guatemala. It is beautiful and warm in the morning, clouds roll in around 11am, and by 1pm it is usually raining very hard. The wind picks up in intensity along with the rain and its cold into the evening. Last night we actually slept with a couple blankets on and I´m finally using those jeans I was silly enough to pack.
The next morning we went to the Atitlan Natural Reserve, which is a former coffee plantation-turned nature preserve with waterfalls, lots of spider monkeys, some coati, suspension bridges and a small butterfly garden. It also offers zip-line tours through the canopy. Very cool place, we saw a lot more monkeys than at Tikal, and we´d recommend it to anyone in the area. We were able to upload a video of our favorite monkey swinging in a nearby tree - check it out! The suspension bridges over the stream and by the waterfall was really neat. It was a 10 min Tuk-Tuk ride (the same taxis that we saw in
Flores and Antigua) north of town but we walked back in 30 minutes.
When we got back to Pana we checked out and got on the lancha to Santa Cruz. There are 5 or 6 small towns dotted around the lake and most appear to be accessible only by water taxi. On the way over we got soaked by waves washing up, around, and into the boat so we´d recommend taking an early morning water taxi when the water is calmer than in the afternoon when it rains and gets very choppy. Most of the towns appear to have a couple guest houses and cafes near the water with the town itself a steep 10-15 min walk up the hill. Santa Cruz, where we´re staying, is small and beautiful but you need to travel elsewhere if you want groceries or other shopping. It is a beautiful little spot - both in the town and down the hill on the waterfront. Very peaceful and a great spot to sit in a chair or hammock and read or just relax as the day goes by. Today we walked up the shoreline trail (turn at Isla Verde just before the point to
follow the trail up and around the ridge). We missed this turn yesterday and ended up at our swimming spot, which was a pretty nice consolation. After 45 minutes or so we wound our way down to Jaibolito and caught the water taxi further along to San Pedro. It is much more touristy but only in comparison to the other towns around the lake.
We have been staying three nights at La Iguana Perdida, which is just off the dock in Santa Cruz. There are quite a few options for accomodations here, from dorms to doubles with and without bath. It is run by a very friendly staff and has a great restaurant and activity options. Kat is wonderful, but the rest of the staff and the owners are great too. They offer scuba diving, kayaks, yoga in the mornings, massage, darts, pool and family style dinners every night. It is only about $15 for our private double w/shared bath and the food is good and cheap. We went out in the kayak yesterday and paddled up around the point toward Jaibalito (the next town to the right) and out into the lake and back. After relaxing a bit
Atitlan Nature Reserve
another bridge than went under a wonderful jungle tree - vines and all.
(as if we needed any more!) we walked up the shoreline trail to the point and went swimming. Pretty warm and clear water, and yet another beautiful spot to find ourselves.
Lonely Planet still hasn´t updated their description of La Iguana but they have electricity and internet, and after dinner you can take a kerosene lantern to your room for light. We highly recommend this place for people who want to hang out and relax or use this as a base to explore the other towns on the lake.
Tomorrow we are heading back to Antigua for a night to book our Rio Dulce shuttle and will head east Friday morning.
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