June 9, 2011

The Mayan Culture of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, Take the Plunge!

Located in the western highlands of Guatemala is the deepest lake in Central America: Lake Atitlan. The word Atitlan is a Mayan for "the place where the rainbow gets its colors". The local people believe that a strong wind that blows over this volcanic crater-lake in the afternoon carries away people’s sins. The region is a magnet for New Age practitioners and those exploring the remnants of the lost Mayan culture.

To get to the lake take a bus from Guatemala City to Panajachel. From here you can explore the lake by a taking a slancha (public boat) to any one of the towns that line the shore.  One-way passage anywhere on the lake costs $1.30, but be prepared to haggle as foreigners usually get charged double.

Santa Catarina Palopo and San Antonio Palopo – Most of the residents are descendents of the Cakchiquel Maya. A characteristic of both villages is the blue huipil, or blouse, which is worn prominently by the women of the community. A local legend has it that a tourist wearing a red huipil made in the US, miraculously changed color from red to blue on their visit to the village.

San Marcos La Laguna – This lake town is a big draw for mediators and alternative therapy enthusiasts. Its tranquil setting is perfect for enjoying yoga, reiki or just hanging out and relaxing. There are several New Age centers in San Marcos and more in the pipeline. The most popular meditation centre is Las Piramides. If you’re looking for something more physical there is a self-guided 3-hour hike from San Marcus to the town of Santa Cruz. Options for accommodation in San Marcos include an eco-friendly boutique hotel called Aacualaax that was built using recycled materials.

Santiago Atitlan – Located on the south end of the lake this town is notable for its oil paintings that depict scenes of life around the lake. The town is nestled between two volcanoes: San Pedro and Toliman. Santiago Atitlan is also the home of the Cojol Ya Association Weaving Center and Museum, founded by the Cojol Ya Association of Mayan Women Weavers. The museum shows the history and process of back strap loom weaving, and the evolution of the traditional costume of the Tzutujil people. The best views of the lake and the surrounding countryside are from the summit of the San Pedro volcano. You can hike to the summit as part of an organized tour that departs the town of San Pedro.

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