When the famed Novelist Aldous Huxley visited Guatemala, he was so taken in by Lake Atitlan that without a second thought he refered to it as the most beautiful lake in the world. Even long after that tourists from Europe and America have gone there and left enthralled by the natural abundances of the place. From the nearby towns of Panajachel, Santa Catarina and San Antonio Palopó the lake can be seen in its full splendor. The region also has three volcanic mountains – Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro. The lake with the backdrop of the mountain looks like a tropical paradise. Geologically speaking the lake does not drain into the sea. It is considered to be the deepest lake in South America. There are deep escarpments on its side. Small villages of the Mayan can be seen lining the lake. Atilan in Mayan dialect means “the place where the rainbow gets its color”.
The formation of the Lake Atitlan is volcanic in origin. It is actually an enormous caldera which was formed due to eruption some 84000 years ago. Since it is a volcanic formation, it is but natural to have surrounding fertile soil. The basin of the lake supports cultivation of corn,bean, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic,strawberries. Even the animal population is rich here and the lake is the main source of food and water supply for these wildlife populations. The whole region has volcanic structures. It first erupted 11 million years ago. You will see volcanoes, cones, and domes in the region quite common to these areas. Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Tolimán are within the caldera and Volcan Atitlan lies in the Southern part of the caldera. There was no eruption recently. However in 1976 a massive earthquake hit Guatemala which resulted in the water surface dropping in the lake by 2 meters. On the shore of the lake the Nature Reserve of San Buenaventura is another tourist attraction. It is huge and covers almost a good portion of San Buenaventura in Panajachel.The main objective here is the preservation of the natural reserve of the place. To that end it has planted more than 180,000 trees in the valley. It has also introduced the wood burning stove in the neighborhood. Garbage recycling activities, solar energy use are some of its achievements. The reserve has several nature trails for the tourists. It also has a separate butterfly reserve, and a bird refugee.
Villages around Lake Atitlan
The lake is surrounded by many small villages of the Mayans. Their culture and customs are still prevalent here and you will often find Mayan women in their traditional attire. These indigenous race are Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel.The Santiago Atitlán is the more popular community dwelling by the lake.This is a strange tribe with a mix of Mayan culture, catholic saints, and conquistador stories. This is the cult of Saint Simon. The town of Panajachel, near the Lake is a popular hippie joint.People generally enters the Lake area from this side and board here. There are internet cafes, hotels, and restaurants here. The town of San Marcos also offers boarding. It is more peaceful and offers healing art theme to the tourists.
The Lake is also a rich archeological site where several of the Mayan deities have been found. The Sambai remains are part of a huge settlement that existed in the Pre Classic period of the Mayan Civilization.