After a night in the woods, we decided we needed a little respite, so we headed
to the scenic but touristy town of Panajachel. Panajachel is one of many towns on the
shore of the scenic Lago de Atitlán — a lake surrounded by volcanoes.
As it turned out, we weren't quite through with our adventure — our bus ride to Panajachel would be our must frightening and frustrating one yet. Since it took us much of the day to get out of San Juan Atitán, we ended up trying to catch a bus to Panajachel much later in the day than we normally would. But, at least our bus had a direct route from Cuatros Caminos to Panajachel, so we wouldn't have to attempt a transfer somewhere in the dark.
Our bus was frustrating because the ayudante blatantly ripped us off, charging us Q50 per person (oh well!), and because our driver was an over-the-top risk taker — careening around the bends and passing cars on blind corners as our bus flew down the dark windy road towards the lake. Machismo at it's best! But we made it intact, and left the smell of diesel smoke and burnt brakes behind for a little relaxation.
Yes, Panajachel is a touristy town — the most touristy place we had visited yet. But it was a good base station for exploration of nearby sites. Despite the reputation for tourist activity, we found town to be fairly quiet during our visit, with most restaurants being almost empty.
The old part of town is in upper Panajachel, which has a small market. Down closer to the water are the newer, more tourist-oriented businesses. The main strip in the new part of Panajachel is lined with shops and restaurants. Some side streets also have permanent stalls selling textiles, t-shirts and jewelry. Like in other parts of Guatemala, we were still almost never approached by pushy salespeople. There seems to be a certain level of politeness and formality that keeps Guatemalans from excessively pestering tourists.
And, we found some good food! Being from Seattle, we are fans of fresh seafood. We ordered seafood soup and we received a large bowl in which the chef had placed a whole crab, a whole fish, some shrimp, and many tiny shellfish — and cooked them all together. We can't say it was a tremendous amount of food in the end, but cleaning all of the different sea creatures ourselves made our meal a tasty adventure!
In most places, we tried to choose a restaurant based on: recommendations, local people eating there, or simply a new dish that we wanted to try. But in Panajachel, we also sought out good live music. The best bands were usually in the most touristy places — which were fine — but sometimes the music was so loud we could enjoy it from a better restaurant across the street!
Some places we tried:
- Lago Mira: an appropriately named comedor, for breakfast by the water
- Jose Pingüino's Cafe, Bar y Restaurant: for guacamole, cervezas, and loud music
- Parillada Atitlán: a tasty restaurant across the street from Jose Pingüino's, where we could still hear the band just fine.
This guy was selling live chicks that had been dyed various neon colors. We're still not completely sure why. What would a tourist do with a live chick?
Down by the river, people were working shoveling (by hand) gravel into a waiting dump truck. A map & warning sign to tourists was posted there.
The taxis in Panajachel are tuk-tuks — buzzing little three-wheeled vehicles which are perfect for navigating the small cobblestone streets. Drivers customize their tuk-tuks with colorful blinking lights and blaring sound systems.
San Pedro la Laguna
We took an afternoon boat ride across Lago de Atitlán to San Pedro la
Laguna, one of many towns on the lake. San Pedro is a cute place
with a Rastafarian feel.
To get from Panajachel to San Pedro la Laguna, you can take a public ferry, or a privately-run panga motorboat which costs Q25 (US$3.50) for tourists (locals pay less), but the drivers will try to wait until he has at least 12 passengers before setting sail. We ended up leaving a bit late in the day, so we only had an hour to explore San Pedro before we needed to catch the last boat back (at about 6 PM), but just the scenic boat ride itself is worth the trip. We had some great conversations, swapping stories with other tourists on that boat.
In San Pedro, we took a break from Guatemalan food — with a late lunch of falafel!
Boat ride back to Panajachel