Panajachel & Guatemala’s most beautiful lake

Monday 18 to Wednesday 20 May

Our drive from Guatemala City to Antigua took us on a few lesser roads but nothing compared to what we experienced driving on to Panajachel. Google considered road number 1 to be the best route, so after an extremely slow drive through Chimaltenango on the Pan American Highway (CA1) we were directed to turn left onto road 1.

It was windy – twisting around steep volcanic mountains and gullies. The quality of the road varied, sometimes in good condition, other times broken with potholes. But the greatest surprise came when the road ended. No warning, just the end of the tarmac and a cliff edge. We could see road on the other side of a deep gully where a stream flowed. Another car had just driven up a dirt road which joined our road and it was obvious we had to fjord the river. Some workers laughed at us as Bruce gingerly drove through the water not really knowing how deep it would be and whether our Toyota Yaris was brave enough. We got through and a group of ladies, also working on repairs to the washed away bridge, were kinder and waved us on in the right direction.

The roads continued to be challenging but the scenery was fantastic as we drove around the volcanoes.

The 78 km journey from Antigua to Panajachel had taken us 3.5 hours.

Panajachel is on Lake Atitlán, claimed to be the most beautiful lake in Central America. It is actually a caldera and sits more than 2,000m above sea level. There are volcanoes in every direction, some are active and the residents live, waiting for but hoping against activity.

This is a popular backpacker town with stepping off points to zip lining, kayaking and even climbing active volcanoes.

We took a walk through town and found a bar overlooking the lake. A beautiful cloud formation captured our attention but not our expectations. The silver lining darkened and thunder roared around us, and before we knew it we were forced to order another round of drinks and wait for the downpour to abate. Couldn’t be a nicer place to be marooned, overlooking this beautiful lake with warm rain rolling in.

The next day was bright and sunny and we ventured up the mountain to the Reserva Natural Atitlán. They have a butterfly display which I particularly enjoyed. I’ve seen a number of butterfly enclosures but this is the first that didn’t have artificial sweetener feeding stations. It seemed to me that the butterflies relied only on the flowering plants – and they were in abundance, both flowes and butterflies.

After wasting millions of pixels on these gorgeous, we took the path to the beach. Twisting around gullies and over swinging bridges, it was a serene walk. At one stage we were in a pine forest with the lovely pine scent and the cushioned path covered in pine needles.

The next walk within the park was up to the waterfall. We came across some spider monkeys and we were highly entertained by the way they moved through the trees in a natural environment, oblivious to the gawking visitors.

There was a group of people readied for zip lining with helmets and braces and gloves. We let them pass whilst we admired the waterfall.

Thunder was bouncing around the valley and we thought we made a wise decision to take a shorter path back to the visitor’s centre. Unfortunately the noise never amounted to anything like last night’s downpour so we missed the upper reaches of the park.

Before we left this beautiful area we took a drive to the next village of Santa Catarina Palopó. If our stay was extended we could have taken a boat ride across the lake and visited a number of ethnic villages. Suffice to say the road trip to Santa Catarina Palopó was stunning.

Elections are coming up in Guatemala in September and there are stories of corrution and abuse. There are signs along the roads and painted onto lamp posts in many of the villages amd towns we drove through. They even paint their political colours on rocks beside the roads. We felt a lot of passion about an election that is still four months away.

We left Panajachel, determined to stay on the main roads and not get caught up in deep gullies and washed away bridges to our next stop of Chichicastenango.