Climb up volcanoes and learn about indigenous art and culture at this picturesque Mayan town on the shores of Lake Atitlán.
Santiago Atitlán lies in a bay at the foot of two volcanoes, surrounded by forest-covered mountains. This is the largest community on the banks of Lake Atitlán and is where many locals wear historical costume. Visit for the natural beauty and traditional architecture and discover more about the indigenous way of life.
At almost every turn Santiago Atitlán, you will see a volcano. Directly above the town are the volcanoes Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Toliman. Embark on strenuous hikes to the craters for the best views of the area.
Learn about the region’s past at the 16th-century Parish Church of St. James the Apostle. Look at the marble plaques that detail the history of the town. Study the carvings on the pulpit that mix Mayan and Catholic figures and symbols. If you are in luck, you might see one of the town’s religious icons, a small statue of St. Maximón. The effigy of this Mayan folk saint is passed between residents, moving to a different house each year following the Easter celebrations. Ask around and you might discover where he is being kept.
As you walk through the streets, note the similarity of the clothes that many of the locals are wearing. Men usually sport white shorts with purple stripes, while the women are dressed in purple skirts and blouses embroidered with colorful images of native birds and flowers. Get insight into the significance of these outfits at the Cojola Association of Maya Women Weavers. Visit this small museum to hear about the origin and development of the costumes. Watch one of the daily demonstrations of backstrap loom weaving, an ancient art that has been practiced for centuries.
Dine in a traditional restaurant and try some of the local specialties such as a type of stew called pulique and patín, a dish made with small fish from the lake. There are also several restaurants serving international food.
Access to Santiago Atitlán is relatively straightforward, unlike some of the smaller lakeside communities. A regular bus service runs daily from Guatemala City, about 77 miles (124 kilometers) away. Alternatively, rent a car to reach the picturesque town and its cultural delights.