Living in Lake Atitlan Guatemala is such a unique experience that’s unlike any other.
Lake Atitlan is located in the southwestern highlands of Guatemala. It’s known to be the deepest lake in all of Central America. This beautiful town attracts people from all over Guatemala and the world because of its stunning lake views, activities and rich culture.
There are more than a dozen towns that surround the lake which is filled with rich Mayan history and to this day – indigenous communities speaking in their original tongue, Tz’utujil and Kaqchikel.
There’s something magical about living in Lake Atitlan that many people find themselves coming back year after year.
- Is it the mesmerizing lake views?
- Or the small town feels?
- Maybe it’s the tranquil environment?
It’s probably all of those things! Whether you are living in Lake Atitlan for a weekend adventure or a month-long stay as a digital nomad – there are a couple of things you need to know first.
In this blog post, you’ll learn what it’s really like to live in Lake Atitlan, how much the cost of living is, where to get groceries, how to buy a SIM card and everything else you could need!
Who Would Enjoy Living In Lake Atitlan?
That’s a great question because after living in Lake Atitlan for almost 2 months – we realized it’s not for everyone.
You’d love living in Lake Atitlan Guatemala if:
- You don’t like big, busy cities: Tired of the hustle? Escape to Lake Atitlan and disconnect from the busyness of life. You can live a very simple life here and it’s a popular place for people to get away and enjoy the nature. It’s also a very slow pace of life here.
- You don’t mind plant-based food: There isn’t one big grocery store. There are usually small tiendas along the road offering fresh vegetables and/or the weekend markets. We couldn’t really find meat products around the lake and for some that we didn’t – they just didn’t look great. We basically became plant-based for the time we were there unless we went out and ate! Don’t get me wrong: you can find meat but it’s just hard!
- Affordable cost of living: I must say – it’s not the cheapest to live in Lake Atitlan but it can be very affordable. You’ll pay high rental prices but I mean you are living right next to a lake and if you’re lucky you probably have some lake views too!
- You love living near a body of water: Were you meant to live near the beach or by the lake? If that’s what energizes you then living in Lake Atitlan might be a great option for you – even if it’s just for a few weeks or months.
Do any of those points suit you or the lifestyle you’re after? That’s awesome because you’ll definitely enjoy living in Lake Atitlan but maybe you’d like to know a couple of things before you make the leap!
Everything You Need To Know About Living In Lake Atitlan Guatemala
People go to Lake Atitlan for different reasons:
- weekend getaway from the busy cities like Antigua
- have a digital nomad adventure for a month or so
- to live as an expat and be there full-time
- to retire there and live a simple life
If you’re any of those, there are a few things you need to know about living in Lake Atitlan. I’ll be honest with you – it wasn’t always easy for us.
As Lake Atitlan digital nomads, we needed to have stable wifi which is a big concern for most people or cafes we could work from.
That’s why we created this guide to hopefully help make the transition so much easier for yourself. Simple things like buying a SIM card or just figuring out which town to live in can be very difficult.
Here’s a complete guide about everything you need to know to live in Lake Atitlan:
The Best Towns Of Lake Atitlan
Not every town is going to suit you.
Some towns are so remote – you’re not likely to have a great wifi connection. Thankfully, there is more than 1 town with the creature comforts we’re used to.
With more than a dozen towns, how do you choose the one you should live in? We visited about 5 other towns while we were living in Lake Atitlan but…
These are the 3 best towns we recommend you stay in while living in Lake Atitlan:
#1. San Pedro La Laguna – Best Overall Lake Atitlan Town (Wifi, Lifestyle, etc)
We lived in San Pedro and absolutely loved it!
If you’re a foodie – San Pedro has some of the best Lake Atitlan restaurants! We enjoyed going out every couple of days to try another restaurant. There are plenty of cuisines – Japanese, Israeli, Italian and more.
San Pedro is a great town especially for digital nomads. It’s usually known as the backpacker town but it’s beginning to evolve and have more infrastructure/accommodation for us digital nomads. There are also 2 ATMs in San Pedro (which is a pretty decent amount for Lake Atitlan standards).
If you require decent wifi – San Pedro is one of the most reliable towns for faster wifi speeds (note: around 10-20 Mbps+). Note: Lake Atitlan isn’t known for having fast internet speeds so just beware of that! There are also a couple of cafes you can visit to work from!
The locals are very friendly people in San Pedro and you’ll feel like you are part of the community! It’s also a quick boat ride from San Pedro to the other popular towns like San Marcos or San Juan. Panajachel is the furthest away and it takes around 30-40 minutes by boat (lancha).
#2. San Marcos La Laguna – Hippie, Chill Vibes With Good Veggie Options
If you love yoga, veggie food or just like the vibes that come with the community – you’re going to like San Marcos. As soon as you step off the boat, you’ll see what we mean!
It’s slightly less developed than San Pedro. However, there are still plenty of cool restaurants and cafes to visit in the town. We recommend checking out Circles Cafe!
The wifi is definitely more spotty and unreliable in San Marcos so that isn’t great if you heavily rely on a good internet connection. If there are rainstorms, you’ll also likely lose electricity at your home – this happens in all of the lake villages.
One thing to consider is that the Airbnb prices are slightly more expensive than San Pedro. We personally wouldn’t stay in San Marcos – it’s just not our vibe but maybe it’s yours!
#3. Panajachel – Tourist Town With Most Banks/Groceries
A lot of people get dropped off at Panajachel. It is the main town of Lake Atitlan with all the essentials such as a bank (and ATMs), a supermarket and money exchanges.
If you’re a digital nomad, this town has pretty stable wifi for you to get work done. There’s also a coworking space, Selina, in town which makes it easy for you to work online and still explore the lake.
We thought the town wasn’t very charming or inspiring to live in if that makes sense. It feels more like a busy town where people go to do their business. If you want a more low-key and chill lifestyle, San Pedro and San Marcos are definitely better for that!
Getting From Guatemala City Airport To Lake Atitlan
You’ve arrived at the Aurora International Airport but you want to go straight to Lake Atitlan?
You have 2 options:
1. Take A Shared Shuttle
A shared shuttle is a very popular way to get around Guatemala as a whole – no matter where you’re headed. They are very easy to book on WhatsApp and it’s pretty reliable!
From the airport to Lake Atitlan, it can take anywhere from 4-7 hours depending on the traffic in the city and the time you arrive. The shuttles leave at certain times but they are pretty frequent!
We took Benjy Travel Tours every time to get us from the airport to the lake and vice versa. We highly recommend them!
Simply book by texting them on WhatsApp. Their phone number is: +______.
This will usually cost 100Q which is very affordable in our opinion.
2. Take An Uber
This is the most convenient option!
As you arrive, simply open the app and order an Uber to whichever town you’re going to – San Pedro and Panajachel are the most popular drop-off points.
You might have to negotiate with the drivers before or when they arrive because it’s always a mixed bag whether or not they will take you ALLLL the way to Lake Atitlan. We don’t necessarily recommend this option because it’s less reliable unless you’re only going to Antigua. It’s a very normal Uber ride from the Guatemala City airport to Antigua and only around 2-3 hours depending on traffic.
An Uber can cost anywhere from 200Q to 600Q!
We took the shuttle from San Cristobal all the way to Lake Atitlan. It was a much easier option for us than flying! However, it was a VERY long travel day (about 14 hours total journey).
It was pretty cost-effective and cheaper than a flight for us. We only paid $500 pesos ($25 USD) and they handled all the logistics to get us across.
Check out our full experience crossing from San Cristobal to Lake Atitlan here.
How To Buy A SIM Card In Lake Atitlan
It’s easy to buy a SIM Card in Lake Atitlan!
There are 2 providers you can choose from:
We went with Tigo because our Guatemala friend told us it had the best coverage (which you’ll need at the lake). They were offering similar prices so it just made sense to us!
It’ll cost around 200Q for a monthly plan and 10G of data. You can buy a SIM card at any tienda that has a Tigo or Claro sign like the one below. The assistants did the rest from there.
TOP TTA TIP: Before you put away with your number – take a photo of your phone number. We always get a local SIM so we never memorize our new numbers but a photo always helps when you need it for any reason.
You can also recharge your data for the next month at any tienda and just make sure you say the word “recarga” and they’ll know what you mean!
How To Get Around Lake Atitlan – Transport Options
Getting around the lake can either be fun or annoying depending on how you look at it! If you’re a Lake Atitlan digital nomad or just visiting for a few weeks, you’re not likely to have a car – that’s just fine on the lake.
These are the main types of transport options around Lake Atitlan:
Lanchas – “Public Boat Taxis”
Think of these like boat taxis to get around. They are very cheap and you can get to most towns via lanchas. They run every 10-15 minutes and it’s important to know that they stop around 5pm.
Make sure you get on a boat beforehand because you might get stuck in a town or pay an exuberant amount for a private boat to get you across.
Tuk Tuks – “Land Taxis”
If you want to get around the town, the easiest way to do this is by taking a tuk tuk. They usually cost around 5 quetzal per person to most places around town depending on your negotiating skills!
You can find them in every town and we used them every day to get from our Airbnb to the center of San Pedro! We have had nice tuk-tuk drivers and not-so-nice ones – I recommend learning this phrase to help you not get ripped off – “es cinco quetezales, verdad?”. By adding “verdad” at the end which means ‘right‘ in English, it can make you look like a local that knows their prices.
Where To Get Groceries In Lake Atitlan
This is such a tricky thing!
There isn’t a single supermarket chain or anything of the sort around Lake Atitlan. We didn’t realize it would be THAT underdeveloped!
We couldn’t find many places to buy meat which was kind of weird but we just decided to go plant-based during our time which made life easier. When we did find a very small store with some chicken breasts, they honestly didn’t look great!
Here are the 2 ways to get groceries while living in Lake Atitlan:
- Tiendas (small stores) on the side of the road
- Markets on the weekends
We mainly used the tienda nearby our place to get our produce for the week. You can also go to the market on the weekends which has more of a variety of veggies and fruits. This was one of the constraints we experienced while living in Lake Atitlan and it’s something to consider before you make the move.
TTA TIP: We found a small grocery store called, Mini Mercado y cafeteria Johanna, that had lots of things you normally couldn’t find in Lake Atitlan – cheese, Valentina hot sauce, curry paste and even some frozen meat!
ATMs Around Lake Atitlan
I’ve added this as a whole section because you’d be surprised how important this is!
Hear me loud and clear: Almost all places in Lake Atitlan DON’T accept card payments!
You’ll need to take out money regularly to eat at restaurants, buy a coffee or get your groceries. It’s a little annoying because there are only a handful of ATMs around Lake Atitlan.
Here’s where you can find ATMs in Lake Atitlan:
- San Pedro La Laguna – 2 ATMs
- San Marcos La Laguna – 1 ATMs
- Panajachel – 3 ATMs
Make sure you stock up on your cash so you don’t waste money on withdrawal fees. We found San Pedro to have the easiest ATM access in the town center.
You can’t drink the tap water in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala!
The easiest way to get water is via a water delivery service. These services usually deliver a 20L blue big bottle which lasted around a week for us. They cost around 20 quetzals per bottle. Our host arranged a water delivery service for us which was pretty convenient. If you need one, I saw this company that delivers water and this is their number:
Airbnb / Long-Term Rentals
The first thing you need to do before you look at Airbnbs…
…is decide where to stay in Lake Atitlan!
We found that San Pedro was the most cost-effective of the nearby villages and San Marcos was probably one of the most expensive places!
Our Airbnb in San Pedro was very cute and tranquil. It had everything we could need – decent wifi (10-15 Mbps), kitchen, TV, couch and lake views! We lived here for 2 months and it was around a 15-minute walk from the city center or a 5-minute tuk-tuk ride.
TTA TIP: There’s creepy crawlies all over Lake Atitlan – no matter how nice your place is. Expect to find the odd spider, cockroach or ants. Worst of all…you might even see a scorpion in your house – we did!!!
This place cost us around $900 AUD which was pretty steep coming from San Cristobal. We only paid around $700 AUD for our place in San Cristobal de las Casas. As I said, the lake can have a low cost of living but you just have to accept the fact that you’ll pay slightly more in Airbnb/rental prices.
Cost of Living
Maybe you’re wondering…
“What does it cost to live in Lake Atitlan?”
You have to know roughly how much a place could cost because it’s a deciding factor right? If you can’t afford a certain city you might not be able to enjoy your time there on a strict budget!
The monthly cost of living in Lake Atitlan for 2 people is:
Total: $1,800 USD
This is higher than say or cost of living in San Cristobal de las Casas. With that said – it’s lower than our cost of living in Playa del Carmen!
Other than rent/Airbnb prices, we think Lake Atitlan is pretty affordable but I wouldn’t say it’s the cheapest place we’ve been to (and Guatemala as a whole costs slightly more).
Want a more detailed breakdown of costs? Check out our detailed cost of living in Lake Atitlan guide.
The best time to visit Lake Atitlan is from November to May. This is when you’ll get the most sunshine and there’s a lower chance of rain during these months. You can enjoy some of the best weather we have ever experienced. It’s not too hot and not too cold around Lake Atitlan which is why it’s also known as the “Land of Eternal Spring”.
Lake Atitlan weather can sway depending on the season you visit. There are 2 seasons – wet and dry. During the wet/rainy season, there isn’t much to do around the lake. It’s best to visit Lake Atitlan during the dry season because a lot of the things you can do are outdoors!
Restaurants / Food Scene
There are plenty of restaurants to choose from on Lake Atitlan. We were surprised at how many different types of cuisines you could get – Japanese, Italian, Israeli and so much more!
You’ll enjoy restaurant hopping here as a lot of the places also have amazing lake views. Some of the best Lake Atitlan restaurants are:
- Smokin Joes BBQ – San Pedro
- Yakitori de Cava – San Pedro
- Pizzeria El Callejon – San Pedro
- La Casa Zapote – San Marcos
- Deli Jasmin – Panajachel
What about the best cafes in Lake Atitlan? There are so many to choose from too! Lake Atitlan is a big coffee region in Guatemala so make sure you at least try a cup from any of these top cafes:
- Sababa Cafe – San Pedro
- Crossroads Cafe – Panajachel
- Circles Cafe – San Marcos
- Cafe San Juan – San Juan
Looking to get out and enjoy the beautiful nature in Lake Atitlan?
When you’re living in Lake Atitlan, you’ll notice that it’s a slower pace of life. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a ton of things to do! Here are some of the best things to do in Lake Atitlan:
- Hike from San Marcos to Santa Cruz (AllTrails route here): We count this as one of the best things we did! We went with a friend, Heyner, and it was 2 hours of views, nature, and hiking.
- Go Kayaking: We did this in our first week living in Lake Atitlan. It’s surprisingly cheap at only 15Q per person for an hour! You can check out the shack next to Sababa Restaurant – go down the stairs where you see the kayaks and a guy should pop out!
- Dip In The Hot Springs: Los Thermales in a hot spring in San Pedro – it’s only 50Q per person for as long as you want. We did this every Wednesday with our friends! You have to book in advance and this is their WhatsApp number –
- Sunrise Hike To Indian Nose: You should do this when the weather looks clear! We went on a cloudy day (aka a poor choice) because we didn’t get that full effect of the views from the top. We went with Benjy Travel Tours and they pick you up around 3am to hike up. It only costs 100Q per person.
- Coffee Farm Tour: Check out any of the nearby coffee farms to learn the process from beans to that delicious cup you drink! Lake Atitlan is a popular place to plant, farm and roast coffee beans – it’s worth a look!
- Free Cerveza: We stayed at the lake house here and it was absolutely stunning! Free Cerveza is an eco-hostel that offers amazing views, cool glamping tents and free water activities like paddleboarding or kayaking! TTA TIP: If you want to go paddle boarding – it’s actually cheaper to book a night of glamping at Free Cerveza than it is to book a paddleboarding lesson.
I have to be honest… Matt and I got bored after nearly 2 months of living in Lake Atitlan. We were itching to leave by the end of it! It’s a VERY slow pace of life and it’s something to consider before you commit xyz amount of months to live there.
Living in Antigua Guatemala was very different from life in Lake Atitlan because there were lots of things going on, much more restaurants to try, a bigger digital nomad community to hang out with and just so much more to do!
Is there an expat community in Lake Atitlan?
What about a digital nomad community?
The answer is… yes and no!
We felt like there was a bigger expat community – as lots of people have decided to retire in Lake Atitlan. Lots of the restaurants are owned by expats so it makes sense! The demographic of these expats were usually from 40-60+ years old. They were very friendly but it was just hard for us to click since we were Lake Atitlan digital nomads who were more transient.
There wasn’t a big digital nomad community – not even a small one at that. We hardly made any friends while living in Lake Atitlan which is quite rare for us. We mostly saw tourists walking around but not necessarily digital nomads. We did make a friend while working from Restaurant Idea Connection, Anthony, which was awesome but that was near the end of our stay!
This is another reason we were ready to move on from Lake Atitlan. A strong community is very important to us and it’s something we strive to have in every place we travel to.
Craving a community on the road? Check out our guide on having digital nomad communities where you go.
How Safe Is Lake Atitlan For Digital Nomads & Expats?
Before we even step foot on Guatemala soil, we had people telling us how dangerous Lake Atitlan/Guatemala was (something we are used to now).
We spent the first few days exploring Panajachel and San Pedro just getting a feel for the place. We quickly realized we felt super safe! Our host mentioned a couple of things like someone trying to break into the place which can happen. Tuk-tuk drivers can also be a little mean if they don’t get the price they want but we never felt they would harm us or anything!
Guatemalans are some of the most welcoming and friendly people we have ever met! During our 2 months living in Lake Atitlan, nothing happened to us and it was safe for us the entire time.
Is Living In Lake Atitlan Guatemala Right For You?
Beautiful volcano views.
Glimmering lake waters.
Slower pace of life.
There’s a lot to love about living in Lake Atitlan especially if you want to escape the busyness of life. Once you get to the lake, you will be enchanted by the views and relaxed by the laid-back lifestyle of the villages.
But here’s the thing – lake life isn’t for everyone!
We were living in Lake Atitlan for 2 months and were itching to leave by the end of it. But there’s a reason we stayed for that long – we were completely enchanted by the calm, tranquil and comfortable life you could have there. I guess there’s 2 sides to every story right?
If we could have a do-over again – we would have rather spent only 1 month at Lake Atitlan. We enjoyed being Antigua digital nomads so much more just because it had good wifi, coworking spaces and a strong digital nomad community. See what works for you and don’t book too long!