The Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo
Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. Seeing it in person is absolutely astounding.
I’ve been told they call the region Gringotenega, or land of the Gringos, because it’s such a big tourist destination. It’s easy to tell why, when people sit around on the streets begging, it’s probably because there are a lot of tourists around. When children follow people for blocks trying to sell them dolls and stuffed toys, you know you’re in a tourist town.
When you sit in a lake view restaurant with a cheeseburger on the menu and Hotel California on the speakers, you know you’re in a tourist town.
We landed in Panajachel and took a boat across Lake Atitlan. The water was clear in two shades of blue. Surrounding the lake are forest-covered volcanoes, Toliman, Atitlan and San Pedro, around which clouds wrap around in whisps. . In the towns, shops and stalls of textiles, wooden carvings, fruit, food and anything you can find in most tourist markets across the country. You can see patchwork green fields, quilt-like in look, where the land is being cultivated.
It’s easy to see why tourists flock to this place. The scenery is incredible with monstrous trees and a multihued bunches of flowers. Textiles of every shade of blues, greens, reds, pinks or any color of the visible spectrum fill stalls. Paintings, especially of the lake, are common, as are detailed wooden masks that are more creepy than practical. We saw what we thought was jade traveling through Atitlan, but if it was jade, it was drastically underpriced. At the Jade Museum in Antigua, the prices were in dollars rather than Quetzals and the prices were much higher.
The phrase “you get what you pay for” comes to mind, and the likelihood that the cheap jade in the market may not be the real thing increased.
Boats, both of the speed and the cruising variety, take passengers across the lake. You can see locals rowing wooden canoes to fish for tilapia. I imagine you could spend months, if not years, on the lake and still be exploring it.
And if you look like tourists, you would probably have Guatemalan children following you every step of the way to sell you bracelets or stuffed toys.
We arrived at Antigua late and were greeted by some sort of street festival. Men, women and children all marched down the street behind a truck carrying a pair of stereos. They were wearing masks designed to look like old faces and danced in the middle of the street as a light rain fell.
That’s not something you’d see in Oklahoma.