LAKE ATITLAN: Located in the western highlands, this mountainous region is known for its indigenous traditions, folklore and the resplendent Lake Atitlán. The Lake is an ultimate high for hopeless romantics and adventurers. Atitlán is recognized to be the deepest lake in Central America with a maximum depth of 340 meters. The lake is shaped by deep escarpments, which surround it, and by three volcanoes on its southern flank. It is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
The fertile soils of these winding mountains, magical volcanoes and beautiful valleys, became the land of the Cack’chiquel, Quek’chi, Mam and Tzutujil, ethnic Mayan groups whose traditional indigenous culture continues to reign and develop. Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán) is a large endorheic lake “one that does not flow to the sea”..
The lake basin supports extensive coffee growth and a variety of farm crops, most notably corn. Other significant agricultural products include onions, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, chile verde, strawberries, avocados and pitahaya fruit. The lake itself is rich in animal life, which provides a significant food source for the largely indigenous population.
Santiago Atitlán is the largest of the lakeside communities, and is noted for its worship of Maximón, an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints and conquistador legends. The institutionalized effigy of Maximón is under the control of a local religious brotherhood and resides in various houses of its membership during the course of a year, being ceremonially moved in a grand procession during Semana Santa.
The smaller villages of Santa Cruz, San Juan and Santa Catarina are centers of the traditional textile production. Multi-colored fabrics are hand-woven on back-strap looms unchanged over the centuries. Each day hundreds of Maya pescadors (fishermen) ply the lake in hand-hewn wooden cayukas (boats) in search of the days catch. Along the lakeshore the women gather to socialize, bath and wash. On the mountainsides are fields of corn and coffee tended by the villagers.
Coordinates: 14°42′N 91°12′W
GEOLOGY: The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. Continued volcanic activity formed the three towering volcanoes we see today, El Tolimán, Atitlán, and San Pedro, reaching up to 3357 meters above sea level in the southern shores. These are joined by the Cerro Chicul or Santa Clara peak, reaching approximately 2430 meters above sea level. And on the western shores are Cerro San Marcos and Cerro Cristalino, subsidiary cones of the three volcanoes, with their peaks reaching 2918 and 2251 meters above sea level respectively. Adding the adjacent mountains and other nearby Cerros, rising up to a 1000 meters on both sides, and you have a natural picturesque frame for the lake. It is a true awe inspiring setting for the lake’s water surface which measures approximately 125 square kilometers, 18 km across at its widest point, 400m deep at the center, and situated at 1560 meters above sea level.
WEATHER: The highlands and Lake Atitlán’s climate is lovely year round and makes travel possible at any time. The rainy season is from May to November, although the mornings are generally clear, warm, and dry. Rains may happen in the early evenings, with cooler temperatures at night. Temperatures rarely vary with daytime highs ranging from the 60s F to the 80s F, and overnight lows in the 50s F or 60s F. The water temperature of the lake is 72º F year round.
CULTURE: The lake is surrounded by 14 villages, in which the Mayan culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz’utujil on the south shore and Kaqchikel on the east and north shore. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Kaqchikel allied themselves with the invaders to defeat their historic enemies the Tz’utujil and Quiché Maya.