Lake Atitlán is a volcanic crater lake in surrounded by volcanoes in the highlands of southwest Guatemala. During the faculty-led UA in Guatemala trip, we spent two days on the lake. The lake is surrounded by villages and towns, many of which are predominantly Mayan.
When we arrived, we stayed in a hotel in Panajachel, one of the towns on the lake. From Panajachel, also called Pana, we took a boat across the lake to San Juan La Laguna, an artistic, colorful town full of Mayan culture. In San Juan, we visited a weaving cooperative, a medicinal plant garden, and a chocolate factory.
At the weaving cooperative, locals demonstrated to us the whole process of making their beautiful woven pieces, from the cotton, making threads, the dyeing process, weaving, to the finished pieces. Some of the pieces could take months to make by hand. At the medicinal garden, we learned about Mayan medical practices that are used even today. At the chocolate factory, we learned the steps to make chocolate from the cacao bean all the way to the chocolate bar. Afterward, we had time to walk around, take in the culture, talk to locals, and shop in the stores owned by local artisans in the colorful main street.
We took the boat back to Panajachel and had a beautiful dinner at our hotel. The next morning, I got up to watch the sunrise over the lake. The sunrise was absolutely stunning. We made friends with the street dogs who wanted to watch the sunrise with us (see the adorable perrito below!).
After breakfast, we took boats back across the lake to Santiago. Santiago is another predominantly Mayan village. There, we learned about the syncretism of Mayan and Catholic beliefs that has occurred in Guatemala. We went to a cofradia, a sacred place where people bring offerings and pray. Then, we saw more of the town and went to Iglesia de Santiago Apostel, a Catholic church. Throughout the city, we were able to see the ways in which people truly lived, which was a humbling experience.
Lake Atitlán, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places in the world. While I sat and watched the sunrise, I was able to think about the things I had seen. From the landscape to the locals, the food to the fiestas, and the textiles to the tuc tucs, I was truly blessed to get to experience the beautiful country of Guatemala. Seeing the ways in which other people live and the beautiful diversity of the world we live in allowed my worldview to shift in ways that I never would have expected. This was a once in a lifetime experience.
¡Te extrañaré, Guatemala!