Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing."
The trusty Kia once again carries us over even larger tumolos and up and down the most severe mountain switchbacks yet after crossing several ridges on CA1. It takes us 2.5 hours to cover what might take 15 minutes in a corporate chopper. Our final descent to Lake Atitlan features deep ravines covered with coffee plants. Just around too many bends there's a family or a solitary farmer sitting on huge sacks of coffee beans barely far enough off the pavement to avoid hurtling steel. Yes kids you can take a chicken bus here or a tourist van but I'm old and I'm wondering if the long route through Panajachal arriving by launch might have been less stressful than direct by car. But it's worth it. After many thousand feet the gut wrenching twists start to moderate and Lake Atitlan starts to caress your eyes, ears and olfactory glands.
Downtown San Pedro has an older centro replete with a small but well stocked mercado, churches old and new, and nearly vertical cobblestone streets. A few blocks away, near the docks that host the launches from Panajachal, is the touristy center. There are dozens of small hotels, restaurants, bars, and souvenir stands (selling earrings, textiles, flasks, bongs, pipes and what not) near the docks and strung out through an area that winds its way along the shore to the docks for Santiago on the other side of town.
San Pedro hosts the largest concentration of extranjeros I'd seen. (I missed Antigua and Panajachal). Many of the bars and restaurants are owned and operated by refugees from the US, Canada, Europe and beyond. There's a lot of Bob Marley mixed with a little Che and the weather, food, flowers, constant birdsong, laid-back attitude, and delicious local coffee may make this the location of my next spanish school. There are LOTS of them here but you could probably get by with very little knowledge of the language.
My clean comfortable room with private bath, forgotten amounts of hot water, and a million dollar view from the comfy rocker on the terrace was $10. At the foot of my hotel's steps was a killer coffee shop with Mayan ladies in the street out front selling fresh banana, nut, or chocolate breads and very american tasting cinnamon buns(12oz con leche $1.20, fresh pastry .50, tourist prices and change in your pocket too).
A few steps further from the docks another hotel had nice looking rooms with the same amenities, plus hammocks on the terraces, parking, and a pretty garden for Q50/pp ($6.50). The tourist strip is a mile and a half of enticements. The pungent odor of coffee being processed mixes with smells from smoky meats, onions, garlic, and hot fat dripping off hamburgers. Its tough out there but even my stomach will hold only so much. We settle on delicious fried fish and chicken near the Santiago docks served with fresh salad, hand cut fries, guacamole, tortillas, etc. for about $5 a head including drinks. Techno, rave, reggae, folk, jazz, and reggaeton drift out at varying volumes from bars as we waddle home down the strip.
Tasty beans drying in the sun soon to be roasted, brewed and cupped for your enjoyment
The facts http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Atitl%C3%A1n
The fun http://www.xelawho.com/pedro.htm