#1 Lake Atitlan Tour: San Marcos, San Juan & Santiago
Our best-selling Lake Atitlan tour, this private boat trip allows you to explore the Mayan v...
In this article, we discuss the different transportation options between Antigua and Lake Atitlan, considering the budget, schedule, and travel style of every traveler.
Lake Atitlán is located about 76 kilometers or two and a half hours driving from Antigua, much of the trip along winding roads with beautiful scenery of mountain landscapes around every curve. There are plenty of transportation options available to tourists who want to make this epic trip.
While a day trip is possible from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, it is recommended to stay for at least a couple of nights on the lake to truly appreciate all of the natural beauty and cultural richness that this ancient volcanic caldera flanked by small, unique villages of Guatemala has to offer.
Scheduling a private transfer between Antigua and Lake Atitlán will be the fastest, most efficient, and most comfortable mode of transport - and the best part is that you can schedule this direct journey at a time most convenient to you with maximum flexibility.
A great option is a private taxi service like Relaxicab. This service uses professional and pre-qualified drivers and is ideal for any size group. They will match your group to the size vehicle, so if you are a single traveler they will match you with a small sedan. This keeps the cost low. When you book their service, they will send you a photo of the driver, his license, and a photo of his car.
Taking a shared shuttle bus is another great option, with travel time between 2.5-3 hours between Antigua and Panajachel, Lake Atitlán. The shuttle buses leave Antigua with the same schedule every day.
Tourist shuttle services can be found with almost all tour companies in Antigua and often offer hotel pickup for your convenience. Shuttle service can be found through hotels or through tour agencies and they are a safe, quick, and cost-effective mode of transportation from Antigua to Lake Atitlan. The shared shuttle service between Antigua and Lake Atitlán typically costs about $20 or Q150 one-way.
The final destination of the tourist shuttle will be Panajachel, one of the only towns on Lake Atitlán with road access. In Panajachel, you will be greeted by amazing views of the beautiful lake flanked by three volcanoes. There is no main bus station in Panajachel, so you will most likely be dropped off by the main dock. If you are staying in Panajachel, you can get a tuk-tuk to your accommodation location.
If you are staying in one of the other lake villages (San Pedro la Laguna, San Marcos la Laguna, Santa Cruz, la Laguna, San Juan la Laguna, etc) you can catch a public boat from the dock called Tzanjuyu (pronounced zan-hoo-you) for 25 quetzales. Your boat trip will be between 10 and 45 minutes, depending on which is your destination village.
Each of the tiny villages along the lake shore has something unique to offer, so make sure to explore them with a day tour or work it into your travel plan to check them out on your own. A cultural tour of Lake Atitlán can provide you with unique experiences learning about Mayan traditions- ancient weaving techniques in San Juan, Mayan cooking classes in Santa Cruz, or ceramic workshops in San Antonio Palopó.
Alternatively, this full-day trip of Lake Atitlan takes you from one end of the lake to the other by boat with an English-speaking guide and walking tours in each village.
Chicken buses in Guatemala, also known as "camionetas" are the main form of public transportation in Guatemala, and how most locals move from place to place. They are retired school buses that travel down from the US and they're noisy, packed full of people, and take speed limits as mere suggestions. If you like adventure, the chicken bus will certainly provide you with a bit of it.
It's not recommended to travel long distances with lots of luggage on the chicken bus because there is often little room and they strap your bags up over the roof, which doesn't always feel the most secure.
If you get motion sickness, a chicken bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlan is absolutely NOT the choice for you. A direct chicken bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlán does not exist, so you will have to make several transfers along the way. You have to get off the chicken bus and look for your change in Los Encuentros and again in Sololá before arriving at your final destination of Panajachel.
If you would like to travel from Antigua to Lake Atitlan by rental car, there are various routes available and you can navigate easily using Waze or Google Maps within Guatemala. If you are prone to motion sickness, you can make for the least bumpy ride and minimize the winding mountain roads by electing the route that takes you through Patzun.
While Uber and private taxi services do exist in Guatemala, there is a certain way to go about it. Ubers are often undependable when you are looking for a ride, especially long distances, and will accept the trip and then cancel. We do not recommend Uber for travel between Antigua to Lake Atitlan.
A private taxi is a good option if you have a trusted contact. Many people offer unofficial taxi services in Guatemala and the services are great, but it is always best to find a private car service through a reputable tour agency, transportation company, or someone that a friend has used before.
Your transportation once you have arrived at Lake Atitlan depends very much on where you are staying. Most of the towns and villages around the lake can be navigated on foot or by tuk-tuk for a low cost. If you want to travel from village to village on Lake Atitlan, you most often have to travel by boat.
You can take the public boat taxi and wait for it to fill up before its departure, or take advantage of private transfers by hiring a boat to leave whenever you want to go. The boat drivers, or lancheros, will be hanging around the docks during the day and there will always be locals and visitors ready to take a trip.
When traveling between villages on the lake, it is always important to find out the boat schedule to make sure you can get back to your accommodation at the end of the day. Most boats travel until 7pm, but for example, the last boat from San Marcos to Santa Cruz is at 5pm.
Some of the towns on the west end of the lake (San Pedro, San Juan, San Pablo, San Marcos) have road access and you can often find transport between them through some type of taxi or tuk-tuk service that will lead you through more winding mountain roads. The towns of San Juan, San Pedro, and Santa Clara La Laguna also have chicken bus transport.
Both Lake Atitlán and Antigua are incredible Guatemalan tourist destinations with lots of sights and activities to fill your days. Every traveler to this area should visit both. Antigua is the #1 tourist destination in Central America and a great place for digital nomads due to its plethora of coffee shops and accessible wifi, while families on vacation, backpackers and more adventurous types who prioritize spending time outdoors on vacation might be more inclined to spend the majority of their time on Lake Atitlan.
Both Atitlan and Antigua have their hidden gems and their famous must-do bucket list items. The Volcan Acatenango hiking tour outside of Antigua is a must if you are an adventurous traveler, as you get to camp on top of the volcano for a night and watch Acatenango's close neighbor, Volcan Fuego, spew smoke in its frequent eruptions.
Lake Atitlan offers more of that type of adventure, with three volcanoes around the lake that are all climbable- San Pedro, Atitlan, and Toliman; as well as a multitude of outdoor adventures such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboard, cliff jumping, epic rock climbing, hiking, and more.
If you are a backpacker or a budget traveler, you may want to consider the costs of visiting Antigua versus Lake Atitlan costs. As the #1 tourist destination in Central America, Antigua has more modern conveniences and is also more expensive than Lake Atitlan. While there is also a constant stream of tourism flowing through the many villages of the lake, you may find them to feel more authentic than Antigua.
Kayak Guatemala is Lake Atitlan’s #1 base camp for exploration and adventure, offering activities like epic volcano hikes, family kayak tours, cooking classes, and village-to-village boat and walking tours. We employ and upskill underprivileged local people, plus a portion of our profits goes towards an NGO that works hard to alleviate poverty in Lake Atitlan.
For more help with planning your trip to Lake Atitlan, check out our "Top Tours & Things To Do In Lake Atitlan" guide.
Now that we have covered all the options for getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, you can find the one that is best for you. Or you might mix it up, and use one option for your trip to Lake Atitlan, and another for your return. We'll see you soon!