#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...
Written by Rebecca Moy.
In this comprehensive guide, we provide 5 important rules for swimming in Lake Atitlan, plus we'll tell you the best and safest spots around the lake for swimming and cliff jumping.
With its gently twinkling waters, sunny blue skies and stunning volcanic backdrop, the appeal of diving right into Lake Atitlan is hard for anyone to resist.
So, it's immensely disappointing to hear stories of travelers getting sick after swimming in the lake, or suffering injuries that could have been easily avoided.
Some people advise against swimming in Lake Atitlan altogether, but it's an enormous shame to miss out on the magic of Atitlan's ethereal waters.
We're here to tell you honestly about the risks and arm you with expert advice to avoid getting sick, rashes, or being injured, so you can enjoy a serene swim without consequences.
Located in the lush highlands of Guatemala, Lake Atitlan is a caldera lake, meaning it lies in the crater of an enormous volcanic eruption around 85,000 years ago. Pretty cool, right? Over time, the water level rose and filled up the crater, and today Lake Atitlan is 340m at the deepest point.
Surrounded by three majestic volcanoes—Volcán San Pedro, Volcán Tolimán, and Volcán Atitlán—the lake's stunning beauty is enhanced by the natural wonders that surround it, but also by the colorful Mayan villages that dot its shores.
The water temperature of Lake Atitlan stays pretty constant year-round at a temperature of 21°C / 70°F which is a little chilly, but not so cold that you wouldn't want to swim.
The months between November and May are best for swimming in Lake Atitlan. During this time, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the lake is nice and calm.
Lake Atitlan is a freshwater lake, not saltwater. Because the water is sourced from rainwater and local streams, it doesn't have a significant salt content like the ocean. Freshwater is less irritating on skin and eyes, so it's more comfortable for swimming - bonus!
Lots of people ask whether there are crocodiles in Lake Atitlan. You'll be glad to hear the answer is no. Neither are there sharks, piranhas, alligators, or anything that's going to cause you harm. There is however a population of fish and an even smaller one of crabs, although you are unlikely to ever see them.
We believe that swimming at Lake Atitlan is generally safe. But, we should confront the "algae bloom". The water quality of Lake Atitlan is generally good, but historically, an algae bloom brought on by cyanobacteria in the water has affected the lake every 5 to 10 years.
When algae first forms, it alters the lake's color and releases a nasty odor, which are both obvious signals not to swim. Since the only outbursts have been in 2009 and 2015, right now Lake Atitlan is considered safe for swimming.
Swimming in Lake Atitlan is more than just a physical activity; it's an opportunity to connect with the rich Mayan culture that surrounds this mystical lake. Visiting the lakeside villages and interacting with the locals adds depth to your travel experience.
But, it's important to follow some simple rules to stay safe.
The most important rule for swimming in Lake Atitlan - listen up because it's important - is don’t swim near the public piers or in the main lanes for boat traffic. Here, swimmers risk being hit by boats that frequently pass nearby to shore. You will see boats easier than they will see your little bobbing head, so it's best to avoid these areas altogether. This is both for the safety of you, as well as the boat captain and those onboard.
Beautiful as they are, all lakes contain natural and man-made contaminants such as bacteria, algae, and pollutants, but also, they can be home to parasites and harmful bacteria - and Lake Atitlan is no exception.
Some people report getting rashes after swimming in the lake, but in most cases, this could be avoided by showering after swimming.
Make sure to wash properly with plenty of soapy water and you'll remove any harmful substances from your skin - in turn minimizing the risk of getting rashes, skin infections, or allergic reactions.
Swallowing lake water is never a good idea, as you could have guessed from rule #2. If you do ingest the lake's water, at best you'll notice no side effects, but at worst, you'll experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and possibly a fever. Not good.
To be on the safe side, keep your head out of water. Children and novice swimmers might want to wear a life jacket to keep their heads above water at all times. This tactic will significantly reduce your chances of ingesting water accidentally, but it means no diving into the lake, which is the best part for many swimmers. We'll leave this one up to you.
If you do happen to swallow lake water when swimming in Lake Atitlan, drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes afterward to flush your system. Activated charcoal is a common treatment for nausea after ingesting lake water, but if your symptoms are extreme, contact a medical professional.
If you've got a weakened immune system or an open wound, your risk of infection will be notably higher.
Open wounds can easily become infected by bacteria in the lake, so it's not worth the risk of jumping in. Children, pregnant women, and people who have health problems or take medicines that lower their body’s ability to fight germs and sickness are also at a higher risk for swimming-related illnesses.
Consider how you feel and evaluate the risk yourself before diving off the docks into Atitlan's refreshing waters. For example, small wounds could possibly be covered with a waterproof plaster if you take care.
Some places are better than others for swimming in Lake Atitlan. As mentioned earlier, avoiding the busiest dock areas is the most important to note. But also try to keep away from pollution sources like the main village drainage. The further away you get, the cleaner the water tends to be.
If you notice locals swimming in certain areas, it's usually a good indication that it's safe to swim, but you can also ask for advice from your hotel or hostel, or read on for five recommended spots to swim in Lake Atitlan.
One of the most exciting activities around the lake is cliff jumping. Thanks to the deep waters, jumping platforms of varying heights, and low cliffs that border the lake edges, Lake Atitlan is a great place for cliff jumping or diving.
But this activity doesn't come without risk. Things can easily go pear-shaped. That's why it's wise to go with a local guide.
There are several spots to jump in Lake Atitlan, and some of the best and little-known spots (that are still safe) can be reached on a cliff-jumping tour with Kayak Guatemala. Experienced guides can help you to nail the right technique to avoid awkward landings.
If you plan to jump without a guide, stick to well-known cliff-jumping spots like the Cerro Tzankujil nature reserve and follow these five tips for safe jumping.
TIPS FOR CLIFF JUMPING IN LAKE ATITLAN:
Start with small jumps: If you're new to cliff jumping, start with smaller heights to build confidence and familiarize yourself with the sensation. For example, don't jump from 40 feet if you don't have the skill to do so.
Jump with the right form: Maintain a controlled posture while jumping to ensure a safe entry into the water. Keep your body straight and avoid diving headfirst from high heights.
Assess safety before jumping: Before taking the leap, carefully assess the height, water depth, and any potential obstacles below. It's important to avoid shallow water, hidden rocks, or debris lurking underwater.
Follow local advice: Seek advice from locals or experienced divers who are familiar with the area. They can provide insights into safe jumping spots and techniques.
Avoid bad weather: Adverse weather such as strong winds and rain will impact visibility and water conditions, so it's best not to jump in these conditions.
Jaibalito is located on the quieter, less crowded northern shores of Lake Atitlán where the water is cleaner, clearer, and generally more peaceful than other villages around the lake. Jaibalito is home to a small number of hotels, restaurants, cafes, and facilities where you can change and relax after a swim - including La Casa Del Mundo which is arguably the most special resort in Lake Atitlan.
With its welcoming and community-oriented atmosphere, locals and tourists exchange friendly smiles and chatter, making it a lovely spot to relax, swim, and soak in the enchanting views without anxiety about polluted water or heavy boat traffic.
If you're staying in Santa Cruz La Laguna, Los Elementos Adventure Centre is the perfect spot. Not many travelers know about Los Elementos.
This hidden gem is a 10-minute walk along the lakeshore from Santa Cruz docks, and it boasts one of the most clean and peaceful swimming locations that can be found. This stunning beachfront resort has a dedicated swimming and sunbathing area, and for only $5 you can spend the day lounging there.
All you have to do is turn up with a towel and swimsuit and nestle into a quiet space on the boardwalk or grass area. Bring a book, your headphones or whatever you please. It's Lake Atitlan's best-kept-secret.
The most organized area to swim in Lake Atitlan is undoubtedly Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve - the protected park near to San Marcos. There are lovely walking pathways, breathtaking views, inviting seating spots, and, best of all, a number of platforms made for diving into the lake.
To find the jumping platforms, follow the signs for “trampolin”. The trampolin is around 40 feet above the water, and it has a constant flow of cliff jumpers on busy days. If you're feeling confident you can jump from the platform, but if you prefer to watch, Cerro Tzankujil is still worth a visit.
Tourists are charged 15Q ($2) to enter Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve and must leave by 4pm each day, so it's best to arrive early.
Beaches with actual sand are almost unheard of in Lake Atitlan, but Playa La Finca is one of the few. This remote, black-sand beach between San Pedro and Santiago is pretty far out from any busy village area, which is why the water is so clean.
Plus, there are truly breathtaking views of the Toliman and Atitlan volcanoes, seen from a perspective that is very different from that of the north side of the lake.
Walking to Playa La Finca from San Pedro takes around 45 minutes, but you may cut that time down to 15 minutes by getting a tuk-tuk to the end of the road.
If you want to explore Lake Atitlan with peace of mind that every spot you visit is safe, all the while having an experienced first aider on hand, a guided tour is the way to go. On this kayak, swimming and cliff jump tour with Kayak Guatemala, you'll spend a full day on the serene waters of Lake Atitlan for only $45 per person.
With an experienced guide, you’ll paddle out to safety-tested cliff jumping and swimming zones where jumps range from 2 to 3 feet for a quick thrill, to longer jumps of up to 30 feet for the courageous at heart. Leap as many times as your heart desires knowing that all jump areas provide deep landing water.
As we wrap up this guide to swimming in Lake Atitlan, we hope you're feeling inspired and ready to embark on your adventure in this breathtaking destination. The pristine waters of Lake Atitlan are not just a place to swim but a sanctuary for rejuvenation, exploration, and connection with nature.
As you embark on your swimming adventures at Lake Atitlan, remember to prioritize safety and stay vigilant, but also, appreciate the beauty that surrounds you.
So, dive in, swim alongside the volcanoes, and embrace the magic of Lake Atitlan!