Just under 50 miles (80 km) from Antigua in the Sierra Madre highlands, lies Lake Atitlán, Central America’s deepest lake. There are different villages scattered around the lake, most of which are only accessible by lancha (small boats) or helicopter. The main transport hub for Lake Atitlán is Panajachel, around two hours drive from Antigua. You can also drive out to San Marcos and San Pedro, on the other side of the lake. You can either stay here or take a private or shared lancha to the other villages from the dock.

There are several ways to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlán, including private transfer, taxi or Uber, shuttle bus, or chicken bus. You can also rent a car and drive yourself, but as always, parking is tricky, and if you want to explore other areas on the lake you will have to find a place to park in Panajachel and jump on a boat. You can also join a tour like this four day Discover Antigua & Lake Atitlán trip.

By Private Transfer

Duration: 2+ hours (traffic dependent)

The most comfortable and convenient way to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlán is by private transfer. You will be met by a driver who will pick you up at your accommodation and either be dropped off at your accommodation in Panajachel, San Marcos, or San Pedro, or taken to the boat dock where you can take a private or public boat to your accommodation.

The scenic drive takes you through the mountains and little villages in the highlands. If you want to stop you can ask your driver about viewpoints along the way.

By Private Tour

Duration: full day (or longer)

If you are running low on time then you can also organize a day-trip out to the lake from Antigua. If you leave early in the morning then you will be able to take a boat trip around the lake, check out a few of the different villages and the three volcanoes, do a cultural tour, and still make it back to Antigua in time for dinner. You can also make requests according to your specific wants and needs.

A lot of Guatemalan tours also include a day or two on Lake Atitlán, like this 8-day Best of Guatemala trip.

By Private Taxi or Rideshare

Duration: 2+ hours (traffic dependent)

The next best option is to take a taxi, or call an Uber. Although taxis and Ubers can be a little cramped, you can request a bigger car if you need more space. They will pick you up from your accommodation and drop you off in Panajachel, San Marcos, or San Pedro, or at the boat dock where you will be able to jump on the next lancha to your final destination.

By Helicopter

Duration: <25 minutes (or half/full-day tour)

If you are feeling especially extravagant, you can also travel to Lake Atitlán by helicopter from Antigua or Guatemala City and enjoy a unique birdseye view of the lake and the Guatemalan highlands. If you are staying at the lake you can get the helicopter to drop you at your hotel—helipad proximity-dependent, of course—or if you just want to do a day trip then you can enjoy a cultural tour through some traditional Mayan villages before heading back to Antigua in the afternoon.

For a trip to remember, check out this amazing eight-day Luxury and Mayan Culture in Guatemala Tour that includes a flight to Lake Atitlán and a helicopter tour over the amazing El Mirador ruins.

By Rental Car

Duration: 2+ hours (traffic dependent)

If you are short on time, then renting a car and driving yourself from Antigua to Lake Atitlán can be a good way to see as much as possible and stop en-route as much as you like. However, the drive to Panajachel can be quite tricky, with lots of winding mountain roads through tiny villages and the usual crazy traffic. 

As break-ins are not uncommon, you will want to try to find accommodation with parking in Panajachel, San Marcos, or San Pedro, or ensure you can find a safe place to leave the car whilst you explore the rest of the lake. Renting a car is probably a better option if you just want to go out to the lake for a day trip before returning to Antigua in the afternoon. For safety reasons, it’s best not to drive after dark.

By Shared Shuttle

Duration: 2.5+ hours (traffic dependent)

Taking a shuttle bus from Antigua to Lake Atitlán is relatively easy and convenient, but can be a little cramped and uncomfortable. The drive generally takes a minimum of two and a half hours by shuttle, but with traffic, this can take upwards of four, so be prepared and make sure you have lots of water and snacks!

The shuttle will pick you up from your hotel in Antigua and take you to the dock in Panajachel. If you are staying in Panajachel you can request to be dropped at your accommodation there. You can also take a shuttle to San Marcos or San Pedro on the other side of the lake. This takes around three hours.

Bear in mind that you need to add on at least an extra 30 minutes to the journey for pick-ups in Antigua, so you’ll either end up getting a scenic tour of the city if you’re first to be picked up, or you might end up waiting a while if you’re last on the list!

By Chicken Bus

Duration: 3-4 hours minimum (traffic dependent)

Although the idea of riding in the back of an old American school bus all the way from Antigua to Lake Atitlán might be an appealing one, the reality is that you’ll be in for a long, hot, cramped, and bumpy ride. With a poor maintenance record and no regard for speed limits, even up on the winding mountain roads, safety is far from guaranteed, and you will need to pay close caution to your belongings as pickpocketing is rife.

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