To get from the capital of Guatemala City to Lake Atitlán, you'll have to travel 77 miles (126 km), and the best way to make the journey is by car.
The best option is to hire a private driver in Guatemala City, and there are many knowledgeable drivers willing to make the trip as this is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.
If you're very comfortable navigating the roads in Central America, you can rent your own car from one of the many international rental agencies in Guatemala City, but this is only recommended for experienced travelers who can read the rules of the road and navigate the congested, winding roads.
Group shuttles are available in Guatemala City, but some are far better than others, so this option is only recommended if you're working with a local specialist while booking. You can also take a "chicken bus" from Guatemala City, but it is not very comfortable or secure, and will only take you as far as Panajachel, so this option is not recommended.
If you want to spend a day in the old colonial city of Antigua, explore the best villages around Lake Atitlán, and see toucans and howler monkeys while you hike around Mayan ruins, consider this 7-day tour of the Guatemalan highlands.
By Private Transfer or Rental Car
Duration: 3.5 hours, more depending on traffic
The biggest perk of taking a private transfer is that you can easily arrange with the driver ahead of time and have them pick you up directly at your hotel in Guatemala City and take you to the door of your hotel in Lake Atitlán, which saves you a great deal of time and offers you that priceless peace of mind.
The drive from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlán is pretty straightforward, but you will likely hit some traffic on the outskirts of the city, so make sure to leave with a full tank of gas if you're driving yourself. If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to call your hotel ahead of time and make sure they have protected parking.
You'll take CA-1 for the duration of your drive, and there are a few good places to stop to stretch your legs or take a few photos.
About 21 miles (35 km) outside of the capital, you'll come to Antigua—one of the most popular places to visit in Guatemala. Consider grabbing a cup of coffee and a pastry at one of these top cafés and walking around to see some of the colonial architecture there before you get back on the road.
Close to the lake, about 57 miles (92 km) into the drive, you'll come across the Iximché Mayan site. If you're traveling in the daytime, this is a great chance to stop and experience some of the country's history.
By Group Shuttle
Duration: 4 hours, more depending on traffic and stops
Group shuttles are available from Guatemala City to different destinations around Lake Atitlán, but you'll want to talk to a local specialist and get their help in booking.
Group shuttles can be a good option as they pick you up directly at your hotel and take you straight to your accommodation at Lake Atitlán, but some companies are far better than others, making it difficult to book online if you're unfamiliar with the region.
Most shuttles stop in Antigua for about an hour, so be sure to factor in some buffer time for the shuttle to pick up additional passengers here.
By "Chicken Bus"
Duration: 4 hours, more depending on traffic
This is the most budget-friendly way to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlán, but this option is quite difficult for travelers who are not fluent in Spanish.
These Rebuli buses leave Guatemala City each hour at the corner of 21 Calle and 1A Avenida. If you have any large bags, you'll have to secure them to the top of the bus as there is no storage inside. You'll pay your fare on the bus, so you must have cash on hand.
These buses will not have air conditioning, so if you're traveling during the hottest months, the trip can be quite stuffy.
If your accommodation is in Santiago Atitlán or another village around the lake, you'll have to take an additional taxi or private transfer to your final destination once you reach Panajachel. You can also take a boat from the dock in Panajachel across the lake to San Pedro.
Chicken buses are not recommended after dark.