During the period of the Spanish conquest of Guatemala, the shores of the lake were the scene of the great battle in which the Spanish and their Kakchiquel allies defeated the Tzutuhils. The Spanish set up a church and monastery in Panajachel soon afterward, and used the town as a center for converting the Indians of the region to the Catholic faith. The original facade of the church stills stands, and is one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala.
The lakes formation is as dramatic as its beauty. According to geological history, the area was once an immense volcanic mountain that blew it's top off some 85,000 years ago in a massive explosion. It's ashes and rocks are as said, have been found as far south as Panama and had world wide climactic effects. Hence, today's lake is actually the crater of a massive volcano.
Continued volcanic activity formed the three towering volcanoes we see today, El Tolima, Atitlan, and San Pedro, reaching up to 3357 meters above sea level in the southern shores. These are joined by the Cerro Chico or Santa Clara peak, reaching approximately 2430 meters above sea level. And on the western shores are Cerro San Marcos and Cerro Cristalino, subsidiary cones of the three volcanoes, with their peaks reaching 2918 and 2251 meters above sea level respectively.
Adding the adjacent mountains and other nearby Cerros, rising up to a 1000 meters on both sides, and you have a natural picturesque frame for the lake. A true awe inspiring setting for the lake's water surface which measures approximately 125 square kilometers, 18 km across at it's widest point, 400 m deep at the center, and situated at 1560 meters above sea level.
Scenic routes, beaches & lakeside villages, complement the lake's beauty. Its celebrated villages are situated lakeside at the skirts of the volcanoes & mountains, and are spectacles en their own right. Their Indian markets are great to shop for handicrafts and textiles, as well as sensational culture absorption.
The complete name of this town is San Francisco Panajachel. It is a pre-Columbian settlement of Kakchiquel origin founded on the Panajachel river and at the lake's edge. It was the scene of the final battle between the Spaniards and their Kakchiquel allies against the Tzutujiles, and the site at which Franciscan friars founded a convent. Today this charming town, situated among coffee plantations, gardens, and vegetable plots, is the most important township in the area. Here you will find the largest concentration of hotels, restaurants, discotheques, entertainment centers, businesses and of course tourists, as it’s a great place to shop for clothing, textiles and handcrafts.
A fascinating historical town of Roman Catholic, evangelical and Maximón worship, also known for its traditional paintings and clothing. The veneration of Maximón by the Maya has taken place for centuries and is one of the most outstanding religious practices in this district. The Maya pray to this man-like wooden statue often found wearing a hat, scarf, and suit. Smoking cigars, with cigarettes, alcohol and flowers are brought as offerings in return for good harvest, success, rain, sun, luck, and everything else one can pray for. The deity is part of the Maya Tzutujil cultural universe, and through the hybridization of rituals, it represents the cultural persistence of the communities around the lake, especially of this city.
This small, tranquil and authentic Kakchiquel town is easily accessible to B’alam ya (approximately 30 minutes walking). Known for its distinctive huipil (embroidered traditional clothing), Santa Catarina also is home to the famous Casa Palopo, arguably the best fine dining in Lake Atitlan. One major attraction is the whitewashed church in the town center adorned with monuments of saints of worship. There is also a hot springs at lakeside nearby the village.