Lago Atitlan is actually even more beautiful than it seems in pictures, which is hard to believe. It's an enormous lake, perched high in the mountains, with volcanoes on several sides. There are several super-cute (if perhaps a little touristy) pueblos on the shores that you can shuttle between on a water taxi. I have to drive.
I left Xela pretty late (Atitlan is less than 2 hrs away) so I ended up in fog and rain for most of the way:
Between the goretex layers in my Rallye suit and my heated vest, I was perfectly comfortable - when I could see. The final part of the ride broke through the cloud layer and ran me through an endless series of switchbacks, over and over and over:
I rode around the lake until I reached San Pedro, apparently something of a "sister community" to Xela according to XelaWho magazine. There are two parts of the town; up on the hill is a more traditional Guatemalan town and down by the shore is a bizarre rastafarian expat community with cute hotels and bars and restaurants.
Nearly as soon as I got off the bike people with dreadlocks started coming up to me and offering me weed. There were studenty types and people my age everywhere. It was actually pretty cool.
From my hotel door:
As it got dark:
I ate some pretty good food and stayed up till 3am talking and drinking with a med-student I met in the restaurant/bar. It started raining pretty heavily:
I woke up with a hangover and didn't get on the road till late. This actually turned out to be a good thing because I didn't go very far - I just rode around the lake until Panajachel, quite a bit bigger than San Pedro but still very cute.
Incidentally, people say you're not supposed to drive around the lake - the risk of being robbed is high. I was a little nervous about it, but I'm not usually one to let a little danger spoil a good time. It turns out there is a short (couple miles) unpaved section (4x4-only in some parts) between San Pedro and Santiago where the trouble happens because vehicles must move slowly over the rough terrain. When I arrived at this section, three Guatemalan police officers were providing armed escort. They told me that the remainder of the route (which was all paved) was safe. I had no problems. Most of it was like this:
Panajachel has a *lot* of hotels and restaurants, and a virtually endless supply of Guatemalan crafts. I'm usually not impressed with the crap sold to tourists but the stuff there was remarkably well made, often combining leatherwork with brightly-colored weaving. I wanted a backpack but I simply have no place to store it; maybe I'll swing by on the return journey.
My little hotel room (pricey at around $15 equiv):
The front door of my hotel room:
Some pictures of the lake as I rode up and over the mountains on the way to Guatemala City: