Can you Swim in Lake Atitlan? Read this before jumping in.

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Nestled in the heart of the Guatemalan highlands is Lake Atitlan. Beautifully blue, a shimmering jewel against the dramatic backdrop of volcanoes surrounded by unique Mayan culture- the lake is practically inviting you in!

So you’re left wondering.. Can you swim in Lake Atitlan? The answer to that is a bit complicated, and you’re a smart traveler for pondering the question.

So, let’s dive into the questions shall we!

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Accommodation – Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels.
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Tours/experiences – Viator or Get Your Guide are excellent sources for tours.

photo of lake atitlan near the shore with a boat in the foreground

❓ So.. Can you Swim in Lake Atitlan?

Yes, you can swim in certain areas of Lake Atitlan.

There are a lot of firsthand accounts and travel stories online or that you may hear in your travels about people getting sick or having skin rashes after swimming in Lake Atitlan. This is why a certain level of caution and research is recommended before you swim in the lake.

Note that I personally have swam in the lake and did not get sick.

In general, it is best to avoid swimming around the bigger towns on the lake such as Panajachel and San Pedro.

Smaller towns around the lake farther away from the bigger ones, as well as San Marcos, are generally considered to be safer to go swimming.

San Marcos also has the Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve where there is a popular cliff jumping and swimming spot.

⚠️ Another general rule of thumb is to definitely avoid swallowing the water while swimming and keep near the shore away from the boat traffic. The lake is very deep, so never swim farther than you could physically make it back to shore. And try to shower after your dip in the lake.

photo of girl cliff jumping into lake atitlan
Cliff jump at the San Marcos nature preserve.

🚫 Reasons to Avoid Swimming in Lake Atitlan

Series of landslides over the years have caused a lot of pollution and bacteria to enter the lake that haven’t ever been cleaned out properly.

Fertilizer runoff also can add harmful chemicals to the lake’s waters. The other, sad ongoing pollution factor in the lake is from people dumping trash into it. Sigh.. Humans- why must we be like this?!

These few things can cause cyanobacteria, which in general is not harmful to humans but can cause a toxic algae bloom. The last time this happened was in 2009 and 2015. The water will change colors and have a funky smell, so you will now if there is an algae bloom!

To be honest, I didn’t know any of this before jumping into Lake Atitlan and swimming in it February 2023 on my 7 day trip through Guatemala.

But it is so important to be an informed visitor and keep up to date on the current safety of the lake through local guides and reputable sources. NASA is even tracking the health of the lake through an algae forecasting tool.

And I’d be remiss without mentioning Amigos de Atitlan, a nonprofit organization that advocates for safer agriculture practices and aiding the locals in conserving the lake.

πŸ›οΈ Research your accommodations before booking to ensure the place you’re staying at isn’t contributing to the trash and sewage problem in the lake.

photo of two women washing clothes in the shallow waters of lake atitlan, guatemala

🏊🏻 Best Places to Swim in Lake Atitlan

  • Cerro Tzankujil Nature Reserve in San Marcos. This is where I personally swam in the lake as there is a cliff jumping spot here. But you don’t have to cliff jump to get in- you can easily walk down around the rocks and get in that way! The view from this nature reserve can’t be beat.
  • Casa del Mundo Hotel. There are many platforms to get into the lake here. Guests can enjoy swimming in the lake at their leisure, and if you’re not staying here you can get a day pass to enjoy the grounds.
  • Playa del Finca is a lovely black sand beach, but it is more remote and harder to reach. The beach is a 45 minute walk from San Pedro.
  • Playa las Cristalinas is more of a tradational sandy beach, close to San Juan la Laguna. The beach is easy to reach and a short walk away from the road. This kayaking tour can also bring you to this beach from San Pedro!
photo of girl lying on her back in lake atitlan

πŸ’§Lake Atitlan Water Temperature

The water temperature in Lake Atitlan is a chilly but comfortable 21Β°C / 70Β°F year round. The cool water can be a shock at first, but it’s not too cold to prohibit you going in.

Going in the water after sunbathing in the middle of the day would feel the best, and will probably even feel refreshing.

The dry season of November to May is the best time to go swimming.


✍️ Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming in Lake Atitlan

Still have questions on whether you can swim in Lake Atitlan? Let’s answer them!

Is Lake Atitlan Guatemala safe to swim in?

In general, yes it is safe to swim in Lake Atitlan. Stay up to date on current algae blooms in the lake, and stick to less crowded areas of the lake.

Avoid swimming around the larger towns around the lake such as Pana, and never swallow the water.

I swam around San Marcos in February 2023, spending quite a bit of time in the water and did not get sick. And there was plenty of people there also swimming!

Is Lake Atitlan freshwater?

Yes, Lake Atitlan is freshwater. It is actually Guatemala’s third largest freshwater lake and an UNESCO biosphere reserve!

Where does the water in Lake Atitlan come from?

The lake was formed thousands of years ago by a supervolcanic eruption, and is fed by two nearby rivers.

Are there fish in Lake Atitlan?

Yes, there are many types of fish in the lake. The most common type of fish are bass, mojarra, bluegill, and crappie. It is advised, however, not to eat the fish that is caught in the lake.

Can you drink the water in Lake Atitlan?

Tap water around Lake Atitlan will most likely come from the lake, so it is generally advised to drink bottled water during your stay. Although I did brush my teeth with the tap water in my hostel and had no ill effects.

photo of lake atitlan in guatemala on a clear sunny day, trees in the foreground in san marcos

Where to Stay in Lake Atitlan

  • πŸ“Amigos hotel – This hotel is located in San Pedro La Laguna and where I personally stayed. There are hostel dorm options here as well as private rooms. I stayed in a private room and had a great experience here, though the bars on the street opposite are loud and stay open until the middle of the night. So bring your ear plugs! The hotel provided breakfast and was very affordable.
  • πŸ“Lush Atitlan – This highly rated hotel is located in San Marcos La Laguna, the hippy town on the lake. This was personally my least favorite town but others love it here. Although the town has one of the best views of the lake! Lush Atitlan has amazing, panoramic views.
  • πŸ“Hotel & Restaurante Arca de Noe – This hotel is in the town of Santa Cruz, one of my favorite spots on the lake. The Arca de Noe has a great location right on the shore of the lake making it easy for arrival and exploring the other towns.
  • πŸ“La Casa del Mundo – Of course I’ve got to add in this hotel in to the list. If I go back to Lake Atitlan I will definitely stay here! The view, the decor, everything about this place is magical. And its surprisingly affordable! The only drawback to staying here is that you are a little isolated and your only option for food is the hotel. Just something to keep in mind if you’re someone who prefers a lot of options!
photo of lake atitlan and the surrounding mountains and volcanoes from la casa del mundo
View from Casa del Mundo in Lake Atitlan

More Top Things to do While in Lake Atitlan

1. Hike the Indian Nose for sunrise.

This hike is moderately challenging and affords amazing views of the entire lake.

If you’re lucky, you can even see Acatenango volcano, and Fuego erupting in the distance! It is easy to set up a guided tour in town upon your arrival to pick you up from your hotel, especially if staying in nearby San Pedro la Laguna.

2. Go kayaking or stand up paddleboarding.

There are a few places to rent kayaks or SUPs around Atitlan. The villages of Santa Cruz, San Pedro, San Antonio, and Pana all have kayak tour agencies.

SUP adventures in Santa Cruz also offers an amazing sunrise excursion!

3. Explore the unique towns around the lake.

Each town around the lake has its own culture and is known for something unique. For example, San Antonio Palopo is known for its ceramics and traditional dress. Santa Catarina Palopo is known for its bright blue buildings and geometric patterns.

Consider this fun half day ATV tour around the lake for some adventure and to visit some of the villages to get a taste of the different cultures!

4. Zen out and practice yoga.

The town of San Marcos has grown into a yogi heaven over the years. It’s not hard to find a yoga class or retreat to join to relax and simultaneously enjoy stunning views of the lake.

5. Learn to cook up a traditional Mayan meal.

Join a cooking class to learn how to create a traditional Guatemalan meal with their Mayan roots. I love these kind of activities because they combine two of my favorite things: eating and culture!

6. Watch the sunset

Watch the sunset on the shores of the lake from San Marcos or Santa Cruz to get stunning views. Or join this ATV tour to get epic views of the sunset from above the lake!

view of the sun rising over lake atitlan in guatemala. large mountains and volcanoes surround the lake
View from the Indian Nose hike at sunrise.

Conclusion: Can you Swim in Lake Atitlan?

In conclusion, yes you can swim in the beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. But there are a few safety factors you must take into account beforehand.

Make sure you stay away from larger towns, such as Pana, and remember to never swallow the water.

Research current conditions and any local news on the lake before your trip, and talk to locals while you’re there.

The nature preserve in San Marcos is one of the best places to swim in Lake Atitlan. But, if you decide not to go swimming- there is plenty of other things to do while visiting the lake!

So- are you taking a dip in Lake Atitlan?!

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