- Private Car: You can drive here in your own car. If you’re a tourist, I would highly discourage this option. If you don’t speak Spanish, I would also discourage this option, but if you have Guatemalan friends as we did, then this is obviously the best option.
- Private Shuttle or Van : There are many services that pick you up at your hotel or at the airport at a cost of Q750 or about $100. I think this is a ridiculously expensive option, but it is an extremely safe and reliable option … you get what you pay for. Typically, the driver is your personal driver and will make as many shopping, food or rest stops as you would like.
- Tourist Shuttles : Shuttles run by Atitrans can pick you up at your hotel or airport. (A reservation is required.) Travel time is four to five hours to Panajachel at a cost of $25. From there, you can take a boat across the lake ($3.50) to Santiago Atitlán. From the docks you can take a tuk-tuk — a motorized rickshaw taxi ($1) — to anywhere in Santiago
- Chicken Bus : If you’re in Guatemala City, you can take a chicken bus. I have no idea how long that will be, but considering that it took us more than 3 hours to drive to Panajachel from Antigua, you can be assured that it will take you a lot longer. Here’s a couple other thoughts on Guatemalan chicken buses … while they leave every hour, these recycled U.S. school buses are poorly maintained, drivers do not adhere to speed limits, the rides are long, uncomfortable, usually crowded and prone to robberies. In the end, you can save a couple bucks on the fare with a gamble on your comfort and safety – the choice is always yours.
- Collective Ferry : If you’re staying in Panajachel or close by, then find a pickup truck or taxi and let them take you to the public docks. To get to the dock, go to the end of Calle Santander, turn left and go until the end of the road, then turn right. The collective boat transfer costs approximately Q25, but like everything … locals pay less.
You’ll find that after your pickup truck ride to the docks, you’ll be glad to get back to a stable base. Getting to the docks is a routine ride, but if you’re new to Latin America or the Caribbean, then it will be quite the adventure for you.
Like most travellers, time of the essence and we didn’t want to wait around, so we used our pickup van driver to take us to the docks. We had a private launch waiting for us … I wouldn’t necessarily call this a private boat, because it was just a collective boat that we hired. There were barely enough life jackets for the posse … but somehow I don’t think that the life jackets would be very useful to us, even as we were leaving the public docks.
The photography and scenery during your boat ride is well worth the trip. You’ll lots of people fishing in the lake, as well as great sight lines of the volcanoes.
Not to mention, the sight of some ridiculous lake houses. One thing in Guatemala … if you have a decent middle class income in the US and Canada or even a decent pension coming in, then you can live a very, very good lifestyle here.
After your 25-30 minute boat ride, you’ll be getting into town. The docks are a pretty dingy affair and you’ll be accosted by tons of kids and vendors trying to sell you stuff.
Here is an excerpt from our boat ride to Santiago Atitlán to give you a bit of flavor. Everything was completely safe and there was nothing to worry about.