We Kayaked Around Lago Atitlán… and Survived!

Two and half weeks ago, my friend Juan Manuel mentioned that he wanted to kayak around the entirety of Lago Atitlán. The lake is big. Naturally, I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea and agreed to join him in his craziness. We wrote a story about our trip, and here it is:

June 12th, 2009, 4:00 PM – Two courageous adventurers begin what will become one of the most fantastic trips of their lives. After an uneventful afternoon bus ride from Xela, they successfully rent kayaks in San Pedro La Laguna and set off in the direction of Santiago Atitlán, where they spend the night. The kayak man watches somewhat fearfully as the two gringos locos paddle off into the waning light. Little does he know that the two who have just rented his kayaks have a total of approximately 4 hours kayaking experience in their lives.

7 km / 2 hrs / tired, but optimistic

June 13th, 2009, 5:30 AM – At sunrise they set out from Santiago. The lake is calm for the first few hours, but they are fated to spend nearly 12 hours in their tiny boats on this day. Around noon they rest for an hour in San Lucas Tolimán, devouring local dishes at the edge of the lake. They are tempted to spend the afternoon in this tranquil town, but nobly choose to suffer onward. Three miserable, windy, sun-filled hours are immediately followed by three more hours spent fighting a rainstorm and waves pushed against them by the unexplained phenomenon of the Xocomil. Arrival in Panajachel is a bittersweet reward. Our sunburned heroes are forced to carry their kayaks and belongings up the hill to an overpriced hotel. After sating their gigantic appetites with fried chicken and tacos, they both collapse into their beds at 8 PM and sleep solidly through the night.

28 km / 10 hrs / exhausted, covered in second degree burns, and happy that the journey is “almost over”

June 14th, 2009, 6:30 AM – The last push. Only 14 short kilometers lie between the somewhat refreshed kayakers and their goal. The lake cooperates and the beautiful scenery slides by quickly. Two days on the water has created, if not expert kayakers, at least proficient ones. Lanchas pass throughout the morning, crowded with waving tourists and curious locals. As San Pedro draws ever closer, they begin to taste the sweetness of success. A final effort sees them cross the blue deeps of the lake and reach the final shore. Hasta nunca, kayak!

14 km / 4 hrs / almost unable to walk or lift their arms, but thrilled to have completed the adventure

As we have described it here, our trip sounds quite terrible. In reality, we were able to spend a weekend looking at one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. Throughout the journey we were happy with what we were doing. In fact, we’re going to do it again in a couple of weeks, this time in four days rather than three.  49 kilometers and 16 hours of kayaking are too much for three days. Also, we’re going to take more sunblock the next time.

Necessities: Sunblock, rain jacket, hat, water, snacks.
Costs: We spent 400Q each for the whole weekend.

So that’s the story. We submitted it to the local english-language magazine here in Quetzaltenango, XelaWho, and I think it’s going to be published in the July issue.

It got published: San Pedro Day Tripper: We Kayaked Around Lago Atitlán… And Survived!

Also: I made a map!

View Around the Lake by Kayak in a larger map


  1. Kristen said,

    June 27, 2009 at 14:54

    Epic. Truly Epic. I enjoyed this post very much. You should save a copy of that magazine so I can see it in print someday.

  2. Grandpa & Grandma said,

    June 28, 2009 at 21:57

    When you next visit, kayaking around Lac Le Jeune will be a breeze. How much in $ is 400Q? Some of the places in your story are not on your map. We did find San Lucas Toliman on the map. We are glad you lived to tell the tale! Your trip sounds like great fun!! Thanks for keeping us posted.

  3. *Molly* said,

    July 2, 2009 at 10:21

    Lovely story! I cringed at the description of your burns!! I hope they are not truly that bad! But it sounds like a lovely adventure!! How is your spansiH? i need to learn some, badly!

    hope you are well!

  4. Chris said,

    July 12, 2009 at 16:16

    Next time you should live off the wilderness. Make it much more epic by attempting to fish for your food and sleeping in the great wide open. Despite the relative closeness and ease of access that is civilization.

  5. Anonymous said,

    August 9, 2009 at 9:18

    Nice story, I look forward to diving the mexican lakes one day. Are you a professional writer?
    Please send me an email.