Cheap & Free City Guides for Central America
Cheap & Free in Central America
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First of all, Lago Atitlan is not just one place, but a series of towns along the lakeside.
It is, in fact, not only a lake but a huge caldera formed by an exploding volcano, with two dormant Volcanoes still existing. They're very noble and volcano looking. One of them can be climbed with guides.
The town of Panajachel isn't very large, but its the biggest and friendliest town on the lake. It has a single business strip that goes along the road to the docks, which lead to the ferries and a beautiful view of sunrise and sunset behind the ring of mountains that surrounds the entire lake.
The best coffee, as of many years ago, can be had for a good price at the argentinian grill restaurant. It also has reasonably priced sandwiches, and they're good, if they're still around. There was a reasonable chinese restaurant there. The cheapest eats are to be found at the restaurants by the town. The restaurant with the thatched roof by the lake is a bit overpriced for the quality, BUT it does sport a great view of the sunset. Drinks or a snack are inexpensive enough if you want a restaurant seat with a view.
One can swim in the water, but its best not to swim in the area by the town docks. Untreated sewage also flows out from near that area. In any case, if you have any open sores, its best not to swim in the lake at all. It is known to harbour cholera and other interesting bacteria. Don't drink the water unless it's totally sterilized.
I like going to more remote areas to swim, not near the docks.
Their market is worth visiting, and the food there is locally grown for the most part, and fairly cheap. Mind you, its not organic as we known it. They use some interesting pesticides, including some banned in the USA. It's best to wash the fruit and vegetables in chlorinated water. I never got sick that way, but some could, I suppose.
They have buses on Sunday(I think) to Chichicastenango, which has a major market. People who like markets like to arrive very early, and watch them set it up. That market has a lot of tourist trap items one might want, along with meeting all the needs that can't be met in a local market.
The buses are very cheap and very crowded.
It is recommended that one takes a tourist bus straight to Pana from Antigua. It costs at least 3 times as much as changing at Los Encuentros, but there is less hassle and worry. If you want the Chicken bus experience, by all means, go ahead. Just make sure one puts ones bag between ones knees or something, so they don't push you against the window or crush your legs mercilessly. If you go as a couple, by all means sit together. Its best to squished against people you know.
There are small craftsmen all along the main street, selling various wares. Some of these things are very nice. If you're out of money and can do crafts, some people eke a minor living in this way. This however, is best done in Antiqua where the language student body has a lot more money to spend than the average Pana resident.
One fun and cheap thing to do is take the circular ferry around all the towns. If you miss one, they run on the hour, more or less. However, they stop running at night, so you must get back before the light falls. It is best to ask about the time for the last boat to Pana before getting off.
Another totally free thing is to look around the stream bed leading to the lake in Panajachel. You may just find some nice volcanic pumice, which, I'm told, removes skill calouses very well. I liked to carve them with a metal tool like a spool or a pen-knife.
One could follow the stream up the mountain if one wanted, I suppose.
There USED to be a cheap campground called Camping Campana, but I'm told that was washed out in the flood. Other than that, I've never been impressed by the cheap rooms available in town. There are some nice private suites available, but they're not quite cheap. I have also rented an apartment in town for cheap, but it was pretty primitive. We're talking outhouse, outdoor kitchen, single room and only a few light bulbs. No bug screens. Oh, and the landlord shorted out my light switch or even electricity when he felt I was using too much!
There are other towns around the lake. Of them all Santiago Atitlan and San Marcos are the most interesting. For a few quetzales children will bring you the idol of Maximon, their cigar smoking village god. Never mind that many of the people actually worship at the evangelial baptist church, which can be heard on sundays all the way across the lake. I myself like to buy fresh coconuts and fresh juice from the vendors on the main street.
There is a reasonable hotel in Santiago Atitlan, but the people are funny there. If you're happy, they love to like you. If you're a bit gruff, they absolutely hate you. Its a very emotionally energetic culture they have.
San Marcos is a yuppie new age haven, and a pretty boring one at that. Its pretty, and its pretty boring unless you're into meditation.
San Pedro has two cultures on it. Laid back Druggy, and normal folk. Not to mention the tourists that live in the hotels there, soaking up the hippy drug vibe. There is, or WAS a nice restaurant right up from the docks that had English movies and some good western food. It also had a library. Its a good place to chill for hours.
The best hotel I can think of there is the hotel Agua escondido, or Azul... Its the big blocky hotel looking building you see to your right as you go up the dock. The prices were reasonable, and the people who ran it very accomodating. If they're full, the'll rent you a hammock or cot on the porch for half price, or did. As long as the mosquitos aren't out, you'll be glad to be outside if you have a warm blanket or two. It can get colder in the mountains in winter.
Thats about all for now.
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