A view across Lago de Atitlán from Panajachel to Volcán Atitlán
Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán) is a large lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. It is surrounded by volcanoes and towns and villages of the Maya people.
The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. It is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and Aldous Huxley famously wrote of it: "Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing"
The region first saw volcanic activity about 11 million years ago, and since then has seen four separate episodes of volcanic growth and caldera collapse, the most recent of which began about 1.8 million years ago and culminated in the formation of the present caldera. The lake now fills a large part of the caldera, reaching depths of up to 600 metres.
The lake is surrounded by many villages, in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. During the Guatemalan Civil War, the lake was the scene of many terrible human rights abuses, as the government pursued a scorched earth policy. Indigenous people were assumed to be universally supporters of the guerrillas who were fighting against the government, and were targeted for brutal reprisals. One of the most notable events of this era was the assassination of Stanley Rother, a missionary from Oklahoma, in the church at Santiago Atitlán in 1981.
Of the many villages around the lake shore, Santiago Atitlán is the best known. It is noted for its worship of Maximón, an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan saints, Catholic saints and conquistador legends. An effigy of Maximón resides in a different house each year, being moved in a grand procession during Semana Santa. Several towns in Guatemala have similar cults, most notably the cult of San Simón in Zuníl.
While Maya culture is very prominent in many lakeside towns, the largest town on the shores, Panajachel, has been overwhelmed over the years by tourists. It attracted many hippies in the 1960s, and although the war caused many foreigners to leave, the end of hostilities in 1996 saw visitor numbers boom again, and the town is entirely reliant on tourism today.
- Lago de Atitlán(Lake Atitlán) by Eve Andersson (http://www.eveandersson.com/guatemala/atitlan) photos and comments