7 ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan + practical tips

Planning on getting from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan? Whether you are looking for the cheapest or the most comfortable way, or both, in this post, I will tell you all the possible options you have to get from Guatemala’s capital city to the most beautiful lake in the world. So that you can choose accordingly.

Lake Atitlan is a beautiful crater lake located in Guatemala, Central America. It is very a popular destination among locals and tourists alike. The lake, known in Spanish as Lago de Atitlán, combines stunning natural beauty with Mayan culture, volcanoes, and a ton of fun activities.

It is a great location for adventure-seekers and relaxation junkies alike. You can enjoy everything from a yoga retreat to a mystical cacao ceremony to beautiful sunrise paddle-board sessions.

There are also multiple cultural activities available. You can sweat in a traditional Mayan sauna (temazcal), learn to weave on a backstrap loom, and prepare delicious Guatemalan cuisine.

If you prefer more of an adrenaline rush, try climbing a volcano, crossing a huge ravine via zipline, or going town-to-town on an ATV.

Atitlan overview
Lake Atitlan Views

The multiple towns around the lake are great fun to explore. Each one has its own textiles, handicrafts, and artwork to admire and buy for yourself or friends.

If shopping isn’t your thing, simply hang out in a coffee shop drinking high-altitude brews and admiring the expansive Lake Atitlan vistas. The whole experience is guaranteed to be amazing.

Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places to see in the world.

In this post, I’ll cover all the different ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan, including by shuttle service, chicken bus, private shuttle, and helicopter.

If you’re looking for ways to get from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, read this post instead. And if you haven’t decided on where to stay in Lake Atitlan, we have got you covered as well.

Women weaving around Lake Atitlan

How far is it from Guatemala City airport to Lake Atitlan?

Lake Atitlan is located 112 kilometers from the Guatemala airport. Although the distance doesn’t sound like much, the trip can take several hours (though 3 is a good average).

Guatemala is a mountainous country with twisty two-lane roads. Big trucks can further slow things down.

On the way, you’ll see the beautiful rolling countryside, terraced vegetable fields, and several of Guatemala’s volcanoes. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see Fuego Volcano spewing ash during one of its mini-eruptions.

Vulcano fuego and Acatenango

Airport to Lake Tourist Shuttle buses

One of the easiest ways to get from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan is to get a shuttle bus from La Aurora International Airport.

Shared shuttle service from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

There are shared shuttles available that regularly travel from the airport of Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan.

Shuttles are an economical option, costing around $35. However, the shuttles don’t leave the airport until they are full, which could take a few hours. Most shuttles also go via Antigua, which adds to the travel time.

If you’re traveling in a group, you may be able to request a direct transfer to Lake Atitlan, though you may need to pay a bit more.

Cost: $25-35

Trip time: 4.5 to 5 hours (via Antigua)

Guatemala City

Private transfer from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

Another option is to get a private shuttle from the airport to Lake Atitlan. This option is more time effective. You’ll also have the shuttle to yourself. Depending on the size of your group, it may even come out to a similar cost as sharing a shuttle.

You can ask your hotel in Lake Atitlán to provide a shuttle from Guatemala for you, hire one through the shuttle companies.

Also, check out this private transport from Guatemala City to Panajachel

Cost: $120 to $150

Total Travel time: 2.5 to 3 hours

From Guatemala Airport to Lake Atitlan with Uber

This option should actually be included among the private transfer but I thought I should spend a few words on UBER in Guatemala. In fact, it was my favorite way to move around.

Although there are lots of taxis around the airport, I think Ubers are the safer option.

These will be the easiest to hire if you arrive during the day. If you arrive late at night or very early morning, I suggest booking a private transfer ahead of time. That way you will spend the least amount of time necessary outside the airport after dark.

Also, keep in mind that at Guatemala Airport they don’t sell Local Sim Cards, so if you want to call for a Uber make sure you have sufficient credit on your original country SIM for roaming.

Price: $120 or more

Travel time: 2 to 3 hours

Lake Atitlan pier

Shared shuttle bus via Chichicastenango from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

On Thursdays and Sundays, there’s an extra option for you. If you don’t mind going through Antigua and would like to sightsee, you can take a 0700 am shuttle from Antigua to Chichi. Chichicastenango market day is a popular destination among travelers. Many tours go to this town so that visitors can enjoy shopping, taking pictures, visiting the church, and watching Mayan ceremonies.

You’ll travel up a notoriously twisty road to the highland town, explore its famous market, then continue on to Panajachel. It’s a great way to see a lot in a short period of time.

Price: $50 from Antigua

Travel time: 1 hour to Antigua, 2.5 to 3 hours to Chichicastenango, 1.5 to 2 hours to Lake Atitlan


Rental Car from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

If you plan to do a fair amount of traveling on your own and would like the ease and flexibility of having your own private car, renting is a great option. There are multiple car rental companies at the Guatemala airport that you can pre-book online.

Best Car Rental Deals w/ Free Cancellation, Compare & Save! | Discover Cars

Find the best car rental deals and explore around freely, at your own pace. My favorite way to enjoy a destination!

This can be a cost-effective way to travel and will give you the freedom to come and go as you please. Parking around Lake Atitlan shouldn’t be an issue.

Many hotels offer a parking service. If not, you can leave your rental in a secure paid parking lot (of which there is an abundance).

Prices vary depending on which car you choose, but it could come out to approximately $30 a day + insurance which can inflate the rates quite significantly, but you should indeed include it and make sure it includes a 0 deductible policy.

To be really honest I wouldn’t feel safe driving in Guatemala, but I wanted to include the options just for the sake of information.

Trip time: 2-3 hours

Helicopter from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan
Photo © Lake Atitlan

If you have the financial availability and would like to make this a quick and beautiful trip (with stunning views of the volcanoes and mountains en route to Lake Atitlan), you can hire a helicopter.

If you want to make things extra easy, why not stay at Hotel Atitlan? It has its own helipad.

Landed Travel and Martsam Travel offer helicopter tours and charter flights. Trip times can take as little as 25 minutes.

It’s definitely the most luxurious way to get from Guatemala City to the most beautiful lake in Central America!

Public Transportation Options from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

From Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan by Chicken Buses ( not recommendable)

Another option is to travel from the airport to Lake Atitlan on the local buses. Expats living in Guatemala named this local way of transport “chicken buses.

Don’t let the name fool you, they aren’t made specifically for transporting chickens. Of course, you might come across some chickens while you’re on them, though these are most likely kept in baskets on the roof.

They look like US school buses, but with much fancier colors, chrome, and tricked-out sound systems.

This is definitely the cheapest way to get from Guatemala to Lake Atitlan, but not the safest.

What you save in money, you’ll pay for in discomfort and in time, let alone safety. But hey, if you are an adventurous sort, by all means, give it a try! I wouldn’t do it, though.

Even locals are recommending not to use them, especially from Guatemala City to Antigua it’s some of the least safe rides.

Checken Bus in Guatemala
Chicken Bus in Guatemala

Also, during the trip to Lake Atitlan, the bus will make multiple stops, pick up lots of passengers, honk its horn loudly, and go at speed around mountainous bends. Make sure your luggage is well-stowed on the rack above you, and use your knees to brace yourself in place.

Tip: If you aren’t sure of the fare, ask the person next to you by saying “Cuanto es para ir a ___” and the name of your destination. Feel free to let the driver or his assistant know where you want to get off.

Having said that, I would really not risk it, and if you really want to try the Chicken bus do it for a different route, away from Guatemala city and more in the countryside where it would be safer. That’s how I see it.

Lake Atitlan Boats

Direct Bus services from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan

To find a bus heading from Guatemala City to Lake Atitlan, you’ll first need to get a taxi. The taxi driver (or UBER) could take you to El Trebol, where many buses pass through, or to one of the shopping centers along the bus routes. Peri-Roosevelt is a good option.

Try to get a Rebuli. They are dark green and pale yellow.

Rebuli buses have a good reputation, offer exceptional service, and travel directly to Lake Atitlan. You won’t have to switch transportation mid-journey or worry about getting on the wrong chicken bus by accident.

Alternatively, you could have your taxi take you directly to the Rebuli office in Zone 1. That way you’ll be sure to get a good seat. The disadvantage is that it involves backtracking a little.

Zone 1 isn’t a great area either, so keep careful track of your bags.

How to get from Panajachel to Mayan villages around Lake Atitlan

Congratulations, you’ve made it from the airport to Panajachel. This town is a fun place to see when you visit Lake Atitlan, but it’s not the only village to visit around the lake.

There are two public docks in Panajachel where you can search for a boat (a “lancha“) to the other towns around Lake Atitlan.

You can also travel by taxi or tuc-tuc (Guatemala’s name for a rickshaw). Tuc-tucs are very common methods of in-town transportation across the country.

In town, fares are Q5 per person, unless you’re asking the driver to take you further afield than normal.

Lake Atitlan local shop

How to get to San Marcos from Panajachel

San Marcos is a fascinating village on the eastern banks of Lake Atitlan. It is known for its new-age spirituality, quaint shops, and hippie vibe.

Boats to San Marcos leave from the Tzanjuyú docks in Panajachel. Foreign travelers will pay more than locals, but a one-way fare shouldn’t put you out more than Q30.

How to get to Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz is a hill-top village not too far from Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. It is best accessed by water, as the road to get there is very treacherous.

Although a taxi can make the journey, the boat ride is more scenic. Head to the Tzanjuyú docks to catch a public boat.

Be sure to check out the stand-up paddleboard tours, scuba diving tours, and cooking classes while you’re there.

If you need accommodation, I highly recommend La Iguana Perdida hostel.

Another very cool hotel near Santa Cruz is Hotel Casa del Mundo. If cliff-side accommodation sounds good to you, this is an amazing place to stay.

It’s a world-famous hotel, with its amazing views, family dinners, and wood-fired hot tub.

2018 wrap up- a photographical post on my 1 year on the road- Boundless Roads
Santiago de Atitlan

How to get to San Juan or San Pedro

To get to San Juan la Laguna or San Pedro la Laguna, catch a public “lancha” from the Tzanjuyú docks.

San Pedro is known as a party town, hosting people from all over the world, while San Juan has a quieter vibe.

Both are interesting places to visit. Be sure to check out the textile cooperatives in San Juan and the museum in San Pedro.

Explore the streets, coffee shops, and art galleries during your visit. Trust me, you won’t be sorry!

If you want more in-depth information on hotels and places to stay while you’re in Lake Atitlan, check out this post.

Lake Atitlan at sunrise

Motorcycle, Bicycle, or Trekking Tours from Antigua

If you’re interested in getting to Lake Atitlan in an unusual way, you can do so! Several tour companies located in Antigua offer everything from motorcycle tours and rentals to mountain bike tours and a multi-day trek.

It’s easy to catch a shuttle from Guatemala City airport to Antigua. The price for the service is usually about $15. From there, you can book your tour. Check the post on getting from Antigua to Lake Atitlan for more details.

Full-day tours from Guatemala City