Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala: Getting There

One of the reasons I chose to visit Guatemala over Rwanda was Lake Atitlan.

It seemed fated for me to go there, ever since I saw this photo a number of years ago:

A rental place along Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

When I saw this photo, I envisioned myself and some friends staying for a month. Having drinks on the lakeview terrace. Que rico!

Also, one of my brothers had visited Lake Atitlan many years ago and he'd loved it.

Going to Lake Atitlan requires some decision-making.

First up is to decide where to base yourself. This is because there are several villages lakeside, in addition to the large tourist town of Panajachel.

If you want an active ("active" being a relative term) night scene and a good selection of restaurants, cafes, and shopping, then Panajachel is the best option. I didn't want any of those things, so I looked over the village scenarios. Now the decision driver for me was a good place to stay. "Good" meaning budget-priced, comfortable, and hopefully a good view.

A new acquaintance in Antigua recommended two places, both of which sounded luxuriously delightful, but way over my budget.

I pored over all of the options I was able to find electronically, and settled on La Iguana Perdida, an enhanced hostel on the lake, immediately adjacent to the public dock that is below the village of Santa Cruz.

I chose a private room with a shared bath. The rate was spectacularly affordable. My room had a "lake view." Heheheheh. "Lake view." Heheheheheh. Thank goodness I have a sense of humor.  More on that later. No worries, though, I was very happy with my room.

But let me back up to how I got to Santa Cruz from Antigua.

Assuming you don't have your own vehicle, there are several options, which I'll categorize into: 
  1. Cheap
  2. Economical
  3. Pricey

If money isn't an issue, then by all means, I'd book a shuttle that picks me up at my Antiguan accommodations and then takes me to whatever doorway I want along Lake Atitlan.

If I'm on a backpacker shoestring budget and I haven't yet filled my lifetime quota of before-light departures on a sardine-packed bus that requires being dropped off in one town and finding another bus to take me the rest of the way to Panajachel, then I'd go with the cheap option. A possible itinerary here (response 2) and a story here.

Or you could do what I did, which was to opt for the economical. I think there was a bit of bait and switch in my situation, but you know, it all worked out just fine. My Spanish teacher clued me in to it. I went to the bakery across the street from La Bodegona supermarket, bought a round trip bus ticket from the gentleman who manned the table just inside the bakery entrance. Don't remember the price, but it was easily within my budget. I was given the impression by both my Spanish teacher and the ticket agent that this was a special bus, along the lines of a Greyhound, for example. Subsequent research tells me that in the past, it was the so-called "pullman bus," but my experience mirrored what many others have experienced, which was that the bus was actually a chicken bus.

The departure arrangements were to be at the bakery at 7 a.m. and we'd take the bus from there. Well ... not so fast.

At 7 a.m., the selling agent escorted us for a longish walk to the chicken bus lot alongside the artisanal market, to a particular chicken bus. Was I happy? No, I was not. It felt very bait-and-switch. I asked a few pointed, irritated questions, and then just let it go, choosing to bank righteous high dudgeon for some future event instead.

Chicken bus, Antigua, Guatemala. April 2016.

And as I said above, it all worked out OK. The bus was a direct run to Panajachel, so no tranfers needed. Did we stop and go a few times to pick up riders and drop off riders? Sure, but that's the economics of the business. Everyone needs to earn a living, including bus drivers, bus attendants, and the bus owners.

Food vendor on bus from Antigua to Panajachel, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. April 2016.

When we stopped for gas, a couple of food vendors boarded to sell road food. I didn't buy anything, but I did engage in some free ogling.

The trip was uneventful.

I got dropped off in Panajachel at the end of this bus' line and told to remember where the drop-off was because this is where I'd get the return bus when I left Panajachel a few days hence.  

From here I walked down to the docks to pick up a small, blue launch that would carry me across the lake to La Iguana Perdida in Santa Cruz.

Given my poor directional skills, you might wonder how I found my way down to the docks. This is a fair question. I muddled my way via verbal instructions, a so-so map, and following some other tourists who seemed to know where they were going.

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