Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Locations:

Guatemala -

Lake Atitlan, in the Guatemalan Highlands, is reputed by its visitors and residents to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Lake Atitlan gets its name from the Mayan word, “atitlan”, which translates to, “the place where the rainbow gets its colors”. Volcanic in origin, the 32,124-acre endorheic lake (one that does not flow to the sea) is approximately 5,125 feet above sea level, and measures 12 miles long and anywhere from 4.5 to 7.5 miles wide. Framed by the Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro volcanoes, the area appeals to both adventurers and those looking to relax and simply take in the sights.

Lake Atitlan is characterized by many small Mayan villages throughout the area. The Mayan people are known for both their friendliness and quality, hand-crafted products. The largest village on Lake Atitlan is Panajachel, a town of about 14,000 on the northern shore of the lake. Most hotels and tourist facilities are located here. Vacation rentals can be found in other areas of the lake. While Panajachel has become quite commercial, Mayan culture and traditions are still prevalent in the other towns around the lake which are easy to reach by water taxi from Panajachel. The village of Santiago Atitlan, San Antonio Palopo and Santa Cararina Palopo are renowned for their textiles and clothing items, all hand made by native weavers.

Lake Atitlan is famous for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking and jet skiing. For those who would like to explore the beautiful scenery there’s horseback riding, hiking and camping. A footpath encircles the entire lake, but new private homes and hotels have restricted some access to the lakeside path. Other activities such as hang gliding, rappelling, and canoeing can be arranged in Panajache. For an incredible view of area, consider taking a bus trip to “La Cueva Maya”, the Mayan Cave, where you will be able to see the city, the lake and the surrounding volcanoes.

Sections of the shore of Lake Atitlan are part of the Nature Reserve of San Buenaventura. This reserve occupies approximately half of the San Buenaventura valley and is comprised of more than 250 acres of native forest. The Nature Reserve’s aim is to conserve the natural surroundings of the area. Privately funded, hopes are that economical alternatives for uses of the land will not only preserve the integrity of the environment, but benefit the native people as well. The nature preserve has nature trails, a butterfly preserve, a bird refuge, an orchid garden and a visitor’s center. The forests around the lake are also one of the last habitats of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s national bird.

Aside from the many other recreational activities available, Lake Atitlan is one of the most challenging largemouth bass lakes in the world. In 1958, Guatemalan officials took the advice of former airline giant, Pan American World Airways, and introduced black bass into the lake. The hope was that fishermen worldwide would want to visit the idyllic lake. Predatory in nature, however, the black bass eliminated some two-thirds of the otherwise native fish species. This in turn caused the extinction of the rare Giant Grebe bird, which was only found at Lake Atitlan. To this day, bass fishing remains as a popular Lake Atitlan recreational activity.

Lake Atitlan draws thousands of tourists and vacationers every year. With its three towering volcanoes, scenic hiking trails, beautiful beaches and lakeside Mayan villages, a vacation to this lake will soon have you understanding why others call it the most beautiful lake in the world.

Note: Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, are threatening the splendor of Lake Atitlan, a situation that has gained international attention. Although the Guatemalan government released an official action plan in 2009, funding is not yet available to implement the plan. The Health Minister has advised people to avoid direct contact with the lake when algae blooms are present.

Things to do at Lake Atitlan

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Snorkeling
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding

Fish species found at Lake Atitlan

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Largemouth Bass

Lake Atitlan Photo Gallery

Lake Atitlan Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 32,124 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,120 feet

Average Depth: 721 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,100 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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