A Day at the Atitlan Reserve In Panajachel

We stayed in Tzununa a total of 10 days so we decided to go on an excursion from Tzununa to Panajachel in the middle of our stay. Tzununa is a very small town along Lake Atitlan and Panajachel is probably the biggest and busiest. It’s the complete opposite, but still wonderful in its own way and totally different from a busy city in the Northeastern United States.

The three of us woke up early one morning and walked fifteen minutes down to the water from the Seed Habitat to where the lanchas (boats) leave that take you to different towns along the perimeter of the lake. Tzununa is not one of them, but there are a few towns along the lake that can only be accessed by boat. I thought that was pretty cool. When I was trying to figure out where to stay I found that a lot of people who are staying in those towns park their cars in a secure lot in Panajachel and then take a boat over with their luggage. We didn’t have to do that this time around, but it was nice to know it was an option.

The boats leave the dock about every 15 minutes, so we took one at 8 am and arrived in Panajachel within 30-40 minutes. Lake Atitlan is huuuuge. It was a reallyyy fast bumpy ride and an exciting way to start the day.

When we got off the boat in Panajachel it was still somewhat early so there weren’t many people around just a few tour guides on the dock offering their services. It seemed pretty quiet, so we found a place to have breakfast and then walked over to the Reserva Natural Atitlan where we would spend our day.

As we approached the reserve we came across a field of horses grazing in the pasture, a restaurant, a few lake front hotel rooms and then walked up to the entrance of the reserve where the landscape started to get a bit more lush. We paid our entrance fee and walked in to the beautifully mapped out site.

At La Reserva Natural Atitlan there are sooo many activities you can do. They have a butterfly conservatory within a geodome (first of its kind in Guatemala), ziplines, cable bikes, a playground, trails, hanging bridges, a restaurant, hotel rooms and lake access. It’s truly a place where you can bring your entire family and find something fun for everyone to do.

As soon as we walked in to the main building at the reserve we saw two coatis walking around going about their day. They were so cute. They reminded me of my dachshunds who have now both passed (I love you Nazca & Lima). We kept walking through and came to a map of the property where we decided we’d check out the Butterfly Conservatory first.

The butterfly conservatory is within a geodome and has over a dozen different species of butterflies fluttering about drunk on life and fermented fruit. We saw blue morphos, monarchs, Dione Junos, passion butterflies and diaethria annas (I had to type this out three times for it to stop auto-correcting to diarrhea :)) which are probably the craziest looking butterfly I’ve ever seen. Its wings are white with red and black tips but look as though someone has drawn patterns on the white parts with a thin black sharpie.

After the conservatory we went on to walk/hike some of the trails. The first one we did brought us up to a lookout point and over multiple hanging bridges. The second one we did brought us over to the lake. It was only around 11 am when we started, but it was superrr hot already. It was so rewarding when we reached the end of the trail and came upon the most beautiful shade of light blue water stretching for miles and miles. The view doesn’t look real. The beach was full of pebbles, rocks and sand. The water was cold and refreshing. Just what we needed after our sweaty walk.

When we were done swimming we decided to have lunch at a restaurant we passed along the walk and then head back into town for some shopping, so we hopped in a Moto taxi and asked our driver to take us to where we could buy some nice textiles. We walked around for a bit and then I came across this really lovely stand selling naturally dyed accessories. I got two gorgeous white linen scrunchies dyed with shades of light purple, mustard and teal. I also got a headband with the same colors. They had pillowcases and various other items, but we still had a long way to go and our Crosstrek isn’t THAT big. I still regret not picking up a few more things, because I didn’t come across these patterns again.

It was wild to see how much Panajachel changed in just a few hours. The streets were bustling with vendors selling everything from clothing to produce, tours, jewelry, snacks, shoes and any other thing you might want. There were so many people out. We found a store that sold some imported vegan and organic products. I wanted to buy some things like nutritional yeast and produce, but the imported products were so expensive it wasn’t worth it. A small bag of nutritional yeast was $16. If you’re one of those vegans who is addicted to nutritional yeast like I am, I definitely recommend stocking up on it in Mexico or the U.S., because you won’t find it at a good price anywhere else in Central America.

We walked a bit further into town and ended up finding a huge open air market with tons of fresh produce. We picked up granadillas, mangos, bananas, mameys, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, onions, garlic and sooo many other things. I was so excited to go back to the house and make dinner. We probably picked up about 20 pounds of fruits and vegetables, so we walked back to the dock and got on the next boat back to Tzununa.

Once we got back to Tzununa we made dinner, watched a movie and fell fast asleep. It was a long beautiful adventurous and relaxing day.

Next Stop: Antigua

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