Day 1: Home Stay in San Jorge La Laguna (D)
Upon arrival at Avenida Santander Zona 2 (next to Hotel Dos Mundos), you will be given instructions on how to take a public bus from Panajachel to reach the village where your host family lives, San Jorge La Laguna.
The home stay will give you a genuine insight into the everyday lives of a local family during your trip by staying one or more more nights with a family from the Kakchiquel Indigenous group in San Jorge La Laguna. Maya Experience Home Stays has started this home stay program in the village to give something back to the communities around Lake Atitlan, and also to give you a very genuine experience of living with a Maya local family to experience their culture and customs. This experience is very new to the village and families who welcome foreigners into their homes. As a responsible traveler, we as guests must be aware of and sensitive to the culture by behaving respectfully during our time with the family and in the village.
Although shy at first, the villagers are very friendly and welcoming people. Make sure you ask permission to take photos of the people in the village since the Mayan community commonly believes a photograph will steal their soul. You will most likely find the housing situation in San Jorge La Laguna rather basic but the reason for partcipating in this home stay is to enjoy a real insight into Guatemala, so you can experience the culture firsthand and interact with the local community on a personal basis. We hope that you enjoy this very unique experience.
A small gift for the family would be a nice gesture of appreciation for the family welcoming you into their home. Cooking or kitchen materials such as pasta, rice, sugar, fruit, vegetables or kitchen utensils are very much appreciated ($3 USD per person approx). Other materials from your home country or children's books (coloring, basic English, workbooks, almanacs) would be a great addition to the family library.
Day 2: Boat Tour of Lake Atitlan with visits to indigenous villages & Return to Panajachel (B)
You will depart from Avenida Santander Zona 2 (next to Hotel Dos Mundos) at 09:30 hrs in Panajachel. You will have all the instructions on how to go from the Homestay to the meeting point on Day 1. Then, you will hop in a boat for a tour of Lake Atitlan and a visit to its colorful indigenous villages. You will be dropped off back in Panajachel when the tour is finished.
The word "atitlan" is translated from Maya as "the place where the rainbow gets its colors" and accordingly you will understand why so many people have been drawn to this magical lake for hundreds of years. Panajachel alone is an 800 year old town home to mostly Cachikel Maya and an increasing number foreigners from every corner of the globe, all coming together to soak up a piece of that serenity and originality that this place provides.
San Pedro La Laguna, much like Panajachel has a large population of bohemian tourists and ex-pats, however the indigenous people of the town still preserve their original ways of life and wear traditional dress, remain very conservative and practice the same style of subsistence agriculture that their ancestors practiced years ago. Just outside of town coffee crops are cultivated on the mountain side and hard working farmers hike up and back on a daily basis to tend to their crops. Walk uphill towards the town center (away from the docks) and you will see a whole different side to this popular lakeside village.
Santiago Atitlán is the largest of the communities around the lake with a population of over 32,000, 95% of which are indigenous Tz’utujils. Traditionally, it is fishing and farming town; it is also known for the manufacture of cayucos, wooden canoes. Directly from the dock, the main street leads visitors up to the main square where there is a vibrant and very lively indoor/outdoor marketplace where street hawkers target "gringos" as they wander by looking for good deals on original locally made souvenirs. Santiago is also home to a very interesting Maya/Catholic sacred statue called Maximon (also known as San Simon by the Spanish and Rilaj Maam by the Maya). All Guatemalan people worship this deity and go to him to ask for blessings or give offerings. During "Semana Santa" (Holy Week) in March/April, the statue is paraded around town and celebrations are held to worship this Guatemalan god. If you can, catch a glimpse of this interesting and very unique local custom.
San Antonio Palopo is one of the most interesting villages around lake Atitlan and the best place to really get an idea for how these traditional indigenous towns used to feel. Walking through the village one can see people wearing intricately designed "huipiles" (woven tunics) and women weaving fabric made of wool and cotton. Take in the views of this tranquil town and imagine what the villagers' peaceful life is like living in adobe houses with tin roofs, farming and selling souvenirs to make a living. This is one of the best places to purchase a "huipil" traditional hand-woven tunic knowing that the profits are going straight to the villagers.