Santa Catarina Palopó and Lake Atitlán
|Elevation||1,597 m (5,240 ft)|
|Lowest elevation||1,562 m (5,125 ft)|
|Time zone||Central Time (UTC-6)|
Panajachel (Pana) is a town in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, less than 90 miles from Guatemala City, in the department of Sololá. It serves as the administrative centre for the surrounding municipality of the same name. The elevation is 1,597 metres (5,240 ft). Population was 11 thousand in the 2000 census, estimated as 15,000 now (Insituto Nacional de Estadística de Guatemala), and has approximately doubled each of the last few decades. The town of Panajachel is located on the Northeast shore of Lake Atitlán, and has become a centre for the tourist trade of the area as it provides a base for visitors crossing the lake to visit other towns and villages.
"Panajachel" derives from the Kaqchikel language and roughly translates to "place of the Matasanos," the white sapote fruit tree.
In the 16th century, during the period of the Spanish conquest of Guatemala, the shore of the lake was the scene of a battle in which the Spanish and their Kaqchikel allies defeated the Tz'utujils. The Spanish set up a church and monastery in Panajachel soon afterward, and used the town as a centre to convert the indigenous people of the region to the Roman Catholic faith. The original façade of the church still stands, and is considered one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala.
The town attracted many Hippies in the 1960s, but the numbers of foreign visitors plummeted during the Guatemalan Civil War. After the war ended, tourists started coming back, and Panajachel's economy is once again primarily based on tourism.
Places of Interest
Casa Cakchiquel built in 1948, was one of the first hotels on the lake and according to legend, Ernesto "Che" Guevara, Ingrid Bergman, and other intellectuals, artists, painters and writers enjoyed the house at its best. Today the house serves as the Cultural Center and is lovingly restored and one of two historic buildings "patrimonio culturales" (the central Church of Saint Francis of Assisi being the other) in Panajachel. Casa Cakchiquel features a Museum & Gallery space that is presenting Guatemala's first and unique historical photo museum with over 3000 photo images between 1860 - 1970 and Guatemala's most important photographers like Emilio and Roberto Eichenberger, Alberto Valdeavellano, Adolfo Biener, G. Hurter, Joaquín Muñoz, Lionel Stein, Pablo Sittler, el indio, Lito B. Zadik & Co. and others.
Casa Cakchiquel is the home of Radio 5, FM99.1 the local Radio Station in the Atitlan Basin as well as the woman NGO Thirteen Threads (Oxlajuj B'atz'), who is working with and for the rights and opportunities of the mayan woman and is managing a Fair Trade store in the house. The beautiful garden space is the home of the japanese Restaurant La Hana and as of Trip Advisor the best restaurant in town.
Panajachel is also home to one of the oldest galleries in Central America, La Galeria.
Things to do
Although Panajachel is mostly used as a jump off point for other places around Lake Atitlan it does offer some interesting activities.
Calle Santander, the town's most prominent Street is home to some of the best bargains in Guatemala.
The Reserva Natural Atitlan is a beautiful reserve set on the outskirts of Panajachel. Here you can watch monkeys, visit a butterfly farm, go canopying or simply hike the nature trails.
The Maya Traditions Medicine Garden is a social project set up by the Maya Traditions Foundation which educates locals and visitors about the uses of local and other plants in herbal medecine. Tours are offered by request.
A visit at the Galería, in Panajachel since 1973, located in the heart of town, should be high on the list of things to do for anyone interested in art and culture.