Life in Santiago Atitlán

This post is long overdue, as I’m actually leaving Santiago Atitlán in a few hours to head back to Xela (Quetzaltenango). But I lived here for almost a month, and this little lake town definitely deserves its own post.

Santiago is nestled in an inlet between three volcanos on the southern part of the lake. It’s a decent-sized town, but feels a lot more quaint than some of the other lake towns because it is not as overrun with tourists and foreigners (like Panajachel and San Pedro).

View of Santiago Atitlán from a boat

On market days (especially Fridays), the main street of the town and the area around its Central Park is bustling with vendors selling everything from socks to tiny fish to mangos to blenders. A lot of shops sell gorgeous huipiles (traditional tops worn by women) and fabric for cortes (traditional skirts). The huipil design native to Santiago is striped with birds embroidered along the neckline.

Santiago Atitlán’s Parque Central
Monument in Parque Central of the 25 cent Quetzal coin. The coin features the profile of Concepción Ramírez, who was born in Santiago Atitlán.
A statue at the entrance of Parque Central depicting the traditional dress of Mayan women in Santiago Atitlán

As you walk away from the central park towards the dock, more of the shops sell souvenirs in addition to huipiles and cortes. The variety is outrageous; you can buy bags, shoes, beaded jewelry, embroidered tapestries, wooden carvings, tablecloths, blankets, hammocks, and so much more. I did my fair share of shopping in Santiago, and bought tons of souvenirs for friends and family (and plenty for myself).

Artist Diego Morán in his shop. I couldn’t resist buying one of his portraits.

One thing I love about Santiago is that you have a view of a volcano from almost anywhere in the city.

San Pedro volcano

As for where I’ve been living, I’ve been staying in a bakery. Yep, an actual bakery. There’s a room with a huge oven and racks of bread, and people from all over town come by to pick up bins of bread. They also make yummy pastries, cakes and donuts.

Our host family is extremely kind and welcoming. Our host mom was generous enough to send us off with some fresh banana bread, a couple of donuts or apple turnovers as we headed off to work. Also, she is an incredible cook.

Our host mom decorating a cake

We also have three “brothers” (the youngest of which loves to show off his latest Lego creations), a cranky pet parrot named Manolo, and two pet dogs.

Manolo, the most temperamental animal I’ve ever met

While Santiago is definitely a lot quieter than Xela was, I’ve really enjoyed living here over the past month, and I’ll definitely miss the town (and my host family) when I leave.

My host mom giving me a lesson on how to make tortillas


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