Planning a Trip
By Bus -- Transportes Rebuli (tel. 502/2230-2748) has buses leaving roughly every hour between 5am and 5pm to Panajachel from 41a Calle between 6a and 7a avenidas, Zona 8, in Guatemala City. The ride takes around 3 hours. Fare is Q20 ($2.65/£1.35). The return buses run along a similar schedule and depart from the crossroads of Calle Principal and Calle Santander.
By Shuttle -- Panajachel is connected to Guatemala City, Antigua, and Chichicastenango by regular tourist shuttle buses. These range from minivans to standard buses. Fares between Panajachel and Guatemala City run around Q188 to Q270 ($25-$36/£13-£18); between Panajachel and either Antigua or Chichicastenango is about Q135 to Q270 ($18-$36/£9-£18). Any hotel tour desk or local tour agency can book you one of these shuttles, or you can contact Atitrans (tel. 502/7832-3371; www.atitrans.com).
By Car -- To drive to Panajachel and other cities along the lake, take the Pan-American Highway (CA-1) to the junction at Los Encuentros. A few miles north of Los Encuentros is the turnoff to Sololá. In Sololá, follow the signs and flow of traffic to the road to Panajachel. The drive takes a little more than 2 hours from Guatemala City.
Special Moment: Look Out for Lookouts
There are a couple of lookouts, or miradores, on the side of the road just before you enter Panajachel on your way from Sololá. You'll notice them because local crafts vendors are set up waiting to pounce on tourists trying to take in the view, which encompasses Lake Atitlán and a couple of tall volcanoes behind it. These vendors have a wide range of typical tourist wares for sale -- jewelry, stone carvings, ceramic goods -- but you'll find a much broader selection and better prices in town.
Panajachel is relatively compact, so it's fairly easy to walk anywhere in town. In fact, most people spend their time walking up and down the long strip that is Calle Santander. If you need a taxi or tuk tuk, they are plentiful and can almost always be flagged down anywhere in town. If you need to call one, ask your hotel to ring for you, or try Taxis San Francisco (tel. 502/7762-0556).
By Boat -- Panajachel is connected to all the towns and villages ringing the lake by regular boat taxi service. There are two separate dock areas. The docks below the end of Calle Santander are used by boats heading east around the lake, as well as those going directly to Santiago de Atitlán. The docks at the end of Calle del Embarcadero are used by the boats heading west around the lake, as well as those going directly to San Pedro La Laguna.
There are several types of boats providing service around the lake. The least expensive boats are large and slow, and follow a regular schedule. However, smaller, faster boat taxis leave throughout the day -- some by regular schedule, others as they fill up -- and are definitely worth the few extra dollars. The slower boat taxis take about an hour to go from Panajachel to either San Pedro La Laguna or Santiago de Atitlán. The smaller, faster boats cut that time in half.
The boats operate from around 5am until 6pm. However, if you're coming back to Panajachel from any of the villages across the lake, you should try to grab a boat by around 4pm, as service after that becomes less frequent and less reliable. Schedules change according to demand, but you should never have to wait more than a half-hour to find a boat heading in your direction.
Boat taxis, their captains, and street touts almost always try to gouge tourists. There is a de facto price differential between what locals pay and what tourists pay, and it's often hard to get a firm sense of what the official rates are or should be. Always ask your hotel or the INGUAT office about current fares before heading to the docks, and then try to be polite but firm in sticking to those guidelines.
In general, a small, fast boat taxi between Panajachel and San Pedro La Laguna or Santiago de Atitlán should cost around Q25 ($3.35/£1.65) each way; between San Pedro and Santiago, or between San Pedro and San Marcos, about Q15 ($2/£1). The slow water taxi between Panajachel and either San Pedro or Santiago should cost Q20 ($2.65/£1.35). Note: Only pay for the leg of the ride you are actually taking. There is absolutely no reason to reserve a return trip in advance, and you run the risk of not meeting up with that specific boat or captain at the appointed time and losing your fare.
If you don't want to wait and you've got a small group together, you can always hire an entire boat that will hold between 10 and 12 people. These boats charge around Q150 to Q300 ($20-$40/£10-£20) for a trip to any of the towns around the lakeshore. The higher fares are for those towns farthest away from Panajachel.
Panajachel sits on the north shore of Lake Atitlán. As you enter Panajachel from the Pan-American Highway and Sololá, you'll be on Calle Principal (also known as Calle Real), which continues on around the lake toward Santa Catarina Palopó. Soon after you enter Panajachel, you'll come to a major intersection at Calle Santander. The actual center of the town, called the Old Town, or Ciudad Vieja, is about 3 blocks from this intersection and about 10 or so blocks from the lakeshore. This is where you'll find Pana's main church and large market, as well as a few hotels, restaurants, bars, and language schools. By far the majority of the action in Panajachel is centered on Calle Santander, which runs from this intersection directly toward the lake, where it dead-ends. The sidewalks are crowded with street vendors and are such a jumble that most people walk in the center of the street, making way, as necessary, for the sporadic traffic.
There's an INGUAT (Guatemala Tourism Commission) office (tel. 502/7762-1392) on Calle Santander 1-87, in the Centro Comercial San Rafael. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. They can give you a map of Panajachel and the Lake Atitlán area, and help you with hotel reservations and figuring out the current bus and boat taxi schedules. To contact the local tourist police, dial tel. 502/7762-1120.
There are a host of banks on Calle Principal and around the Old Town, including Banco de Comercio, Banco Industrial, and Banco G&T. There are also scores of Internet cafes around Panajachel, both in the Old Town and along Calle Santander. Most charge between Q3 and Q6 (40¢-80¢/20p-40p) per hour. The post office is located at the corner of Calle Santander and Calle 15 de Febrero. The nearest hospital is the Hospital Nacional Sololá (tel. 502/7762-4121) in Sololá, although in a pinch you can contact the small Centro de Salud Panajachel (tel. 502/7762-1258).