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Boat Transport on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

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I entered the Guatemalan village of San Pedro by boat yesterday. Whether we would return to Panajachel from Santiago Atitlan or visit San Pedro was a coin toss at the docks. The boatmen of Lake Atitlan are shifty characters and try to get as much money as is possibly out of travelers. We knew that we would really have to work these guys to ever leave Santiago Atitlan. Mira and I decided that we would work the captains of the boats going to both Panajachel and San Pedro and go with whoever would meet our offer. When bartering with these boatmen, one would be a fool to offer even a word of greeting to the runners and touts that line the lake looking for prey. When they see a traveler they hound him like hungry dogs; if you are seen talking to them by a captain, you must pay an additional 5 qutezales ($.75)- their fee – on top of your boat fare. Mira and entered into this fox hunt – we were the foxes – with hard earned experience – we had been slightly railroaded on our way from Panajachel to Santiago – and both were resounded to slip past these hustlers any way possible.


The hustlers and touts that ply the boat docks of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

So we made our run for the docks with packs on our backs, it was obvious that we were in search for a boat, and we felt of cloud of touts closing in on us. I told the first one that came up to us to back off, Mira told the second to stop bothering her – “No me moleste!” she scolded. A group of Mayan women within earshot found this funny, and they laughed. They know as well as us that the boat hustlers are not to be talked to. We soon broke through the throng and made it to the docks. From here we made a bee-line for the nearest captain. We offered him an acceptable price to get from Santiago Atitlan to Panajachel – 15 quetzales each (two dollars) – but he refused. He wanted twenty, which is at least ten over what the Guatemalans pay. He was not content with making and extra ten queztales off the two of us, he wanted twenty. His greed did him in, as he did not know that we had a backup plan. So Mira and I shrugged, said alright, and moved on to the next dock where we found a boat ready to leave for San Pedro. After a brief round of haggling with the conductor – which was cut short only because the boat was ready to leave – we got on the craft for 10 quetzales each. So it was to the hippy village of San Pedro that we would go.

When taking boats across Lake Atitlan, for the sake of the travelers who will follow me if not anything else, I know that I can battle for a cheaper price than what is initially charged. The boatmen will try to rip me off because they think that I am stupid, rich, and will pay any price. It sometimes takes a fight at the docks to prove them otherwise.


The boat that we rode in from Santiago Atitlan to San Pedro, Guatemala.

Mira and I stood out the battle and were soon riding high on the top of the boat and over the waves of Lake Atitlan; laying back, relaxing, and looking out at the volcanoes that encircle this beautiful body of water. Our smiles could not hide our contentment. I was happy, Mira was happy, and the lazy Guatemalan sleeping next to us also seemed to be pretty darn happy. The boat kept on across the lake.

We arrived in San Pedro. There was hippies all over the place. Some of them were old and probably really were hippies, the rest just had dreadlocks.

On to break in a new town. The sun was shinning, I was smiling. It was a day for joking.

Good traveling.

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Filed under: Boat Travel, Guatemala

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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