On the south shore of the Atitlán Lake lies the small and authentic town Santiago Atitlán. Surrounded by the volcanoes Tolimán, Atitlán and San Pedro, Santiago offers some breathtaking vistas. It still conserves its traditional Mayan charm with busy streets, active market vendors and artisan stalls selling handcrafted souvenirs. After Panajachel, Santiago attracts most tourists. However, the Mayan culture is still visible at every corner as citizens are still very faithful to their identity. Women as well as men still wear their traditional gown and stick to their ancient ceremonies. The fertile land has been settled already in pre-Colombian times, but then in 1524 the village Santiago Atitlán was founded by the Spaniards. In the 1980ies and 90ies much of the population was killed by the Guatemalan army or just disappeared.
Santiago Atitlán is home to the holy Maximón statue. This Mayan god with catholic influences is worshiped all over the Guatemalan highlands and Guatemalans from all social classes bring offerings to the statue and ask for his blessings. The wooden figure in Santiago is decorated with colorful silk shawls and usually smokes a cigarette. Maximón is guarded by the local villagers and changes its home every year after the Easter procession in order to keep a power balance in the village. The statue is not easy to find, but you can ask your way or find a guide, who will bring you there for a small tip. If you are going to visit Maximón, do not forget to bring him a present, like rum or cigarettes.
As Santiago remains faithful to its Mayan ancestors and traditions, you will find a lot of guided tours about the Mayan culture. An interesting museum about the traditional Mayan back strap loom weaving can be found in the Cojolya Association of Maya Women Weavers. It shown the process of making the typical gown from the cotton on the fields over the weaving until the finished product. Attached to the museum is a small shop where you will find exclusive, handmade Mayan style souvenirs. Santiago is also a good starting point for a volcano hike or for an excursion to the viewpoint Cerro de Oro.
The easiest way is to cross the lake by boat starting in Panajachel or San Pedro Laguna.