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Lake Atitlán is beautiful volcanic lake in the highlands of Guatemala, ringed by volcanoes and step hills. The lake is surrounded by small traditional Maya villages with the largest settlement being the town of Panajachel. The lake is very deep with the maximum depth of at least 320m (the bottom has yet to be completely sounded), and the lake measures 18km by 12km at its widest point. There is no natural drainage; the lake instead has underground drainage to the Pacific coast.
Lake Atitlán is popular with visitors due to the traditional communities surrounding the lake. In nearly all of the villages traditional dress is still worn, and residents are fiercely proud of their traditional culture. The Maya people are mainly from two groups, the Kaqchikel and the Tz'utujil. When the Spanish arrived in Guatemala the Kaqchikel allied themselves with the Spanish to help defeat the Tz'utujil, who where their traditional enemies. After this the Kaqchikel refused to pay any tributes to the Spanish, and they themselves were conquered by the Spanish.
One of the towns on Lake Atitlán’s shore, Santiago Atitlan, is most commonly associated with the folk saint of Maximon. The origins of Maximon are not very well understood. One idea is that he a catholic priest who looked after aboriginals in the 17th century. Another belief is that he is the incarnation of the Maya god of sexuality. The home of Maximon changes every year, and Maximon plays an important role in the Easter celebrations.
- Population: 11,000 (Panajachel)
- Altitude: 3,400m above sea level
- Climate: Lake Atitlán has 2 seasons; wet and dry. The dry season lasts between November and May, and it is virtually rainless between December and March. The rainy season runs between mid-May and mid-October, with the rains being particularly heavy during September. The days can be chilly during the rainy season, and as Lake Atitlán is located at a high altitude, nights can be cold throughout the year.