Conquer Lake Atitlan: A Day of Kayaking, Abseiling, Climbing, and Hiking!

Lake Atitlan attracts hordes of visitors every year. They come to explore the colourful towns around the lake and delight in the stunning views that surround you. However if you want adventure, how does the lake fare? Look no further than the Elementos Adventure centre. This centre offers an action packed day of adventure from their base in Santa Cruz. You can conquer Lake Atitlan from the lake or high in the jungle. Let’s find out how.

Lake Atitlan from Panajachel boat launch area
Lake Atitlan from Panajachel boat launch area

Getting to Santa Cruz on Lake Atitlan

We head out at dawn to wait for a boat to Santa Cruz. As it is early on a Sunday there are few people around and we wait a little longer to meet the minimum number for the boat. The boats that ply the waters of the Lake generally have no set timetable. Instead they wait until they have a minimum number of passengers and then they leave.

It turns out that to get to San Marcos or Santa Cruz you head to the dock for the boat to San Pedro and San Juan and they drop you off en route. The small dock in Santa Cruz leads to a vertiginous climb up the hillside into town but instead we take a small path to the left along the lake which skirts hostels, beautiful homes and boutique hotels. We eventually reach the kayak centre, the boat house outside the gates a clear indication that we have arrived.

The villages of Lake Atitlan from the water
The villages of Lake Atitlan from the water

We find dogs guarding the gates and a bell saying ‘ring me’ beneath it. Lee, our host, ambles down to greet us. He takes us to a small, quaint thatched cabin with a terrace overlooking the lake. We sit back and relax as we await the arrival of our guide. It’s bliss to enjoy time in the sun as we admire incredible views of volcanoes in the distance.

Los Elementos Adventure Centre activity combo

The activity combo offers a range of activities for visitors. You simply select the ones you would like to do and they plan the day accordingly. We opt to try our hands at stand up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking and climbing.

Just one of the volcanoes of Lake Atitlan from the adventure centre
Just one of the volcanoes of Lake Atitlan from the adventure centre

Stand up paddleboarding

Our dedicated guide, Alex, greets us with an infectious grin, setting the tone for our adventure. We eagerly follow him to the shoreline, keen to get onto the water.

The paddleboards here, seem less stable than the ones we tried in Malta. Perhaps an extra year of age has played tricks on our balance. Like Bambi finding his legs, Jason wobbles as he attempts to stand on his board. It doesn’t take long for me to burst into laughter as he comically splashes into the water. Valiantly, he clambers back onto his board, only to repeat the charade, losing his sunglasses in the process.

Despite the initial challenges, we find joy in paddling through tranquil waters. I manage to find my footing and stay upright, even amidst the chaos caused by the speed-hungry lancha drivers who zoom across the lake with little regard for other vessels.

Time out on the SUP at Lake Atitlan
Time out during SUP

Soon we feel the effect of the exertion however as our legs start to burn so we make our way back to shore. We seek solace in the nearby café, where we savor lattes while taking in breathtaking views of the lake. The resort boasts a picturesque, whitewashed communal area adorned with vibrant local textiles and plush cushions. It has  a bohemian vibe, offering yoga classes for those seeking a serene escape.


We make our way back to prepare for our kayaking excursion, a delightful 5km round trip down the coast towards San Marcos. Along the way, we glide past opulent lakeside properties as Alex regales us with his flair for storytelling. He has a panache for the dramatic and combined with his infectious laughter has us roaring with mirth at his anecdotes.

Kayaking on Lake Atitlan
Kayaking on Lake Atitlan

We arrive at a secluded cove, enclosed by colossal boulders that hug the shoreline. Above, a platform perches on a towering cliff. Alex enthusiastically beckons Jason to scramble up the hillside and join him on an overhang high above the water. He encourages Jason to ‘walk the plank’ and leap into the crystalline turquoise waters. With a holler, he launches into the water with a magnificent splash that echoes around the cove.

From my kayak, I lay back and relax, toes dangling in the water enjoying the sun on my face and the incredible views of the lake.

Just one of the stunning coves of Lake Atitlan
Just one of the stunning coves of Lake Atitlan

Lunch at the Amigos de Santa Cruz

Having worked up an appetite, we make our way to lunch in the charming nearby village. Profits from the tours offered at the centre contribute to the admirable cause of Amigos De Santa Cruz. The Amigos is a local non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of those in the community. Their admirable mission involves nurturing the skills and confidence of locals, offering them invaluable practical training for roles in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Nestled in the heart of Santa Cruz, a restaurant staffed by both current trainees and proud graduates of the NGO’s culinary program is our destination. With an inviting open-air balcony, it offers breathtaking vistas of the lake and volcano. With contented hearts, we feast on succulent chicken while being enthralled by Alex’s captivating narratives.

The view of Los Elementos Adventure centre nestled beneath the jungle
The view of Los Elementos Adventure centre nestled beneath the jungle


Next on our adventure, we venture into the depths of the forest, aiming for a towering cliff face where we’re set to conquer a beginner’s climbing route before abseiling down. Scaling a path strewn with rocks and tangled tree roots, we swat away pesky flies and other critters along the way. Majestic cliff faces loom overhead, sparking excited chatter about which one we’ll be ascending.

The sun bathes the landscape in a brilliant glow, casting playful shadows on the ground whilst a gentle breeze encourages leaves into a lively dance. Our journey leads us to a weathered tree, its roots clinging tenaciously to the rocky surface. It’s a scene straight out of an Enid Blyton novel, evoking memories of the magical Faraway Tree.

Climbing in the jungles of Lake Atitlan

Our adept guides swiftly ascend, deftly securing ropes in their wake. I can’t help but wonder how I’ll manage the climb.

After gearing up and fastening ourselves to the line, Lee provides encouraging words, offering occasional guidance on hand and foot placement. Before I know it, I’m nearly at the top. Yet, a seemingly sheer face looms ahead, and I struggle to find secure footholds. With every ounce of strength, I pull myself a little higher, feeling the satisfying burn in my arms and legs. Eventually, I reach a point where progress seems impossible. I signal to the team that I’ve reached my limit, and with a controlled release, I gently bounce back to solid ground. After a short rest, I opt for a second attempt and manage to climb just that little bit higher. Jason has a similiar experience.

Feeling satisfied however, we prepare to return through the jungle to the centre and the last boat back to Panajachel.


If you’re a thrill-seeker and yearn for a diverse range of activities in a single day, this tour is an absolute must. Led by the expert guidance of Lee and his team, you’ll experience Atitlan in an entirely new light. From the vantage point of a lofty tree, take in the lush jungle and the impressive climbs that surround you. Gaze at the majestic volcano from the water’s edge, surrounded by picturesque coastal boulders. Or alternatively, bask in warm sunshine while gliding over the refreshing waters of the lake on a kayak or a SUP.

Click here to book your own adventure with Los Elementos.

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About Anne

Anne is the founder and editor of Frommilestosmiles. If she isn't travelling, she is thinking of travelling or planning her next trip. She has visited over 90 countries on six continents and sampled everything from backpacking to bank bursting travel. Her mission is to help you enjoy more luxurious travel without the luxury price tag through the use of airline and hotel rewards and other money-saving travel tips

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