Lake Atitlan Arguably the most beautiful lake in the world, Atitlan owes its grandeur to its enormous size and spectacular, volcanic setting. Lake Atitlan was formed when a volcanic caldera depleted of its magma. Three stately volcanoes, Atitlan, Toliman and San Pedro rise gracefully from its southern shore, their perfect cones reflected in the azure mirror of the lake. Weaving made and worn by the Maya-Tzutujil and Cakchiquel women who live around the lake are some of the most beautiful in Guatemala, and many of the men also wear traditional, hand-woven clothing.
Lake Atitlan is surrounded by many villages, in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tz'utujil and Kakchiquel. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Kakchiquel initially allied themselves with the invaders to defeat their historic enemies the Tz'utujil and Quiché Maya, but were themselves conquered and subdued when they refused to pay tribute to the Spanish.
Santiago Atitlán is the best known of the lakeside villages, and is noted for its worship of Maximón, an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan saints, Catholic saints and conquistador legends. An effigy of Maximón resides in a different house each year, being moved in a grand procession during Semana Santa. Several towns in Guatemala have similar cults, most notably the cult of San Simón in Zuníl.
While Maya culture is very prominent in many lakeside towns, the largest town on the shores, Panajachel, has been overwhelmed over the years by tourists. It attracted many hippies in the 1960s, and although the war caused many foreigners to leave, the end of hostilities in 1996 saw visitor numbers boom again, and the town is entirely reliant on tourism today.