Lake Atitlan Mayan Canoe Adventure

Wooden Mayan Canoe

Can You Guess Which One is Mine?

Today I was about to take an old, leaky Mayan canoe out for a spin. I had seen locals using dilapidated wooden canoes to get around Lake Atitlan, and was curious about trying it out for myself. Would I be able to keep it afloat?

Tourists could rent plastic kayaks, but where’s the fun in that? I can rent a kayak anywhere. I want to use what the locals are using. An old, handmade canoe full of holes!

I had to bail out a bunch of water with the toy ball…

Before there were roads and motorboats here, everyone got around by wooden canoe. Lake Atitlan is a giant 50 square mile body of water, and the towns that sprang up around it did so because of these canoes. It was the only real form of transportation for hundreds of years. The owner of a restaurant in San Pedro explained to me that some canoes back then could hold 100 passengers!

Canoeing Lake Atitlan

Trying Not to Tip Over

Renting from a Local

But how would I accomplish my goal? I started asking around to find out if anyone would let me rent their wooden canoe. My Spanish teacher’s neighbor had one, and she introduced us. His name was Julian, and he decided to let me use it for 2 hours for a small rental fee.

Julian handed me a paddle and half a toy ball. He explained the piece of plastic was for bailing water out of the craft, due to the fact that it was full of holes… This was gonna be fun!

It was time to head out. I had confidence I could do it, because I had once been a kayak instructor. But even with my training, it took a few minutes to learn how to control the thing. At first I was going around in circles! You also had to be careful where you put your legs, so the whole boat wouldn’t tip over.

Once I got the hang of it, I started paddling along the shore passing kids swimming and women washing clothes at the side of the lake.

Lake Atitlan Water View

Volcanoes in the Distance

Look at the Funny Gringo

EVERYONE on the edge of the lake was staring at me. I think the whole scene was kind of amusing to them. But I just paddled along, waving at everyone with a big smile on my face. I had a great view of Volcano San Pedro in the distance.

At one point I pulled up to talk with a local fisherman who was out on a thin peninsula of rocks. But it turned out he was deaf & mute, so we actually didn’t talk much. At least not with our mouths… From hand signals I learned that the net he was patching up was for UNDERWATER fishing. He was a freediver! He’d swim around with an old beat-up set of snorkel gear, and catch fish underwater with the net.

On the way back from my canoe trip, I had to bail out a bunch of water with the toy ball to keep my craft afloat. But I loved every second of it! Random experiences like this one is why I love to travel. :)


Specific Details & Tips

Location: San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala
Company: None. I rented from a local.
Cost: $30 Quetzales ($3.75 US) for 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Tips: Best to assume you’ll tip it over. Stay near the shore. I kept my camera in a dry-bag when not in use. If you paddle too hard, you’ll spin around in circles.