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San Pedro - C - 12 - View of Town





For more detail, read San Pedro – Guatemala – Information and Panajachel – Guatemala – Information.

For more detail about GRANDPAcking Vacation costs, read San Pedro – Guatemala – GRANDPAcking Costs.

Lake Atitlan is in the South West of Guatemala.

I will not duplicate previous information here. On this page, I will focus on Lake Atitlan as a Retirement Location.

Unless stated otherwise, all prices are High Season prices.


Population15 million (July 2015 est.)
GDP Per CapitaUS$7,700 (2015 est.)
Inflation Rate2.4% (2015 est.)
Exchange RateAbout 7.5 quetzales (GTQ) to 1 US dollar (US$)
LanguageSpanish (official) 60%, Amerindian languages 40% (Note: there are 23 officially recognized Amerindian languages, including Quiche, Cakchiquel, Kekchi, Mam, Garifuna, and Xinca)
CapitalGuatemala City (population 3 million)
Time ZoneGMT -6 hours
Intl Dialing Code502
Electricity110/220 V
GovernmentConstitutional democratic republic
Income Tax Rate15%-31%
Property TaxProgressive rates up to 0.9%
Capital Gains TaxCapital gains earned by nonresidents are subject to a flat 31%
Inheritance TaxInheritance and gift taxes are levied at progressive rates, from 1% to 25%.
Rental Income TaxInheritance and gift taxes are levied at progressive rates, from 1% to 25%.
Transfer Tax12% (IVA) of the value of the property
Sales Tax12%
Property OwnershipThere are no restrictions on Foreign Ownership of Property
Residency and Visa RequirementsNot all foreigners need visas to enter the country. North American and European citizens need only their valid passport, and will be granted a 90 day Tourist Visa.
RetirementThere is a Retirement Program that offers Special Benefits for Foreign Residents or Retirees.


Lake Atitlan boasts a small but growing expat community; mainly from the USA and Canada.

Many expats live here on a permanent basis and more ‘snow birds’ join them each year as they escape from their winter back home.

English is spoken by many locals … but, you will still need to learn some Spanish.



Most ‘westerners’ will get a free 90 day Tourist Visa On Entry into Guatemala.

Make sure that you ask for the full 90 days … sometimes the Immigration Officer decides to arbitrarily write a lower number on your entry stamp.

If you plan to stay for up to 90 days, all is hunky dory.

If you want to stay longer, you will have a problem: you can renew this Visa whilst in Guatemala only once … thereafter, you MUST leave the country and come back in again.

Lake Atitlan is near the Mexican border and there are many (and regular) Tourist Shuttle buses to take you over the border … the cheapest Visa Run for 2 people is likely to cost at least US$200.


Many of the expats in Guatemala, even some that own homes here, never bother to get a Residency Visa … preferring, instead, to make a quick trip to Mexico, Belize, or elsewhere outside of Central America every three months.

They use this Visa Run as an excuse to buy products that are cheaper or not available in Guatemala. The Mexican border cities have sprouted stores to handle these cross-border shoppers. One of the most popular Visa Run destinations is San Cristobal De Las Casas (a beautiful and historic town in Chiapas, Mexico).

A Visa Run to Mexico is, usually, preferred over a Visa Run to Belize because it is quicker and cheaper.

You (should) stay in Mexico for 3 or more days. If you stay less than 1 week you will not be charged Mexican Departure Tax (about US$20 each).

Some expats use a “backdoor” into the immigration service for additional 90-day segments for about GTQ500 (about US$75). A local does the Visa Run for you. You give them your passport(s) and they go to the Mexican border for you. They will get your Guatemalan ‘exit stamp’ and ‘re-entry’ stamp to give you another 90 days. The GTQ500 covers all of their costs including transport and overnight accommodation.

Foreigners on Tourist Visas are not allowed to get a taxpayer’s ID card, nor a NIT, and are unable to open a business or take employment.

The first step in obtaining permanent residency status is the two-year Temporary Residency Visa. These are granted in three categories:

  1. Investment Visas: These are granted to foreigners who invest a minimum of US$50,000 in Guatemala. The documentation requirements are minimal: passport, clean police record for the last five years, proof of the investment, and a guarantor (a person or company that guarantees your character and financial behavior).
  1. Rentista (self-supporting) Visas: Foreigners with sufficient outside income to support themselves are eligible for the Rentista Visa. The requirements are a passport, clean police record for the last five years, and a verifiable monthly income of US$1,000 for the primary person and US$200 each for dependents. All GRANDPAckers should be able to meet this requirement.
  1. Retirement Visas: These are for retired foreigners who receive an adequate pension. The requirements are the same as for the Rentista Visa.

The Temporary Residency Visas allow you to own a business or take employment. The Rentista and Retirement Visas restrict travel outside of Guatemala for more than one continuous year, except for medical reasons. The Retirement Visa gives you access to the full Retirement Benefits Package offered by Guatemala.

After completing the two-year Temporary Residency period, you can apply for the Permanent Residency Visa. The requirements and restrictions are the same.


You can come to Lake Atitlan any time of year.

Rainy Season is May through September.

Otherwise, Lake Atitlan has a very stable 23-26 degrees all year round.

But it does get cool in the evenings … especially December through February. It is not T-Shirt weather in the evenings. You will want to bring some warm tops for the colder evenings.



Panajachel is one of the largest towns on the lake. It is home to multiple NGO’s, expats, hostels, hotels, Spanish schools and real estate offices. It also hosts a large variety of restaurants and bars.

As most transport arrives in Panajachel, it acts as a ‘hub’ for new arrivals to gain access to the lake. But, in my opinion, other villages are nicer.

Santa Cruz:

Santa Cruz is the best location if you’re looking for awesome views, few tourists, and immersion into Mayan culture. It’s arguably one of the most relaxing spots on the lake.

Here you can find quaint bungalows for between US$200-300 a month depending on the season.

San Marcos:

San Marcos is the town for leftover and wannabe hippies. If you’re looking to experiment with an array of drugs, alternative medicines, and discover your deeper self, this is the place for you.

But if you would rather steer clear of the hippie scene, there are multiple long term rental options just outside the town.

Tzununa / Jaibalito:

In between these towns are little villages often containing just a few scattered lakeside homes. They are very quiet and isolated but still accessible by public boat.

The best way to find a rental is to explore these villages for yourself or check listings on the internet.

San Pedro:

San Pedro is a backpacker’s paradise, a gringo trail hot spot, and the place to party.

The centre of town is up a steep hill, so GRANDPAckers may not want to base themselves there … I suggest that GRANDPAckers look in or around Area B.

Area C is (mainly) where the young Backpackers party.


I suggest that you get online and book a cheap hotel for your immediate arrival.

You should be able to find one for under GTQ100 / night (US$13.50). If you don’t find one using the usual search engines:

Have a look yourself:


Thanks to the internet, you can easily find accommodation all around the lake. As well as the normal search engines, check out:

There are many places that aren’t listed on the internet. The best way to find them is by talking to expats.

I advise you NOT to rent directly from any of these sites. In my experience, they list properties (many owned by expats) targeting ‘westerners’ at ‘premium’ prices. They are taking advantage of the fact that the price looks reasonable (compared to where you currently live) and that you don’t know what the local prices really are.

You should be able to find a nicely furnished, western standard, 1-2 Bedroom rental for under GTQ2000 / month (US$270). I know of a 3 bedroom house that was being offered for only GTQ1500 / month but I did not get to see inside.

If you want to find a rental in a great location and for the cheapest price, you need to secure a place just as the rainy season is coming to an end. On average, the rainy season ends in early November, which means that you are going to have the best luck if you start your search in late September of early October.

Additionally, if you don’t mind the rainy season (which generally only consists of afternoon rains) you will be able to find some of the cheapest options just as the rainy season starts to pick up around May.


I strongly suggest that you Take Your Time. Once you are in Lake Atitlan, you can find the best deals.

Extend your short-term hotel room or Vacation Rental if you need to.

There is nothing wrong with living in a decent hotel room for 1 month so that you can find the right Long Term Rental for the next 11-12. In all likelihood, you may need to wait for your long-term rental to become free anyway.

Read my post on San Pedro – Guatemala – GRANDPAcking Costs for more detail about the cost of a short-term stay … this is what you can expect your costs to be until you find your long-term solution.

Initially, you should seriously consider booking into a Spanish School that offers ‘packaged accommodation’ with their courses. Through the Orbita Spanish School, I only paid GTQ85 / night (US$11.50) for a Studio Apartment with a Private Bathroom.

On the Boat Dock road between areas A & B you will find 3-4 cheap hotels. You can get a basic Double with ensuite for as little as GTQ1100 / month (GTQ35 / night).


You should find that all Utilities, Internet, and Cable TV are included in your long-term rental price. Especially if you are renting for a full year.

Electricity is usually extra but you only need to budget about GTQ250 / month. The temperate climate means that you do not need aircon. Some expats pay as little as GTQ75 / month.

You should be able to get a local cleaner in each week for GTQ10 / hour if you want one.


You should be able to walk everywhere.

If you cannot walk, for whatever reason, a Tuk Tuk anywhere around town will cost GTQ5 (for the trip … not per person).


Is Lake Atitlan somewhere to stay for several months as you alternate between home and / or other Retirement Location(s)? YES.

If you love spring, perfectly shaped volcanoes, friendly locals, peaceful days, and a low cost of living, the mystical Mayan Lake Atitlan is the place to run away to.

But, take note that, there is an underlying drug scene around Lake Atitlan (mostly marijuana). You do not have to ‘join in’ but more conservative GRANDPAckers may be put off by this.


THE GRANDPAcking ACID TESTCan a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.

If you were to retire full time in the Lake Atitlan Area, a realistic budget would be:

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