Panajachel is a town in the southwestern Guatemalan Highlands, in the department of Sololá. It serves as the administrative centre for the surrounding municipality of the same name. The altitude is . The population is 11,142.
The town of Panajachel is located on the shore of Lake Atitlán, and has become a centre for the tourist trade of the area as it provides a base for visitors crossing the lake to visit other towns and villages.
In the 16th century, during the period of the Spanish
conquest of Guatemala, the shore of the lake was the scene of a battle in which the Spanish and their Kaqchikel
allies defeated the Tz'utujils
. The Spanish set up a church and monastery in Panajachel soon afterward, and used the town as a centre to convert the indigenous people of the region to the Roman Catholic
faith. The original façade of the church still stands, and is considered one of the gems of the colonial style in Guatemala.
Panajachel is packed with hotels, small restaurants, lively nightspots and has several schools to learn Spanish. It has been overwhelmed in recent years by tourists
, with souvenir
shops and stalls lining the main street (Calle Santander). Significantly, the town does offer several features of eco-cultural interest. The restored 16th century Catholic church, San Francisco Assis
is the enduring feature of a Franciscan mission established here to Christianize the indigenous population on the north shore. Its stone faced, stepped-up facade is unique. Of more contemporary interest are the Museo Lacustre Atitlan
on downtown Avenida Santander and two ecological/cultural attractions on the edge of town, The San Buenaventura Nature Reserve and Centro Cultural Los Encuentros
. The Museo Lacustre
houses a professionally organized collection of rare archeological artifacts recovered from the Lake's bed. The Nature Reserve is an extensive tract dedicated to the preservation of flora and fauna native to the Lake basin eco-system. Los Encuentros
is a relatively small, private center dedicated to the promotion of local Mayan culture. It holds the most extensive tutorial medicinal plant garden in the Lake Atitlan Basin and a modest gallery which showcases the variety of styles employed by indigenous artists of the Lake. The staff of the center also facilitates encounters with indigenous shamans, painters, and weavers in their own settings.
The town attracted many hippies
in the 1960s, but the numbers of foreign visitors plummeted during the Guatemalan Civil War
. After the war ended, tourists started coming back, and Panajachel's economy is once again primarily based on tourism.
The town is nicknamed Gringotenango
("place of the gringo
") by some, in reference to the number of tourists who visit and the foreigners who choose to live in Panajachel, but most people call it Pana
Panajachel was seriously affected by Hurricane Stan
in October 2005 with a major mudslide
destroying about 100 homes along the river.