115km (71 miles) W of Guatemala City; 37km (23 miles) S of Chichicastenango; 80km (50 miles) NW of Antigua

Panajachel is the gateway to Lake Atitlán. It's the largest city on the lake's shore and the most easily accessible by car and bus from the rest of Guatemala. Boats leave from Panajachel throughout the day to the various towns and villages that ring Lake Atitlán. Many, including me, find Panajachel a bit too chaotic and crowded, so the quieter villages and isolated hotels around the lake are your best bet. Still, Pana, as it's most commonly known, offers a wealth of dining, shopping, and tour options, and you can't beat the views, with the three major volcanoes -- San Pedro, Toliman, and Atitlán -- clearly visible from anywhere along the lakeshore.

Panajachel, and the rest of the north shore of Atitlán, is a predominantly Kaqchiquel Maya area. During the Spanish Conquest, the Kaqchiquel allied themselves with the Spaniards against their Tz'utujil neighbors. The tension is still present, though Maya from the different villages around the region all come to Panajachel to sell their wares.

Gringotenango -- Panajachel was one of the earliest and most popular spots on the "hippie trail" of backpacking travelers who made their way up and down Central America in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Many stayed, and this prevalent expatriate population has earned Panajachel the rather derogatory nickname of Gringotenango. The suffix tenango means "village" or "place of," which makes Gringotenango "the Place of Gringos."