At the invitation of Mercado Global, a nonprofit organization dedicated to lifting indigenous women out of poverty through job opportunities and access to educational workshops with sustainable and ethical fashion brands, we spoke with their Guatemala Director Lidia García.  From Lake Atitlán, she oversees the cooperatives of female artisans collaborating with Mercado Global to create handmade heirlooms that not only maintain and promote local Guatemalan traditions internationally but also provide financial independence for these women. In this conversation, she shares with us the local wisdom and magic behind one of Central America’s most idyllic destinations.

What might surprise a foreigner about Lake Atitlán?

What usually surprises visitors the most is not only its impressive natural beauty, but also the colorful crafts and traditions around it, which are the result of the resilience of the indigenous communities through generations.

What is a workday like at Lake Atitlán?

The day always starts early, with household chores and tasks. The mothers get their children organized, drop them off at school and then gather in the workshops to continue developing their skills. It is always a day of collaboration, creativity and filled with purpose.

How does this destination inspire your work?

It inspires peace and beauty, and it’s also a driving force for our organization’s mission. Its majestic mountains remind us of the strength and resilience of the indigenous women we serve, and motivate us to continue empowering and creating a positive change in their communities.

What is the most beautiful thing about your region?

Of course, its unparalleled landscape, which is enjoyed with what the locals call xocomil (from the Maya Kaqchikel language) which describes a strong wind that is characteristic of the lake. One cannot overlook the vibrant culture of the indigenous communities thriving on its shores. The textiles, the rich oral tradition, and the warm hospitality make it truly special.

How would you describe the locals here?

The inhabitants of Atitlán are incredibly resilient, resourceful, and deeply connected to their cultural heritage. They have a strong sense of community and great pride in their traditions, which one can witness in their daily lives and interactions.

What are the most representative crafts of the region?

Mainly, traditional Maya textiles are made using backstrap loom and pedal loom weaving techniques, embroidery, and pottery. These crafts showcase the artistic talent of the local women and serve as a link to their cultural identity and heritage.

Share a local secret.

The hidden trails that lead to stunning lake views. On these paths one can explore the area’s natural beauty away from the tourist crowds and discover hidden gems off the beaten path.

Favorite word or slang.

One of my favorite words that embodies the spirit of our work is solidarity. It reflects the sense of unity and support that defines our organization, as well as the relationships we cultivate within the community.

What’s something everyone should know before arriving?

Before visiting Lake Atitlán, it is important to understand and respect the traditions and cultural customs of the indigenous communities. Take the time to learn about their history, language, and way of life– it will enrich the experience and foster mutual understanding.

What is most unique about Lake Atitlán?

It is special not only for its natural beauty, but also its rich cultural heritage and the community that surrounds it. It is a place where tradition meets modernity and indigenous wisdom coexists with global influences, creating a unique and dynamic tapestry of life.

You have only 48 hours to visit Lake Atitlán, what must be included in the itinerary?

You must experience a sunrise boat ride on the lake, explore the markets of the nearby towns, visit a women’s cooperative to see how traditional crafts are made, hike to a panoramic viewpoint, and enjoy the delicious flavors of authentic Mayan cuisine.

What is the most representative place in Lake Atitlán?

One of the most representative places is the town of Santiago Atitlán, known for its incredible cultural richness, historic church, and traditional markets. It offers a glimpse into the daily life and traditions of the local Maya Tz’utujil people.

Where to eat the best typical dish?

The best place to eat typical dishes is at local eateries or family-run restaurants, where you can enjoy authentic Mayan cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients. I recommend “7 Caldos,” a restaurant located in Panajachel. Try dishes like pepián, kak’ik, or tamales wrapped in banana leaves.

Images courtesy of  Mercado Global.