Teach Through Educational Travel: Guatemala

Nestled in the Highlands of Guatemala is the deepest lake in Central America – Lake Atitlan (Lago de Atitlan). It is surrounded by volcanoes, and is itself volcanic in origin. Lake Atitlan is a caldera formed from an eruption almost 100,000 years ago. One of the most beautiful lakes in the world, it is endorheic (meaning, it does not flow to the ocean, which is a good thing), and is over a thousand feet deep in areas. The word Atitlan means “at the water” in Nahuatl. There is a large indigenous population around Lake Atitlan, and the area supports many crops, including coffee, corn, avocados, and many other dietary staples, as well as wildlife. The main way to get around both on the lake and to the 13 villages is by boat.There are many unique ecological features of Lake Atitlan. There’s the Xocomil, a wind that blows across the lake every day in late morning and afternoon. The lands surrounding Lake Atitlan are a National Park. In 1958, they stocked the lake with black bass – which quickly ate almost all of the native fish species – and helped to contribute to the extinction of a rare bird from this area, the Atitlan Grebe. However, damage from hurricanes in 2005 and 2010 has increased pollution in Lake Atitlan, due to a sewage treatment plant being destroyed, and most of the villages empty their sewage, trash, and agricultural runoff into the lake. The lake, due to this toxicity, is slowly dying.

Teach Through Educational Travel


  • Look at these pictures via satellite of the blooms of algae that have formed from polluted and toxic water. These blooms are cyanobacteria, which are toxic to animals (including humans). While some indigenous people are skimming and removing the blooms by hand, something larger needs to be done. Scientists and researchers are visiting and sharing their knowledge in the hopes of effecting change. Read of theproblems and possible solutions. How do you think scientists and governments around the world can work with these indigenous communities to save the lake?
  • The local Mayan indigenous population is trying to cope with the dying lake, as well as make their living from the land – and tourists. Read this article – especially the section on means of survival. What do you think the impact of tourism is on these communities? How can tourists travel sustainably, and make travel choices that have the least negative impact on the planet and the places we’re visiting?
  • Are you interested in archaeology, Mayan culture, and history? In 1997, local diver Roberto Samayoa discovered an underwater archaeological site, the historic city of Samabaj. Since then, he’s worked with a team of archaeologists and movie makers to document the excavation and study of Samabaj. Watch this trailer or the full movie, if you have the time. Then read the Director of Mayan Blue talk of the archaeological discoveries (and patience required to produce this documentary over five years). Where would you like to explore? Can you imagine finding an underwater city? How do you think the pollution of Lake Atitlan affects these underwater archaeological discoveries?


Article written by Sarah Wyland

Sarah Wyland
Sarah never gets in trouble for being on Facebook and Instagram at work, because its her job. As social media manager, she gets to tell the stories of travelers, teachers, and interesting places. Other titles she enjoys include dog mom to Knox, barre instructor, Crossfit athlete, avid reader, and world traveler.