Formed 5,000 feet above sea level in the western highlands of Guatemala, the 11-mile long Lago de Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America. It plunges to depths of over 1,000 feet.
Three volcanoes dominate its southern fringe—Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro; the latter two emerging from the lakeside. The lake itself changes as wistful breezes or surly gales whip up its sleek, glassy surface. The ever-shifting light reflecting off its belly creates varying hues of metallic gray, emerald and turquoise.
Mayan culture prevails among the largely indigenous population of the various villages that dot the shoreline. Most of these settlements can be reached by dirt roads; others only by boat. The locals are mainly Kaqchikel or Tz’utujil and both retain their ancient languages and traditions. They also still wear the typical colorful, hand-woven garb of their ancestors.
Agriculture, primarily coffee and corn, underpin the local economy but tourism has become a top earner here. As one of Guatemala’s natural treasures and a highlight on any globetrotter’s itinerary, Lago de Atitlán is for many the world’s most beautiful lake.
Panajachel, the main town on the lake’s shore and the jumping off point to smaller lakeside villages, is about 90 miles from the popular colonial city of Antigua, my home until recently.
Last year I spent a chilled out Christmas with some friends in Santa Cruz la Laguna, a sleepy pueblo clinging to steeply sloping shores accessed only by boat or foot.
Each day I rose at dawn to watch the day awaken. I perched on jetties and ambled along narrow wooden walkways overhanging swollen waters, capturing the changing light with my camera. My favorite shots were daybreak views across the lake with two volcano peaks capped by cloud, like the one in the photo above.
Later, after a traditional Guatemalan breakfast of eggs, beans, cheese, plantains and tortillas all washed down with local, fresh coffee, I wandered the winding, forested trails that follow the contours of the lakeshore. Hilltop views of the lake and conical peaks beckoned us onward to indigenous pueblos scattered around the lake.
When we stopped at a simple eatery to quench our thirst with homemade limonada, eager, scruffy kids serenaded us by belting out hymns at the top of their lungs. Afterward, as we were leaving, they clamored to pose for our cameras.
This was just one of several short trips I made when I called Guatemala home. I was able to fund these trips by taking photos on location and then selling them to different publications (like International Living).
It was an incredible time, but this Christmas I’ve swapped Guatemala’s highlands for a balmy, palm-fringed beach in Thailand. There’s a whole new range of photos to take here…and endless opportunities to make money from them.
In the New Year, I’ll submit my Thailand shots to publications and also to online stock websites. That way, the money keeps flowing in and I get to continue to enjoy my travels…camera in hand. A photographer’s life is an attainable dream for anyone, anywhere. All you need is your camera, curiosity, a thirst for adventure.
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