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Lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán) is a large lake in the Guatemalan Highlands. It is surrounded by volcanoes and towns and villages of the Maya people. The lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. It is renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The forests surround the lake are an important habitat of the Guatemalan national bird, the Quetzal. The lake surroundings also support extensive plantations, with communities harvesting coffee, rubber, sugar cane, macadamia, tea, bananas and lumber. The region first saw volcanic activity about 11 million years ago, and since then has seen four separate episodes of volcanic growth and caldera collapse, the most recent of which began about 1.8 million years ago and culminated in the formation of the present caldera. The lake now fills a large part of the caldera, reaching depths of up to 600 metres. The lake is surrounded by many villages, in which Maya culture is still prevalent and traditional dress is worn. The Maya people of Atitlán are predominantly Tzutuhil and Cakchiquel. During the Spanish conquest of the Americas, the Cakchiquel initially allied themselves with the invaders to defeat their historic enemies the Tzutuhil and Quiché Maya, but were themselves conquered and subdued when they refused to pay tribute to the Spanish. Santiago Atitlán is the best known of the lakeside villages, and is noted for its worship of Maximón, an idol formed by the fusion of traditional Mayan saints, Catholic saints and conquistador legends. An effigy of Maximón resides in a different house each year, being moved in a grand procession during Semana Santa. Several towns in Guatemala have similar cults, most notably the cult of San Simón in Zuníl.While Maya culture is very prominent in many lakeside towns, the largest town on the shores, Panajachel, has been overwhelmed over the years by tourists. It attracted many hippies in the 1960s, and although the war caused many foreigners to leave, the end of hostilities in 1996 saw visitor numbers boom again, and the town is entirely reliant on tourism today.

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Additional Photos by Paolo Motta (Paolo) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 3739 W: 144 N: 8840] (41258)
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