Santiago Atitlan is the largest of the lake communities and lies on the southern side of the lake in an inlet between the volcanoes of Toliman and San Pedro. The community has a strong indigenous Tz’utujil Mayan lifestyle. The town was founded by the Franciscans in 1547 and built a church n 1568 dedicated to Saint James the Apostile, the towns patron saint. The town is mainly a fishing and farming community with coffee and garden vegetables the most important crops. There is a significant artisan community with artists specializing in oils and tempera painting, woodworking and weaving. Canoe building of the traditional cayoucos is also an industry in Santiago.
The women from the nearby villages wear long purple striped wrap around skirts and tops (huipiles) embroidered with colorful woven birds and flowers with a belt. The women also have a shawl or scarf that they wear across their backs or twisted on their heads to form a base for carrying items on their heads. Come of the men wear the traditional white striped embroidered pants with a colorgul woven belt and a straw or felt hat and jacket.
Our only way to Santiago is by boat; and the boat that goes to Santiago leaves from San Pedro. We first have to take a boat to San Pedro then go to the second dock to catch the boat to Santiago. The dock at Santiago is newer and in better condition that many of the other docks of the lake communities. But its drawback is dozens of children that immediately swarm around you as you depart from the boat trying to sell you trinkets. Ignoring them is almost impossible but we manage to get to a tuk tuk and have the driver take us up the hill to the center of the town and the Church of Santiago. The Church of Iglesia Parroqarial Santiago Apostol. We no more than get out of the tuk tuk when the same children that approached us at the dock appear and again begin their sales pitch.
Inside the church of Saint James the Apostle the side walls are lined with various carved and painted statues. Once a year the women of Santiago weave outfits and dress the various statues in the church in traditional styles. The church was quie
t and had a beautiful courtyard. Decorations on the alter were a combination of Mayan and Catholic symbols.
When we exited the church the children swarmed us again and followed us downhill towards the docks through a very commercial tourist area. The only relief from the hawkers was when we entered a shop or restaurant then they waited patiently for us to again enter the street. Thankfully as we got to the dock there was a boat getting ready to depart for San Pedro . Unfortunately the Hawkers made visiting Santiago a less than enjoyable experience.