Chances are, you’ve heard about Bitcoin Lake but have little knowledge about it––other than the fact that it likely involves Bitcoin adoption in a foreign land. That’s part of the reason why we decided to check it out: we knew something was brewing in Guatemala, and we wanted to see it for ourselves.
Having been repeat visitors of Bitcoin Beach in El Salvador and experienced life on a Bitcoin standard, we wanted to see how the blueprint was being applied in a neighboring country. We knew the project was still relatively new, so we minimized our expectations to maximize the impact of our time there.
We packed our carryons, got our lightning wallets ready, and set off on a new Bitcoin adventure. Little did we know it would surprise us in more than one way.
How the Bitcoin Lake Project Started and How It’s Going
It was late 2021 when Patrick Melder, MD, published a post on his blog about his plan to start Bitcoin Lake in Guatemala. He had been visiting Panajachel (Pana) on Lake Atitlán for years, and the minute he found out about Bitcoin Beach, he knew the town was fertile ground for that same project.
His mission involved three main goals: develop a Bitcoin circular economy, mine Bitcoin with wasted byproducts that generally pollute the lake, and get a local school to teach the youth about Bitcoin. Intimidating quest for most, but not if you’re passionate about the project and understand how much the community can benefit from it––and Patrick knew.
Just a little over a year later, Pana is a different place. Nearly 70 businesses have already been onboarded; the MyFirstBitcoin curriculum has been implanted at the Centro Educativo Josué, with the first class graduating in April 2023, and the mining facility, KaBoom, is working and running on used cooking oil.
Considering that it has all been achieved during a bear market, with no funding, and with a team of two, the whole quest becomes even more remarkable. It’s been a grassroots movement with Patrick and community leader Eliazar working hard to onboard merchants in Pana and beyond and spreading the word online. More recently, young bitcoiner Rudy has joined the team as a volunteer teacher for the MiPrimerBitcoin class.
In short, Bitcoin Lake is making tremendous progress, and it’s only just getting started.
What Is Bitcoin Lake Like, and How Much Adoption Is There?
Lake Atitlàn is one of Central America’s most popular tourist destinations and one of the most famous lakes in the world. Surrounded by three volcanos, thick jungle, several quaint little towns, and blessed with a mild dry climate throughout the year, it’s easy to see why.
We spent an entire week there. We set up camp in Pana, where it all started, and took day trips to some of the nearby towns. The first thing we noticed in Pana was the striking number of Bitcoin signs at the entrance of shops around town. From cafes to restaurants, hotels to travel agencies, souvenir shops to laundromats, tuk-tuks to boats, they were all flashing their orange sign. Like a kid in a candy store, I couldn’t help but get a little giddy every time I saw one.
Bitcoin adoption couldn’t be more critical, both around the lake and in the rest of the country. In Pana, 90% of the shops that accept Bitcoin are unbanked, which makes sense if you look at the bigger picture. Half of Guatemala’s population lives below the poverty line, meaning they’re unbanked and excluded from the financial system. As such, cash is king. In bigger cities and touristy areas, the chances of paying with credit or debit cards are higher, but so are the fees: 5-10% is the norm.
Adoption has been slowly spreading to the neighboring towns. We only found a few shops that accepted it in hippie San Marcos; however, they have the only (very hidden) Bitcoin ATM in the area. The fees are pretty great: 0% to buy (a great incentive to HODL!) and 4.5% to sell.
There are a few bitcoin merchants in San Juan and San Pedro (according to our trusty BTC Beach Wallet map), but we got too distracted exploring the area and taking pictures to check them out. Plus, we didn’t want to miss the boat back to Pana! No better excuse to go back, right?
What Do The Locals Think About Bitcoin?
From our experience talking to merchants around Pana, the general opinion of Bitcoin seems relatively positive. Most have either already adopted or heard of it––or they’ve had at least one conversation with Eliazar, a.k.a. “the Bitcoin man.”
Fernando, a coffee shop owner, told us he recently started accepting Bitcoin, and even though he’s still far from becoming a maxi, he made it clear he intends to save all his sats.
Another coffee shop owner, Antonio, had a similar story to share. He’s been accepting Bitcoin for months and saving all his hard-earned sats, but recently, he made a major decision: instead of opening a savings account with his bank, he’s going all-in on Bitcoin. If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is!
Nevertheless, there is still a lot of myth-busting to do. A common thought among skeptics was that they couldn’t accept nor own Bitcoin because they didn’t have a bank account. Similarly, a business owner in San Marcos said he was curious about it but thought he couldn’t afford to accept it like he couldn’t afford to accept card payments. You can imagine our enthusiasm to tell them otherwise and share some eye-opening facts with them.
Some also said that Bitcoin seemed too complicated or that they were too old to start learning. That’s part of the reason why the Bitcoin Lake team decided to start a monthly meet-up to educate the locals and help onboard new merchants.
Luckily, we had enough time in Pana to attend one, and it did not disappoint. Rudy gave a brief introductory presentation, and Eliazar helped the attendees set up their Bitcoin Beach Wallet, the most used lightning wallet in town.
We joined in and helped a banker set up his wallet. He knew the basic characteristics of Bitcoin but was unfamiliar with the lightning network. Watching his face light up in amazement as we transferred sats to his wallet instantly and with zero fees was exciting as it was rewarding.
What the Future Looks Like for Bitcoin Lake
Looking back at our time here and all the progress made by the team in only a year, we can’t help but feel optimistic about what’s to come. Bitcoin is hope, and you can certainly feel it at Lake Atitlàn.
Given the right conditions and energy put into it, Bitcoin adoption can have a snowball effect. With El Salvador boasting great economic success since implementing the Bitcoin Law right next door, the Guatemalan people are bound to realize equal financial inclusion and social prosperity are an option for them too.
Between the continuous work of the Bitcoin Lake team and the constant influx of tourists, especially those willing to spend sats, adoption will undoubtedly grow. If you then consider that we’re just a year away from the next halving, it’s easy to see a bright future for this project.
This grassroots movement has shown immense potential in a short amount of time, and we firmly believe they could achieve even bigger goals with enough help (all adventurous and hard-working Bitcoiners apply!).
Safe to say, Bitcoin Lake and its people hold a special place in our hearts, and we cannot wait to go back and see how much more they’ve grown.