In the centre of Lago Petén Itzá lays Flores, an island town of red corrogated rooftops and colourful, painted buildings. The island, connected to the main land town of Santa Elena by a causeway, was the last major Mayan outpost to resist the incoming onslaught of the Spanish conquistadors until finally falling in 1697, having it’s huge Pre-Colombian pyramids destroyed in the aftermath. Today Flores is visited by travellers from all over the world due to it’s proximity to Tikal, the most famous Maya ruin in Guatemala. It is one of the safest spots in all of Petén and an attraction in itself – the colourful, red roofed colonial buildings cobbled streets are worth visiting.
The tourist busses leave from the water taxi terminal in Belize City at both 9.30am and 2.30pm, stopping only at the Belize – Guatemala border and then once again in Santa Elena. from Santa Elena you will be transferred to a minibus for the drive over the causeway. It takes around 5 hours at a cost of ~$15.
Our bus driver insisted that the border officers on the Guatemala side of the crossing would ask you for a small (unofficial) fee and that if you refused, your passport would be detained. In reality, I was asked for this payment but pretended to not understand – the guard eventually gave up and handed me back my documents. Result.
From Within Guatemala
As with most destinations in Guatemala, it is relatively easy to reach Flores. Most hostels and hotels on the backpacker trail will offer the option of booking a seat in a mini bus at a price that is often the same as taking the local option, sometimes cheaper. I found that hostels in Lanquin, Antigua and Lake Atitlan all offered fairly reasonably priced transport. Minibuses from Semuc Champey/Lanquin take around 8 hours at a cost of anywhere between 80 and 125Q.
If you are heading to Flores by public bus from either Lake Atitlan or Antigua, you will need to hop in a collectivo or chicken bus to the terminal in Guatemala City. Make sure that you buy your tickets from the official office in the station and not from touts – they will often sell you the worst seats at inflated prices.
You will have the option of first class or second class busses. It’s recommended that you take first class if you can afford the slightly higher price as the bus won’t stop along the way to pick up people waiting by the side of the road and should arrive a couple of hours faster.
Linea Dorada runs a first class service from Guatemala City at 10pm every night, arriving in Santa Elena for 6am ($30). Cheaper options leave at 6.30am, 11am and 8pm ($24).
Where to stay
Most travellers head straight to Los Amigos as soon as they make it to the island. As the main backpacker hub, it has pretty much all the amenities you could want; internet access, book exchange and on-site bar/restaurant. The best thing about this place? It has an open courtyard filled with trees, fountains and hammocks giving you the feeling that you’re hanging out in the jungle. One word of advice though – They have been known to overly inflate the prices of their tours and transport at the in house travel office so it may be worth shopping around in town before booking anything here.
Prices: Dorm (Basic 80Q/Deluxe 90Q), Private room (Basic 200Q/ Deluxe (300Q)
Hotel Mirador del Lago
I arrived in Flores a little too late to get a space at Los Amigos – the only room available was a 300Q per night private. Refusing to pay this, I lugged my backpack back to the main drag and wandered in to Hotel Mirador del Lago to meet the slightly odd owner of this place who shuffled though the narrow corridors and ushered me in to a dingy, basic, twin room. However, the water is hot and a private room only cost 140Q a night, 70Q each. The hotel’s bar has a great view out over the lake and you can use their kayaks for free. If you don’t mind sparse rooms with the occasional ant infestation, this place is great for the price.
Prices: A bed in a 4 bed dorm is 50Q per night ($7/£5.60), Private rooms are 140Q a night for a double or twin ($20/£16). There is also the option of a triple room at a cost of 200Q per room ($27/£21.50)
Green Monkey Hostel
Another cheap and basic option. There isn’t anything to really distinguish Green Monkey from the island’s other hostels, but there also isn’t really anything to deter you from staying here either. This place seems to echo with the noise from the street but if you can put up with that, it is fine and you can even take advantage of the free paddle board rentals. There is even an ATM on site.
Prices: A bed in a 4 or 6 person dorm is 65Q per night ($9/£7.20). Private rooms are 140Q a night for a double ($20/£16), 230Q for a triple ($32/£25), or 330Q for a private 4 person room ($45/£36)
Where to Eat & Drink
With the island being the size that it is, its pretty easy to stumble across a cheap cafe or restaurant. Both Los Amigos and Hotel Mirador del Lago have eateries on site but if you want to go further afield, here’s some places I can recommend.
Sky Bar (Calle Union 20)
A rooftop bar with a great view over the lake and the perfect place to watch the sunset with a cocktail. The food/service is pretty average but it’s worth eating here for the panorama of Lago Petén Itzá. It’s best to avoid Sky Bar in bad weather as a storm rolled in when I was there causing the umbrellas, canopies and chairs to all whip across the terrace.
San Telmo Restaurant (Calle Union)
A colourful little restaurant decorated with antiques and trinkets from all over the world. Owned by Argentine chef Silvana, it serves great vegetarian and vegan options as well as cuisine from all over the world. Probably the best place I ate in Flores.
Cool Beans (Calle 15 de Septiembre)
Great cafe with an outdoor space that serves large, cheap breakfasts, good coffee and smoothies. I didn’t eat lunch or dinner here but I heard great things. The hammocks out back afford great views of the lake so it would be a shame not to hang out in one while sampling the cafes craft beers.
For a cheaper option, there are street food sellers on the island. Each day at around 4pm stalls will be set up on the west side of Flores selling various dishes and drinks at a good price. If you wander down Calle 15 de Septiembre from mid afternoon you may also stumble across women selling tortillas at around 5Q ($0.70/£0.55).
There is a fairly well stocked supermarket “Fotomart” at Calle 30 although I found the prices to be a little expensive. If you’re willing to walk a little further there is another supermarket across the causeway on the ground floor of the Mundo Maya International mall.
Best Things To Do
The majority of travellers use Flores as a base for exploring the ruins of Tikal or adventurous treks around Peten. However, Flores isn’t just a place to rest your head after a day of sampling Mayan architecture – It has it’s charms and is worth digging in to a little deeper.
Walk the Island
Due to the compact nature of Flores, it only takes around 15-20 minutes to walk the perimeter of the island. It’s worth a wander to see the colourful houses and hang out with locals in Parque Central. In the early evening, the island’s residents usually go for a dip in the lake so why not join them to wash away the dirt and sweat after a day of trekking around Tikal.
The majority of hostels and hotels will let you take a kayak for free so make the most of this and go for a paddle around Lago Petén Itzá.
Jorge’s Rope Swing
Jorge runs a small bar and restaurant on the North shore of the lake, a short boat ride or kayak away from Flores. The main reason to come here: The awesome rope swing that Jorge has set up. Jorge runs a boat service from Flores at Q30 each both ways for two people, five or more Q20 each. There is a charge of 10Q to use the rope swing.
A huge number of agencies in Flores will offer a tour to Tikal, usually with a guide (which is definitely recommended). It’s best to shop around as there are huge discrepancies in the prices offered by these companies. Be aware that the official entrance price is 150Q for a day ticket with an additional 100Q if you want to arrive for sunrise, before opening hours – don’t let agencies over charge you for entry. Generally expect to pay 100Q per person for transport and a guide.
El Miridor is one of the oldest Maya cities and has the biggest pyramid in the world. Before embarking in this trip be aware that it is no walk in the park; it is a 5 or 6 day hike with some days consisting of an 8 hour/30km trek through dense jungle. Los Amigos offer trips at $ 250 USD per person for groups of two people and more. The price to go solo is $ 500 USD. This includes 3 meals a day, camping gear and mules to carry luggage and equipment.
Tips & Advice
The two ATMs in Flores next to Hotel Petén and at the supermarket allow cash withdraws from Visa cards. There is also an ATM in Green Monkey Hostel although I am not sure what cards this accepts. If you have a Mastercard or Maestro card you may have to cross the causeway to use the ATM in the supermarket on the ground floor of the Mundo Maya International mall. There are also a few banks in the shopping centre.
Be aware that when travelling in from Belize you will be transferred to a minibus to cross the causeway on to the island. The mini bus company will then drop you off outside their ticket office and try to sell you tours. Do not buy tours from them. They severely mark up prices and a couple of people I met ended up paying double the price I paid for a trip to Tikal.
Someone known locally as Scarface due to the prominent scar across, you guessed it, his face has been known to sell fake or overpriced tickets to unsuspecting tourists. If a huge scar across a face doesn’t signify a villian, I don’t know what does. He often hops aboard in coming tour busses to try and peddle his tours. Avoid at all costs.
Always shop around different agencies for tours.
Have you visited Flores? Was this guide helpful? Let me know in the comments!
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