The town of Flores on Lago Petén Itzá
Flores is a town in Petén, Guatemala. The town proper is an island on Lago Petén Itzá, connected to land by a causeway, on the other side of which lie the twin towns Santa Elena and San Benito. All three are often referred to as Flores, and are grouped in one article here accordingly.
For many, the main reason to visit Flores is its proximity to Tikal, the most famous Mayan ruins in Guatemala, or as a starting point for trips around Petén. But the city itself is a wonder — dense with colonial, red-roofed buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, a historic church and Spanish plaza, and restaurants that are easy to stumble upon walking the city's charming streets. Most will find that this island city is more than just a take-off point, but a memorable attraction in itself.
Flores is a quiet and peaceful place, and probably one of the safest places in the sometimes wild north. Santa Elena and San Benito require a little more caution, but offer a more authentic experience of a Guatemalan town, complete with traffic, litter and street food.
Mundo Maya International Airport (IATA: FRS) is just outside Flores and is the only other international airport in the country aside from Guatemala City. This modern facility with its 10,000 ft. runway is courtesy of the US CIA. TAG and TACA Airlines  both run daily flights from Guatemala City, but are often delayed in both directions.
Tropic Air  also offer an inexpensive option from Belize City in a light aircraft which, if you're lucky, flies low providing amazing views of the rainforest. They have daily flights from Philip Goldson International Airport to Flores at 8:30AM and 3:00PM, with return flights at 9:45AM and 4:15PM.
TACA used to fly from Cancun.
Continental Airlines  flies once weekly between Flores and Houston, TX on a Saturday, though service is currently suspended.
A taxi from the airport to Flores costs Q20 (or Q10 per person, whichever is larger). It is about two kilometers from the airport to the Flores causeway.
Shuttles to Tikal meet every flight.
Buses from Guatemala City and Belize City as well as various other destinations all over the country stop at the Fuente del Norte bus station in Santa Elena, a five minute auto-rickshaw ride across the causeway from Flores island (Q5).
From Guatemala City (travel time: 8 to 10 hours), you have the following options:
- Altobuses del Norte (ADN), 8a Avenida 16-41 Zona 1, Guatemala, ☎ 2251-0610 | 2251-0079 | 2251-0050, . New First Class (express) buses for Q180 (Sep. 2010), leave Guatemala City at 10:00pm - on Fridays and Sundays, there's also a bus at 9pm. The final stop is Santa Elena, but the bus will go to Flores to drop passengers who wish to stay there. These are comfortable buses, and the price includes a drink and a snack. The seats are two across on the left and solo on the right. Try to get a seat to the back, as you will be far from the driver's and assistent's talk. Keep in mind that the seats have different spacing for the legs, so it's worth asking to check the bus before choosing your seat.
- Linea Dorada, ☎ 7767-5198, . Runs first class buses leaving Guatemala City at 9:00pm for US$30,"first class" buses at 10:00am and 12:00pm for US$22 and an economy bus leaving at 10:00pm for US$16. Get your tickets from the official office, as the touts will sell you crappy seats in the back row for double the money and leave you wondering why all the other passengers get drinks and food, there is no food or drinks in the economy and first class buses, they make several stops along the way, and usually arrive with an hour or two delay.
- Fuente del Norte, . Has 15+ departures from Guatemala City per day. Most of these are local runs with second-class buses (older pullman coaches without air conditioning), but they also operate a few first-class express buses (with toilets and air conditioning) leaving from Guatemala City at 10:00am, 2:00pm, and 10:30pm, and a deluxe bus leaving from Guatemala City at 9:00pm. Tickets range from Q110 for a second-class bus to Q160 for a first-class bus to Q200 for the best seats on the luxury bus. Get one of the downstairs "camitas" and bring either a sweater or blanket if you are going overnight.
From Cobán (travel time: 5 to 7 hours), there are a few through Fuente Del Norte local buses, or you can use the frequent public microbuses (colectivos) that operate along the highway between Coban and Santa Elena. If you choose the microbus option (total fare: Q70) you will have to change to another microbus at Sayaxché after you take a quick boat or maybe the ferry across a river. The colectivo option may actuelly be quicker, because if there is a backup for the ferry, you can quickly pay a couple Quetzals for a boat ride across.
There are also tourists shuttles offering direct door-to-door service from Flores to Cobán for around Q100. The road from Cobán is very scenic; it's a smooth paved ride all the way (though windy for about an hour out of Coban).
From Belize City, you have the following options:
- There are tourist shuttle buses from the Belize City water taxi terminal to Santa Elena: Linea Dorada  at 9:30am or San Juan Express at 9:30am and 2:30pm, US$15-US$20, travel time: 5 hours. Note that these buses do not make any stops in Belize; if you are travelling from San Ignacio or Belmopan, you must use the option below.
- Take a local Belize bus to Benque Veijo (3 km from the border). Then take a taxi to the border, walk across, and continue to the Melchor de Mencos bus station (less than 1 km from the border), where there are frequent microbuses and the occasional pullman coach to Santa Elena. Approximately US$12; travel time: 6 hours.
There is also a direct bus from Honduras and El Salvador. See the "Get Out" section below for details on travel to Palenque in Mexico.
Walking is the most common way to get around, and circling the whole island takes about 15 minutes. It is an easy walk to Santa Elena and San Benito from Flores. Otherwise, auto-rickshaws, vans and buses are an option. The standard fee for an auto-rickshaw in the Flores/Santa Elena/San Benito area is Q5, but if you have a lot of luggage or squeeze in two people, the fare is 10.
The towns of San José and San Andrés, located on the northern shores of the lake, can be reached by hiring an expensive boat. The once-regular passenger boat service has been reduced following the improvement of the road - it's now easier to take the regular van or bus service there from the Santa Elena market, which costs Q7 and takes around 30 minutes. These buses leave when they are full, and will be packed to capacity and often beyond! A chicken bus goes once an hour; these are more comfortable and slightly cheaper at Q6, but take longer.
There are regular boats to San Miguel (Q4), a small village directly north of Flores. There is a gap between hotels east of Hotel Doña Luisa at the most northern part of the island.
Boats are moored behind Hotel Santana, and run to Petencito Zoo and are available for lake tours. Prices are not fixed, and haggling with the boatmen is a must.
Ak'tun Kan: The face of the Lacandón
- Ak'tun Kan, (La Cueva de la Serpiente, the cave of the serpent). Take the main road through Santa Elena, turn left at the end of the road and follow signs. It is clearly marked. From the causeway in Flores, it is a 30 minute walk, or taxis are available for Q20. Inside the cave are many formations that resemble various objects, such as animals, people, and of course ordinary stalagmites and stalactites. Most of the relics are labeled (in Spanish) and will be identified by your guide. Q15 (including guide).
- ARCAS (Asociaciòn de Rescate y Conservaciòn de Vida Silvestre), ☎ +502 926 0946, . A wildlife rescue center dedicated to the prevention of animal trafficking. There are possibilities to offer your services here as a volunteer . The center operates its own boat service from Flores, with boats leaving at 8AM and 3PM. Alternatively, take a boat to the Petencito Zoo, which is located near by.
- Petencito Zoo. A small zoo that is home to monkeys, jaguars and raccoons as well as some animals rescued by ARCAS. The zoo is a 10 minute boat ride from Flores (inquire behind Hotel Santana).
- Volunteer Peten, San Andres (on the other side of the lake from Flores), ☎ (502)5711-0040, . An excellent volunteering organization with opportunities to work at an ecological park, building schools, or doing other community projects and education.
- Cinema, Calle Central (near Las Puertas restaurant). A small cinema with removable chairs and roll-down screen that shows all kind of movies (sometimes very good titles).
- Rent. Canoes and bicycles are available in Flores.
- Hire a small covered boat. Travel across Lake Peten Itza to visit the town of San Jose. It takes about 40 minutes while enjoying the beautiful aquatic scenery and bird life.
- Swimming. Take a swim in the warm waters of Lake Peten Itza and refresh yourself on a hot day.
- Culture. Take a glance at the dyed white church of Flores which rises like a crown on the bank of the centre. Visit the Centro de Informaciones sobre la Naturaleza, Cultura y Artesanías de Petén (CIN-CAP) next door, an interesting museum and centre of information in the ancient “Castillo de Arismendi“ (Castle of Arismendi).
Spanish Academy "Dos Mundos"
- Spanish Academy Dos Mundos, Calle Fraternidad, ☎ +502-58302060, . This first Spanish Academy was opened up on the small, charming and peaceful island Flores in January 2008. Experience two different worlds - Be charmed by the Spanish language and learn more about the incredible world of the Mayans! The school offers one-on-one or group classes with competent local teachers, home stays with Guatemalan families, entertaining activities after school and opportunities to do volunteer work at an orphanage, a nursing home and a community project.
- Jades Yaxha, La Casa del Jade, Calle 30 de junio, . Exhibits a well selected assortment of jewellery and numerous copies from masks, which were found in tombs of kings or other important Mayan personalities. Jade had an incomparable value for the Mayans and symbolized eternal life. Important personalities were buried with a great amount of jewellery made of jade in order to guarantee them a privileged treatment in the new world. The Shop is worth a visit to have a look at the masks and Jade pyramides.
- Chile Salsa. The locally produced, ecological Salsa de Chile Habanero (Guatemaya brand) is really good. You can buy it at ECAO, Calle de 15 Septiembre, tel: +502 7926-0628, or try it at Las Puertas restaurant (you have to ask for it). Maya Ik is also an excellent salsa.
- Woodwork. The road to Tikal between Ixlú and El Remate is the best place to find finely crafted woodwork, the typical souvenir of Petén.
- Textiles. Although more expensive than in other parts of the country, Flores offers a good selection. Be sure to bargain hard though as prices are hiked for Gringos!
You can also get souvenirs in the shops in Flores, but the prices and selection are better elsewhere in the country, so only worth checking out if this is your only stop in Guatemala.
Two ATMs in Flores next to Hotel Petén and at the supermarket "Fotomart" at Calle 30 de junio allow cash withdraws from Visa cards. More ATMs can be found at the airport, as well as across the street from the airport. They support Mastercard as well as Maestro cards. Cross the street towards the Maxi Bodega supermarket and enter the mall left of the supermarket entrance. The ATM is a few meters down on the right side.
Wild animals are a common item on the menus in Petén. However, many of these species are killed illegally, so consuming them is detrimental to to the local ecology.
- Cafe Arqueológico Yax-ha, Avenida de 15 Septiembre, . Enjoy the variety of delicios Guatemalan, international and Pre- Hispanic dishes. After having placed your order, you can have a look at our library with lots of books about the Mayan culture. Additionally, we hint at the photo exhibition of new and ancient pictures of various archaeological sites
- La Luna, Calle 30 de Junio. Owned by a Spanish man and his German wife is one of the premier places to eat on Flores. In the high season (especially Easter and Christmas) it is advisable to reserve a table in advance. Try pimientos rellenos (stuffed peppers), suprema de pollo (chicken), puyaso (steak) en salsa de crema y pimienta negra, or the vegetarian calebacitas (stuffed pumpkins). For a European flair try the Cordon Blue. For dessert, vanilla ice-cream with moras calientes (a relative of the raspberry) is highly recommended. Main dishes Q40-90.
- Las Puertas, corner of Avenida Santa Ana and Calle Central. This is a great place for breakfast and lunch. It is run by Cristina, a Chilean know for her support of local wildlife and her organic, safe food. Try the panone with homemade bread and choice of chicken, ham, cheese, steak or vegetarian fare. The chicken in cream sauce and the Pasta "Survivor" make this every rich local's favorite restaurant. The restaurant also serves a variety of licuados (fruit smoothies) of which you should definitely have the strawberry (with water instead of milk). She also offers wild honey harvested from the Tikal jungle and natural "chicle" chewing gum, harvested by Mayan farmers still today. This is a pleasant place to relax with a drink in the evening - in addition to the usual selection of cocktails, licuado with rum is also available. Films are shown at 4PM and 7PM and there are also live music sessions. It is highly recommended.
- Cool Beans / El Cafe Chilero, near the causeway by the Flores bus stop. Gets great reports for its coffee, baked goods (including brown bread) and filling breakfasts. Open daily at 6AM, breakfast for around Q15.
- Mayan Princess, Avenida Reforma. 12PM-10:30PM. Shows films at 4PM and 8PM. Main dishes Q40, drinks Q10-20.
- El Tucán, Calle Centro América. This restaurant is named after a tame toucan that lived on the premises and that had a habit of stealing the guests vegetables, although the place lost some of its charm when the toucan flew away in the spring of 2004. The restaurant serves Mexican food and illegally hunted wild game.
- El Zotz, Calle 15 de Septiembre. A typical breakfast and lunch restaurant.
- La Albahaca, Calle 30 de Junio, ☎ 502 78675449. 6PM. Serves homemade pasta, chocolate mousse and tiramisu, crusty homemade bread, delicious salads, Angus beef, fish and shrimp.
- Restaurant Mirador del Lago. Located on the square, it serves good, inexpensive food.
- Captain Turtle. Good food for a good price. Nice place to sit outside and watch the sunset. Has room for big groups. 45Q for chicken burritos. The difference between a small or medium pizza is big! The small one is really small.
There's a supermarket on Calle 30 de Junio opposite Hotel Petén that is open 24hrs, and a grocery store opposite La Luna.
- El Trópico, (On the street facing the bridge). This bar is equally popular with locals and tourists. Good music and typical drinks like Cuba Libre, Gallo.
- Las Raices. Su-Th ??-??, F-Sa ?-1AM. A lake side restaurant near the municipal dock.
- Cool Vibes, (In San Benito). Su-Th ??-??, F-Sa ?-1AM. Has a dance floor and a good selection of music.
- Cool Beans. Cool Beans is a great little cafe in Flores. They have good coffee and great frozen drinks as well. $1.50.
Almost all travelers will stay on the island of Flores, but there are a couple options in Santa Elena and San Benito if for some reason that strikes your fancy.
- Casazul, Calle Fraternidad, ☎ +502 7926-1138/7926-3360 ([email protected]), . Spacious rooms with TV, fan, noisy AC and refrigerator - great view of lake. $41/48/60 for single/double/triple room in high season.
- Hotel la Casona de la Isla, Calle 30 de Junio, ☎ +502 7926-0593 ([email protected]), . Restaurant, pool, A/C. $36/43/53 for single/double/triple room.
- Hotel Isla de Flores, Avenida Reforma, ☎ +502 7926-0614/17/18, 7476-8775 ([email protected]), . $36/41/46 for single/double/triple room.
- Hotel Mirador del Lago, Calle 15 de Septembre, ☎ +502 7926-3276. 30 clean rooms with hot water and fan - some also have views of Peten Itza lake. There is a travel agency across the street that arrange local trips and tours. Dorm 25Q Double room Q70 some with lake view.
- Hotel Petén, Calle 30 de Junio, ☎ +502 7926-0692 ([email protected]), . Comfortable rooms, some with a nice view to the west over the lake, TV and a jug of filtered water. $35/43/52 for single/double/triple room.
- Hotel Santana, Calle 30 de Junio, ☎ +502 7926-0662/0491/0492, . Request room with balcony and view of the lake. $31/40/55 for single/double/triple room.
- Hospedaje Doña Goya, Calle la Union, ☎ +502 7926-3538. Q100/80 for a double with private/shared bath, Q25 for a bed in the dormitory.
- Hospedaje Doña Goya II. Next door to Doña Goya, but a little roomier, with a friendly atmosphere and good breakfasts. Roof top hammocks with a nice view of the lake are available.
- Hotel Villa Maya, 10 km outside of Flores, on the way to Tikal. A quiet place by Laguna Petenchel with a pool, restaurant, and kayak and bike rentals. There are crocodiles in the laguna, so bathing is safest in the pool. There are various paths in the area, from a 10-minute stroll on the premises to one hour around the laguna. This hotel is a little expensive, but worth the extra cost.
- Los Amigos, Calle Central, ☎ +502 5716-7702 (fax: +502 5584-8725), . An excellent hostel in the center of Flores that's very popular with travelers. European owned and run with a laid back atmosphere, a restaurant, cheap Happy Hour internet access and a book exchange. This place is also home to the only Vegetarian Restaurant in Northern Guatemala. The food is good but if your a hard core meat lover, move on. Skip the boxed lunch for Tikal, unless you like soggy white bread and processed cheese. Using the door to get in can be tricky. Just ring the door bell and out of no where you will hear this bird chime. This is there 'door bell'. Someone will soon open the door for you by pulling a rope from the ceiling. IF you want to get out, find the twetty bird hanging from a rope in the lobby and pull it, that should open it. Q25 ($3) for a dorm bed, Q15 ($2) for a hammock.
- Hotel Casa Amelia, Union Street, ☎ +(502) 7867-5429 / 30 ([email protected]), . checkin: 3:00 PM; checkout: 1:00 PM. Small hotel near the airport with A/C, TV, private bathrooms, internet, and a view of the lake. $ 25 / 40 / 60.
- Petén Esplendido, very near the causeway to Flores. Expensive (and not worth the price).
- Tikal.net and Peten.net, Calle Centro America. 8AM-10PM. Both can transfer photos from digital cameras to CD and charge Q8/hour.
- Tayazal.net. 8AM-10PM. Q8/hour.
Map of sites around Flores
- Guatemala City
- Altobuses del Norte (ADN), Terminal de Buses Santa Elena, ☎ 7924-8131 | 7924-8151, . Has departures from Flores at 10 PM (Q180 - Sep. 2010). The bus leaves from Santa Elena, but it will come to pick up passengers in Flores, in front of the hotel that is to the left of the bridge.
- Linea Dorada, ☎ 7767-5198, . Has three departures from Flores, at 9 PM (Q190), 10 AM and 9:30 PM (Q150). This buses also pick up the passengers in Flores, in the same place as ADN.
- Tikal - this park is a major attraction in Guatemala, and is located 60 km from Flores. Open: 6AM-6PM (after 3PM arrivals gain free re-entry the following day). Admission: Q150. To avoid crowds and experience the rich wild-life at its best try to arrive around 6-7AM.
- El Remate – A small village located 30 km from Flores with a nice, calm and rural atmosphere, and normally less crowded than other places in the area, making it a nice alternative base for those exploring Tikal and the region. All minibuses from St. Elena to Tikal ($1) stop here. However, some large buses ($0.30) only stop at a crossing 7 km from El Remate, so ask first. Taxis are available for US$20 from the airport/Flores.
- Motul de San José - a small Mayan site just north of San José. Buses, minivans and hired boats operate to the site. The ruin has a few stelae with visible glyphs and a number of vegetation covered mounds.
- Ixlú is a small Mayan site near the Melchor de Mencos junction on the way to Tikal. It is only of interest to the die-hard fans of Mayan sites.
- El Peru, AKA Waká, AKA the formerly elusive Site Q, can be seen on a three day trip from Flores.
From the top of the temple of East Acropolis of Yaxha you get a beautiful view of Lago de Yaxhá and surroundings
- Holtún is a small archaeological site 60 km from Flores on the way to Melchor de Mencos and the Belizean border. A broad, but unmarked path leads to the site. Locals can give directions. The site contains tree and vegetation covered temples. Painted masks adorn the inside of one of the temples, but this part is off limits to tourists (unless you can get a permit from the guard in charge). The part open to tourists also has masks, but these are not as impressive.
- El Mirador - Flores is the base for tours to the site of the largest Mayan temples, El Tigre and La Danta. This archaeological site deep in the rain forest near the Mexican border is of huge significance and can only be reached by foot and mule train - a five day round trip trek. Expect to pay $150-500 (shop around) for the entire package including guide, food, mules and transport to Carmelita, the starting point. An extra day allows further travel along much of an ancient raised causeway to the ruins at Nakbé, which is around 3.5 hours away and 5 km closer to Carmelita. Any agency in Flores or Santa Elena can arrange tours to these places.
- Yaxhá is a archaeological site 73 km from Flores on the way to Melchor de Mencos and the Belizean border. 62 km from Flores, just after Holtún, turn off on to the dirt road to Yaxhá (11 km). The site is not as popular as Tikal, but is well worth the trip. In addition, you may find that you are the only visitor, which offers a very different kind of experience from that of wading through the crowds at Tikal. There is ongoing restoration work at the site.
As of February 2007, for foreigners there is an entrance fee. Q80 per person. This fee covers Yaxha, Naranjo, and Nakum. The sites are very far apart and without a vehicle, impossible to do in one day.
- Topoxté is a small site on an island on the west shore of Lago de Yaxhá. It can be reached by lancha (boat), costing around Q100 for the 15 minute journey.
- Nakum is an impressive site some 20 km north of Yaxhá. From here it is a one day walk to Tikal, but you will need a guide. This site is undergoing extensive reconstruction and has an acropolis that is larger than that of Tikal. You can get there in the dry season with a 4 wheel vehicle. To get here, you will need to pay the entry fee at Yaxha.
- El Parque Natural Ixpanpajul - a 5 minutes drive from Flores (US$5 by taxi), which has a canopy tour, a walking loop with suspension bridges and, in addition, offers horse riding and camping facilities.
- Palenque in Mexico. Various travel agencies offer packages to Palenque in Guatemala or varying standards. You can choose to do it independently though, as follows:
- Take the 5AM Pinata bus from the Santa Elena bus terminal to La Técnica - the last stop past Bethel. It takes approximately four hours. The last couple are on an unpaved but beautiful road - just be glad you're in the bus and not in a minivan! They'll stop at the immigration checkpoint for you, and this is the last time you can change your Quetzals into Pesos. Note that there is no exit fee for Guatemala.
- There's then a five minute boat journey across the river to Frontera Corozal. It should cost 15Q (Locals) but you'll end up paying 20!
- There will then be comfortable combi vans waiting on the far bank to take you to Palenque. You can leave your bags in the combi and go on to immigration. It's up the bank, follow the road around to the right then straight on for about 100 metres and immigration is on your left.
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