The tiny island town of Flores, set on Lake Petén Itza, is easily one of the most charming spots in Guatemala. Colourful colonial buildings. Great restaurants. Sunsets over the lake. It’s easy to fall in love with this place.
A lot of people come for just one day as a base for visiting Tikal, but we recommend 2-3 days in Flores to fully enjoy it. Trust us, you don’t want to miss out on all the cool things to do.
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Flores and how to experience them.
Need help planning your trip? Check out our best tips for visiting Flores — you’ll find the best restaurants, where to stay, how to get around and more!
Tikal makes other Mayan complexes, like Chichen Itza, look small! With over 3,000 structures scattered throughout the national park, you can just imagine how powerful and impressive this city had once been.
One of the best parts about Tikal is that you can still climb some of the temples.
Once you reach the top, you’re surrounded by nothing but jungle, birds gliding in the air and monkeys swinging in the trees (keep an eye out — these cheeky animals like to throw things down from the trees!).
The only way to truly grasp Tikal’s magnitude and significance is to visit it yourself.
A brief history of Tikal
It’s estimated that the Mayans began the creation of Tikal around 900 BC, with construction continuing until the 8th century AD.
Over this time they managed to build around 3,000 buildings for a population that was believed to reach 100,000 people.
As Tikal grew in size, so did its importance. It became a significant ceremonial, cultural and commercial centre within the Mayan empire.
In the 9th century, the once bustling city of Tikal was abandoned. Was it famine? Overpopulation? War? Theories abound but the collapse of Tikal remains a mystery to this day, making this place even more fascinating.
Thanks to incredible restoration, it’s easy to picture just how grand Tikal must have been in its heyday.
How to visit Tikal
The most popular way to get from Flores to Tikal is by booking a shared shuttle.
The price for a return ticket costs between Q100-150, depending on who you book with in Flores and your haggling skills.
The shared shuttles start running at 3am and the journey takes between 1.5-2 hours.
There are public buses that run from Santa Elena bus station to Tikal. However, these can take over 2 hours due to stops, are crowded and aren’t as frequent. They are the cheaper option though, costing between Q30-40 each way.
Tickets for Tikal
There are 3 different tickets that you can buy to visit Tikal:
Sunrise ticket: 4:30am-6am for Q100
Day ticket: 6am-6pm for Q150
Sunset ticket: 5pm-8pm for Q100
If you want to visit Tikal during the day as well as during the sunrise/sunset, you’ll need to buy the day ticket, too. For example, if you just buy the sunrise ticket, you’ll have to leave Tikal by 6am.
You can buy the tickets at the gate. Make sure to bring enough cash and your passport.
Tour guide or no tour guide?
You can visit Tikal independently or on a tour.
When you arrive at Tikal, there will be plenty of guides offering their service.
If you want to learn about Tikal then we’d recommend getting a guide, but exploring at your own pace without a guide is still an incredible experience.
Join a tour
If all of this organisation seems a little too much for you, join a tour to Tikal instead.
This full-day tour of Tikal includes transportation to and from Flores, a knowledgeable English-speaking guide, your ticket and lunch for $85.
You don’t have to think about anything other than enjoying yourself.
That’s because it’s still largely undiscovered and inaccessible. The El Mirador ruins were initially discovered in 1926 but remained untouched for another 36 years. It’s only now that work is being done to excavate and restore the incredible temples and plazas.
What makes El Mirador even more special is that you can only visit it by helicopter or a multi-day trek.
If you make it there, you can safely say that you’re one of the few people in the world who have seen the glorious city of El Mirador.
Could you take on the El Mirador Trek?
Most people opt for the 5-day El Mirador hike rather than the expensive helicopter flight.
The hike to El Mirador and back is just over 80 km. You spend two days walking through the jungle to reach the site. The third day is spent exploring the ancient plazas and temples, surrounded by nothing but jungle and wildlife. You have a good chance of seeing toucans, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, coatis and more.
After learning about the incredible city of El Mirador, and watching the sunset from one of the tallest Mayan temples, you’ll spend your fourth and fifth days tracing your steps back to the village of Carmelita where you started the trek from.
What is the El Mirador trek like?
The El Mirador trek is a true disconnection from the outside world, with no WiFi or service. The campsites are basic, with a bucket for a shower, but the guides and chefs make it feel like a luxurious experience. They don’t stop feeding you either!
Although it’s quite a long distance, the hike is relatively easy as the paths are well maintained and it’s flat most of the way. It’s just very hot and sweaty.
How to book the El Mirador Trek
The El Mirador trek can’t be done independently. You have to be accompanied by a guide from the local community.
You can book the trek with one of the many tourist agencies in Flores. The 5-day trek costs around $300 per person.
This includes all of your transportation, accommodation, food, water, guide and mules to carry your big bags. The guides speak limited English, so you’ll want to brush up on your Spanish for this one.
#4 Watch the sunset at the Yaxha ruins
Clearly, the Mayans kept themselves busy in this area of Guatemala, as there are even more ruins for you to visit.
Yaxha may be smaller than both Tikal and El Mirador, but it made up for its size with its importance.
Due to its location on the shores of Lagoon Yaxha and Lagoon Sacnab, Yaxha was very important when it came to water and exchange routes.
Today there are remains of more than 500 structures. Only 14 of these have been fully excavated, whilst a lot of them are completely untouched or still covered by vegetation.
Similar to the Uaxactun ruins (see below), few people visit Yaxha. If you’re lucky, you may be the only person sitting on top of a temple, overlooking the never-ending jungle. That sure sounds like a bucket-list item to us.
How to visit the Yaxha ruins
The Yaxha ruins are open from 8am-6pm. Tickets cost Q80.
To get from Flores to Yaxha, you can take a taxi and ask them to wait for you while you explore the site. The drive takes around 1.5 hours and can cost between $25-50, depending on the deal you strike up with the driver.
The better option may be to join a tour to the Yaxha ruins. That way the transportation is already organised for you, and you can learn about the ruins from your guide.
When you have Tikal right next door, it’s easy to forget about other ruins — the Uaxactun Mayan ruins, for example. Not much has changed in that regard. Uaxactun and Tikal were bitter rivals back when they were thriving cities.
Uaxactun is a true hidden gem. With much fewer visitors and less infrastructure around the ruins, it’s one of Guatemala’s best-kept secrets. You’re free to climb Uaxactun’s temples, which feel more magical with no crowds around.
How to visit the Uaxactun ruins
Tickets to the Uaxactun ruins cost Q50.
There are two main ways to get from Flores to Uaxactun. The first is to take a bus from the main bus terminal in Santa Elena (near Flores). There is only one bus a day that leaves at 5pm. This means you’ll need to stay the night near Uaxactun.
The better option is to join an organised tour. This way you can visit in one day. This 6-hour tour to Uaxactun includes transportation from Flores, a knowledgeable guide and lunch for $80.
Every day, just before the sun starts to set, market stalls begin popping up on the Malecon in Flores. They sell everything from crafts and souvenirs of all kinds to delicious food.
If you want to try a variety of Guatemalan dishes, this is the place. The food here is affordable and easy to share, so you can sample many different things in one evening. Options include tacos, tamales, tostadas, fresh juices and cakes. Come hungry!
As well as doing a bit of shopping, the market is a wonderful place to people-watch. It’s a favourite local hang-out spot and there’s always something going on.
#7 Get your adrenaline fix in Ixpanpajul Natural Park
Looking for an adrenaline rush? Ixpanpajul Natural Park, an eco-adventure park only 20 minutes from Flores, is the place to add some adventure to your trip.
You’ll spend the day admiring the most incredible views from suspension bridges, watching the monkeys swing in the trees and flying over the jungle on a zipline.
Ixpanpajul has 200 species of tree, 150 types of birds and 40 different species of mammals, so there’s plenty to keep your eye out for. Bring binoculars, a good camera and plenty of water.