The small island town of Flores, set on Lake Peten 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.
With a causeway connecting it to the mainland, Flores is also the perfect jumping-off point for nearby attractions like Tikal. Talk about the best of both worlds!
If you’re visiting Flores soon, you’ve come to the right place. After reading this guide, you’ll know which area to stay in, where to find the best restaurants, how to get around and what to do in this charming island town in Guatemala.
Is Flores worth visiting?
One spot that you shouldn’t miss on your Guatemala itinerary is Tikal. The experience of walking through the jungle, admiring the Maya pyramids and imagining the 100,000 people that used to live is unforgettable.
Flores is the best place to visit Tikal, so it’s worth visiting just for that. It can also be a nice place to relax for a few days if your Guatemalan adventure has been a bit hectic.
How long should you stay in Flores?
Most 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!
If you’re also visiting Flores to go on the 5-day El Mirador trek, plan at least one full day in Flores after the trek. You’ll want a day to rest and take care of that muddy laundry you’ll inevitably bring back.
Where to stay in Flores
By far the best place to stay is on the island of Flores.
This is where most visitors stay and where you’ll find all the amenities that you need — restaurants, cafes, shops and tourist information centres. There’s even a little shopping mall just a short walk away on the mainland.
Where exactly you stay on the island doesn’t matter as it’s so small! You can walk around the entire island in 15 minutes.
Simply stay in the accommodation that you like the most, and that fits your budget.
Accommodation on Flores island
Flores is tiny, so accommodation options on the island are limited.
Prices can be a bit higher than elsewhere in Guatemala, starting at $25 per night for a private room.
Our favourite place to stay in Flores is Hotel Casazul. Its bright and modern design, coupled with a terrace overlooking the lake, is perfect for relaxing.
If you do find that all of the best accommodation on the island of Flores is fully booked, then consider a jungle retreat. Hidden amongst the trees, Zapote Tree Inn has a pool overlooking the lake. Life can’t get much better than that!
Best places to eat in Flores
For a little island, Flores has a lot of places to eat. There are lots of lake-side restaurants, street stalls and little cafes.
Although there are many choices, they’re not all great! To make sure that you only have delicious meals in Flores, here are our 3 favourites places to eat:
Maple & Tocino — the best place to eat in Flores
Maple & Tocino, in our opinion, is the best place to eat in Flores. They offer a variety of things to eat — waffles, crepes, traditional Guatemalan breakfasts, pizza and more. The juices and smoothies are a must-try!
Grab a table on the terrace and enjoy your food while taking in the beautiful lake view.
Restaurante Raices — a beautiful spot overlooking the water
You can’t get much closer to Lake Petén Itzá than at Restaurante Raices. The outdoor terrace literally sits on the water. This is one of the fancier restaurants on the island, offering tasty grilled meats, steak, fish, tacos and pizza.
You can’t beat the ambience here. It’s beautifully lit, next to the water and the waiters immediately make you feel welcome!
Cool Beans — a fun place to hang out for a while
The food at Cool Beans is best described as authentic and simple. It’s a cheap place to grab a meal and a lovely spot to hang out.
The whole restaurant is surrounded by greenery, with hammocks hanging from trees. They also have board games available to keep you entertained for a couple of hours. The staff are also lovely!
How to get around Flores
The area of Flores includes both the island and part of the mainland. Most visitors stay on the island where a lot of the accommodations and restaurants are.
Everything you could need is on the island, so getting to where you want to go is easy!
Here are the best ways to get around Flores:
Your own two feet will be your main mode of transport. Walking around the whole island only takes around 15 minutes, and pretty much everything you need is there.
If you want to visit the big supermarket at the entrance of Flores Island, your walk will be no longer than 15 minutes, no matter where you start on the island.
If you need to venture a bit further or have a lot of luggage that you don’t want to carry, there are taxis and tuk-tuks available.
They’re easy to find as they’re often waiting in spots where tourists are dropped off, or will give you a honk as they’re driving past.
Tuk-tuks are often cheaper than taxis in Guatemala, with most journeys costing around Q5.
Top things to do in Flores
Get your bucket list ready. In this guide, we’ll show you the best things to do in Flores and how to experience them.
Best tours in and around Flores
- Unforgettable full-day tour to Tikal for $85
- Unique day tour to Uaxactun for $80
- Private tour to Yaxha for $135
#1 Climb the temples in Tikal
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 the magnitude and significance is to visit and wander around 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 the city 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 was abandoned. Was it famine? Overpopulation? War? Theories abound but the collapse of the city 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 within Flores and your haggling skills.
The shared shuttles start running at 3 am and the journey takes between 1.5-2 hours.
There are public buses that run from Santa Elena bus station. 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.
There are 3 different tickets that you can buy to visit Tikal:
- Sunrise ticket: 4:30 am-6 am for Q100
- Day ticket: 6 am-6 pm for Q150
- Sunset ticket: 5 pm-8 pm 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 by 6 am.
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, 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 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.
Book your tour to Tikal here:
#2 Enjoy the lake and Jorge’s rope swing
One of the best things to do in Flores is visit Jorge’s rope swing. This place is like an adult playground!
In this spot, you’ll find a wooden diving board for practising your best dives and a rope swing for your worst belly flops! There are also hammocks and cabanas ideal for chilling on.
The family who owns this spot charge Q10 per person, and you can spend the whole day there if you want to. They even sell beers and snacks.
To get to Jorge’s rope swing, ask one of the boatmen waiting on the east side of the island to take you there. A roundtrip should cost Q25.
#3 Embark on the 5-day El Mirador Trek
Unlike Tikal and Chichen Itza, you might not have heard of the El Mirador Mayan ruins.
That’s because it’s still largely undiscovered and inaccessible. The 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.
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 there 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 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 (see below), few people visit Yaxha. If you’re lucky, you may be the only person sitting atop 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 8 am-6 pm. 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 of the Yaxha ruins. That way the transportation is already organised for you, and you can learn about the site from your guide.
You can book this all-day private tour to Yaxha for $135. You’ll visit in the late afternoon when there are fewer tourists and watch the sunset from the top of the temple.
#5 Visit the under-the-radar Uaxactun ruins
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, 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 5 pm. 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.
Book your day tour to Uaxactun for $80 to visit one of Guatemala’s archaeological hidden gems.
#6 Shop at the daily market on the Malecon
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 at 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 trees, 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.
You can book your nature and adrenaline-filled day in Ixpanpajul with TTC Travel for $125.
#8 Hike to the El Mirador Del Rey Canek viewpoint
Not to be confused with the much longer 5-day El Mirador trek, El Mirador Del Rey Canek is a viewpoint overlooking the island of Flores.
The viewpoint is situated in the nearby town of San Miguel, which you can get to by boat. The boat takes around 10 minutes and costs Q20 each way.
The hike up to the top is only 10 minutes. At the top, you’ll find a wooden structure in a tree that provides panoramic views of Flores.
If you have an afternoon to spare in Flores, visiting this viewpoint is a fun thing to do.
Rounding it up
Now you’ve picked the best things to do in Flores, it’s time to start ticking off that bucket list. After reading our guide, you should know where to eat, stay and how to get around Flores.
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