Pastel-colored facades, coble-stoned streets, dazzling sunsets and famous Mayan temples draw all travelers in Guatemala eventually to the Flores peninsula. Flores is a town on a peninsula in Lake Petén Itzá. There are several small villages around the lake, but Flores is the most popular with travelers because of the charming streets and the great hotels and restaurants. Isla de Flores is a well-known base from which to explore the north of Guatemala, with the Mayan ruins of Tikal being the best-known and most popular day trip. It is one of those places where many travelers linger a bit longer than originally planned and you will understand that immediately after spending a few days in Flores. Continue reading for practical tips and the best things to do in Flores in Guatemala!
How to get to Flores in Guatemala
Flores is located on a peninsula in Lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala. There are several small villages around the lake, but Flores is the most popular with travelers because of the charming streets and the wide range of travelers-oriented restaurants and hotels.
Flores consists of two parts and it is good to take this into account when looking for a place to stay. The rather uninteresting town of Flores is on the mainland, but the touristic and more charming part of Flores is on a small peninsula in the lake. This peninsula part is also referred to as Isla de Flores and this is where you’ll want to look for a place to stay. Don’t look for a hostel or hotel conveniently located near the bus station, as the main bus station of Flores is located in the town and not on the peninsula.
As one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala due to its proximity to the famous Maya site Tikal, it is easy to get to Flores from each destination in Guatemala as well as from neighboring Mexico and Belize. The easiest and fastest, but also the most expensive way to travel to Flores is with a local flight to the local airport of Flores, Mundo Maya International Airport.
More affordable are the buses that connect Flores with virtually all popular destinations in Guatemala. In 4 hours you can already travel to the jungle paradise Rio Dulce in southeastern Guatemala. You can travel to the more southern destinations in Guatemala in about 8 hours. There are also bus connections to Mexico (Palenque and Chechumal) and Belize (Belize City). We already mentioned that the Flores bus station is not on the peninsula, but south of it in the town itself. You can easily take an Uber or tuktuk between the bus station and Isla de Flores. But if you book a bus ticket from Flores to your next destination at your hotel or a travel organisation, there is a good chance that your ticket will also include a minivan transfer from the peninsula to the bus station. Make sure to ask for it.
Where to stay in Flores
Hotels at Isla de Flores
The best places to stay in Flores include budget-friendly hostels, beautiful luxury hotels and everything in between. As one of the most popular destinations in Guatemala, there are plenty of accommodation options to choose from. When booking your hotel, pay close attention to the location. Make sure you’re staying on the charming peninsula being close to all the restaurants and fun activities and not accidentally in the rather uninteresting town on the mainland. Isla de Flores has both comfortable hotels with a swimming pool and more budget-friendly hotels and cheap party hostels.
This blog about the best places to stay on Isla de Flores lists the very best hostels and hotels, but we can especially recommend these two options:
#1 Los Amigos Hostel for the most popular hostel in Flores, known for its parties and relaxed atmosphere. This backpacker favorite is known as a party hostel with friendly staff, colorful interior and the opportunity to get to know other travelers. There are both dormitories and private rooms.
#2 Hotel Isla de Flores for probably the most beautiful hotel on Isla de Flores and with a central location in the middle of the island. It has an outdoor swimming pool on the roof terrace (!) and an on-site restaurant.
Hotels on Lake Petén Itzá
There are also beautiful and luxurious hotels on Lake Petén Itzá and is it worth considering whether you would rather spend your days there than on Isla de Flores. The hotels are much more beautiful and more secluded in lush nature, offering guests a wonderfully relaxing travel experience. Many of these hotels and resorts are just a short distance from Flores, so you can still head over to the peninsula and enjoy the restaurants and other fun things to do. For example, the tiny town of San Miguel is located directly opposite Flores and is also a very nice and much more quiet place to stay. A lancha can bring you in a short boat ride of a few minutes to Isla de Flores for 5 to 10 quetzal.
This blog about the best places to stay on Lake Petén Itzá lists the very best hostels and hotels, but we can especially recommend these two options:
#3 Zapote Tree Inn for a popular hotel in San Miguel right opposite Isla de Flores and therefore only a short boat ride from the peninsula. With an outdoor swimming pool, a beach, a library, a restaurant and a bar, Zapote Tree Inn has everything you could wish for.
#4 Bolontiku Boutique Hotel & Spa for a beautiful boutique hotel near San Andres and a 15-minute boat ride from Flores. The hotel offers a lovely outdoor pool overlooking the lake, a small beach, a swimming pool, a bar and an exotic garden. Bolontiku is the best place for an unforgettable experience at Lago Petén Itzá.
Hotels at Tikal
A third option is to stay at Tikal instead of Flores. At the gates of the archaeological park of Tikal are four hotel options, located directly next to each other. We also stayed here during our visit to Flores and Tikal, but we would not recommend it. The hotel rooms at the Tikal National Park are quite expensive compared to Flores. We liked staying near the entrance to be able to enter the park at opening times. But there are many tours from Flores, even a very early sunrise tour, to be the very first in the park. You may have to get up a bit earlier than when you sleep at Tikal, but you save yourself the trouble of arranging transport to Tikal yourself and booking an expensive hotel room.
This blog about the best places to stay at Tikal National Park lists the very best hostels and hotels, but we can especially recommend these two options:
#5 Hotel Tikal Inn for the most popular hotel at Tikal National Park with a location in the middle of the jungle. Guests stay in bungalows with palm frond roofs in the jungle or at the pool. This hotel is the most popular option at Tikal because of its good value for money. It is therefore often fully booked, so make sure to book your stay well in advance.
#6 Hotel Jungle Lodge Tikal for a luxury hotel at Tikal with a somewhat higher price tag. The tropical setting, outdoor pool and luxurious thatched bungalows are a photogenic sight.
Flores Tourist Map
8 best things to do in Flores
#1 Maya city Tikal
Visiting Tikal is probably on the bucketlist of every traveler in Guatemala. As the most famous Mayan sight in the world, Tikal is one of the most iconic places to visit in Guatemala. And it is located near Flores! For many travelers Tikal is even the main reason to travel to this part of Guatemala.
Read more: a complete guide to visiting Tikal.
Tikal was once the largest city of the Maya. Not only in size, but also in power and influence. For about 1400 years a powerful city-state was built on this spot in the jungle of nowadays Guatemala, of which thousands of ruins, temples and pyramids still remain today. Tikal may have even had 100,000 inhabitants and still consists of 6,000 to 10,000 buildings. Only a small percentage of the ancient Mayan city has been excavated, but that part is enough to entertain you for hours wandering the archaeological park of Tikal.
The vast area that Tikal still covers reveals pyramids, temples, royal palaces, houses, administrative buildings, cisterns, terraces, monuments and much more. Most impressive are of course the pyramids and temples that tower high above the tops of the jungle. You can climb some of these for a phenomenal view of the ancient Maya empire. As popular and touristy as Tikal may be, a visit to this Mayan city should be on your bucket list. It doesn’t feel overrun by visitors fortunately. The archaeological area is large enough to spread out the many visitors, although you will see many other visitors at the largest and most beautiful Mayan temples. Be sure to visit the Grand Plaza, where the most famous temples are located, such as Temple of the Great Jaguar and the Temple of the Masks.
A visit to Tikal is quite a consideration when it comes to a tour from Flores or an overnight stay at Tikal, whether or not to buy a sunrise ticket, etc. It is therefore good to delve into some practical information. The Tikal National Park is open from 06:00 to 18:00 and for a day pass you pay 150Q. If you want to enter the park earlier or later for the sunrise or sunset, you will need an extra sunrise or sunset ticket of another 150 Q. However, we would not recommend this and we will explain it to you in this practical guide about visiting Tikal. We chose to spend the night Tikal, but found the accommodations a bit pricey and not of very added value. From Flores there are many affordable day tours to the archaeological park and we actually think that is a much better option.
#2 Maya city Yaxha
Another special day trip from Flores is to the temple complex of Yaxha. This hidden gem is located deep in the jungle, on a crocodile lake. While all travelers flock to the famous Tikal, neighboring Yaxha remains blissfully undiscovered. The size of the complex is enormous, the view from the highest temple is phenomenal and the location on a deep blue lake is unique. Yaxha is estimated to have once had a population of over 20,000 and about 500 buildings have been found in the complex.
Read more: visiting Mayan city of Yaxha in Guatemala
One of the highlights of a visit to Yaxha is the sunset from the largest temple (Structure 216 or Temple of the Hands). With a height of 30 meters, this temple towers above all other temples and treetops. It offers the perfect view of the two lakes on which Yaxha is located. At the end of the day, you can watch the sun go down behind one of the lakes, just before the park closes.
Yaxha is unique in Mayan archeology because of its location on two lakes. The lakes were part of an important riverine trade route between major Mayan cities. With some luck, you can find a motor boat (a lancha) at the jetty at Yaxha that will take you to the island in the main lake and back. Because there is another temple complex on the island: Topoxte. The temples themselves are nice to see yet not extremely interesting, but they are said to be among the oldest Mayan temples in Central America. The magical atmosphere of temples with an island location, the roar of the howler monkeys and the few other visitors make visiting Topoxte a unique experience.
#3 The colourful streets and the promenade
Even though we love Flores, the peninsula is actually rather small and it lacks interesting sights. But that is part of the charm of Flores. We loved strolling around the cobble-stoned streets with their pastel-colored houses and along the waterfront to soak in the lake views. It is the best way to fully enjoy the relaxed Flores atmosphere! You’ll probably notice that the peninsula is a hill with a park in the heart of the island which is much higher than the promenade at the shores. A great walk is on the ‘malecon’, this promenade along the water, although it isn’t very well-maintained and some parts can be under water.
#4 The other side of the lake: viewpoint and rope swing
From the north side of Isla de Flores you can take a lancha to the other side of the lake, where the tiny village of San Miguel is located. It’s only a 5-minute boat ride and you pay 5 to 10 quetzal for it. We can highly recommend the short walk to the viewpoint (‘mirador’ in Spanish and on the maps) for a great view over the peninsula and the lake.
Another popular spot on the other side of the lake is Jorge’s Rope Swing restaurant. It might not surprise you that there is a rope swing, entertaining the visitors. If you want to visit the restaurant, make sure to take a lancha directly to this spot and not to the San Miguel shore, because it’s a rather long walk from there to Jorge’s Rope Swing.
#5 Canoeing or kayaking
The best way to explore the surroundings of an island or peninsula is of course from the water. Canoes and kayaks are offered for rent at various places in Flores. You can sail to the other side of the lake to visit the viewpoint or the rope swing without using a lancha. Or just peddle around the island. Make sure you rent the canoe/kayak long enough, because you usually pay per hour and not per day. The best moment for a canoe or kayak trip? During sunset for a magnificent view over the water!
#6 Playa Chechenal beach
On the other lakeside opposite Flores is also Playa Chechenal, a small beach where you can relax and take a dip. There are mainly locals, especially on weekends. Visitors pay 5 quetzal entrance. You can take the boat directly to the beach, but you can also be dropped off at San Miguel directly opposite Flores. You then walk to the beach past the viewpoint, which is a nice and mostly shaded walk. Make sure to pay a short visit to the viewpoint as well.
#7 The Flores sunset
We definitely have a soft spot for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. And Flores is the perfect place for that, as this small island towns offers the most stunning sunsets each and every night. From the west side of Isla de Flores you have a beautiful sunset. Enjoy it during a walk on the malecon, from a canoe or with a cocktail from one of the terraces. We loved sitting down at the terrace of San Telmo to have a drink – happy hour! – and enjoy the golden hour and the sunset.
#8 Food and drinks in Flores
As Flores attracts many travelers, the town is packed with great places for food, drinks, coffee, beers and more. You can find our favorite hotspots in Flores on the tourist map of Flores earlier in this blog. A selection of the best hotspots in Flores? We already mentioned San Telmo for cocktails during sunset (and happy hour). We also visited Maple & Tocino several times for their all-day brunch with pancakes and huge doughnut milkshakes. We can recommend Cool Beans for really good coffee and Guatemalan specialty beers.