The small town of Flores sits on the southern shores of Lago Peten Itza, while the central town may not be overly commercial, if you stay on the island you will be transported into a tourism bubble. Affordable hostels to ritzy hotels adorn most of the space here, with restaurants and the odd local home taking up the rest. The majority of people stay here for two reasons, firstly its accessibility to the Mayan site of Tikal, and to either head east in to Belize, or South to Semuc Champey, Guatemala City and Antigua. But while most people don’t spend long here, we learnt to love the charm of the island.
When to visit:
The high season is during Dec-Feb, this is the dry season for Guatemala, it has much more moderate temperatures and with the bulk of travelers being from the USA or Canada, it gives them some reprieve from their own winters. We however travelled during the wet season / summer, if you don’t deal with humidity and heat well I would advise against going at this time, but we managed to not completely boil over during our stay. During the wet season there are also much fewer people around and the chance of snagging a deal on some nicer hotels does go up.
Where to stay:
Stay on the island of Flores and then decide your budget based on your need of air conditioning, pool and other features. If you are chasing the hostel life, Los Amigos was the most popular option and they also ran a lot of affordable tours and shuttle services. We stayed at Posada de Don Jose, a cheap and affordable place, however if I had my time again I would have spent a little bit extra and found a place with a pool.
What to see:
Tikal – This is the major drawing card of the region, we had explored a few Mayan ruins before this one (Including Chichen Itza) and did not know whether this was going to be worth the considerable amount of money required to visit. With that said, this place blew us away completely. The enormity of the site mixed with the wild jungle meshing it’s way through created one of the best experiences of our trip in Central America. I would also highly recommend spending the extra money and doing the sunset tour, a lot of people hype up the sunrise (3:30am start, no thanks!) but talking to local guides 95% of the mornings the site is filled with mist and haze. The sunset tour however was a 1pm start, saw us enjoy the sites in the setting sun with the main heat of the day gone, almost zero people walking around and the wildlife become hyperactive. During our visit, not only did we see the Mayan ruins in all their glory, we also encountered the chilling screams of Howler monkeys, scores of spider monkeys, multiple toucans and a plethora of parrots. Oh and watching the sun set over the jungle and Mayan ruins is also a pretty amazing experience as well.
Jorges Rope Swing – A locally owned tourist spot that provides a great place to hang out during the day. Floating tubes, lounge chairs, jumping boards and a rope swing give everyone an option to be adventurous. With a reasonably priced entry at 10Q its a good way to spend a day, just be aware that you do need to get a water taxi there, so knowing some basic spanish will certainly come in handy.
Sunset happy hours – On the western side of the island, all restaurants will be advertising a happy hour deal during the sun set time period and we strongly recommend taking advantage of this. Pick yourself a prime seat, order some cheap drinks (9Q for a gin and tonic was a great deal we found) and then relax as the sun sets over the lake and throws up vivid oranges and reds into the afternoon storm that is often developing.