As promised in my post about Tikal, here’s a post with some tips about visiting Flores, Guatemala, the town located on an island in Lake Peten and used as a jumping off spot for visiting the nearby ruins of Tikal and El Mirador.
Lodging: Prices really vary on the tiny island town; however, the absolute best price I found was at Hotel La Canoa, right across from the taxi and tourist info stand in front of the lake, just to the left as you come off the bridge from Santa Elena. If Santa Elena doesn’t make you nervous (it isn’t safe to walk around at night reportedly), there are some decent accommodations with a little bit more in the way of amenities and for less of a price than the more resort-like hotels on the island.
ATMs: There are at least 2 ATMs that are easy to get to. One is located in the only supermarket on the island and the other is located just down the street from the supermarket. Look for the cajero automatico or cajero electronico signs as the ATM is located inside a small room with a door. If these make you a bit nervous, cross the bridge to Santa Elena. On the other side, on the left hand side, is a small mall with a couple of banks that have ATMs attached, and with an armed guard, and there is also another one located in the grocery store inside the mall. VERY few businesses accept credit cards, so it’s always best to have cash on hand.
Food: There are a LOT of fairly inexpensive places in Flores; however, your absolute best finds will be up the hill (head towards the church in the center of the island). Around the plaza are various vendors where you can get combos that include a healthy amount of food and a drink for $2 USD or less. And it tastes pretty darn good as well. You’ll have to sit on a bench or on the side of a wall, but it’s a small price to pay for saving a LOT of money. Just over the bridge are some decent choices as well. For breakfast our favorite place was a bit nondescript. Take the 2nd ring road toward the bridge. Right before the road curves to lead back up the hill, you will notice some white buildings on your right. In the morning they serve some very good breakfasts at great prices. Walk through the open door and into the courtyard where you see the family’s hammocks hanging. Someone will greet you and lead you to a table. It isn’t fancy fare, but it’s good and cheap, which is a nice combination in my opinion. The family is extremely nice as well. When the food is good, I especially enjoy eating at these types of places because I’d rather be helping out a family than some fat cat who owns more than one of the local businesses.
If you’re looking for a refreshing dessert, stop by one of the Sarita ice cream shops. They have some great deals on sundaes. My favorite was the button-busting La Bomba: 3 scoops of ice cream, fruit, syrups, whipped cream, and a wafer cookie, for just over $2.
If at this point you find yourself thinking of a radically different vacation, check here for family vacations.
Nearby attractions: Go for a walk, or take a tuk-tuk, into Santa Elena and enjoy the daily market. It’s a great way to see the local culture and to get some local food. Also very worth the trip is the Petencito Zoo. The zoo is located on another small island on the lake. Grab one of the lanchas (motorized canoes) anywhere along the malecon. They will take you there, wait, and then bring you back for about $15 per boat (accommodates up to 8 people). Admission to the zoo is about $3 per person, less for children. One of our favorite parts about the zoo was the spider monkey exhibit. The monkeys come up to the fence and put their paws and tails through desiring human touch. You can stand there and just hold their paw. It’s really an amazing experience. The ones that can’t reach you with their paws will curl their tail around your wrist or forearm. Sometimes the babies come over with a leaf in their mouth.
Make sure to bring some good shoes, however. Part of the zoo is accessed through a nice hike through the woods, and some of the trails aren’t always that clean so you may feel like you’re a trail blazer as you clamber through the undergrowth.
There are some very cool small towns located around the lake. They are all reachable by either lancha or by taking one of the colectivo mini buses (the cheapest way of getting there but also the slowest) or hiring a taxi. They’re too far for the tuk-tuks.
The lancha pilots will also try to sell you on other trips around the lake besides the zoo. The prices really aren’t that bad, especially since it isn’t per person. Stops can include the watchtower which affords view over the entire huge lake, a nice sandy beach for swimming and sunbathing, and, of course, the zoo.
Along the malecon you will see several docks jutting into the lake. This is where locals and tourists alike come to go swimming in the refreshing lake. The color of the water may put some people off, but it’s actually quite clean. We spent a week in Flores and were in the lake every single day. It’s a great temperature for cooling you off but without freezing you in the process. It’s also a great way to get to mingle with locals, and if you’ve brought children along they’ll enjoy the lake and playing with the other kids who also enjoy practicting their limited English skills from time to time. You will notice a small island in the middle of the lake. This is a museum.
If you’re planning a longer visit to Flores, I’d recommend giving yourself at least 4 days to really get to absorb the culture and find all the little hole-in-the-wall places. We could’ve easily stayed longer than a week.