15 Amazing things to do in Flores Guatemala

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What we talk about in this article

Flores, the tiny island / peningsula in Lake Peten Itza is a place that accommodates many travellers each year. Backpackers, historians, and luxury travellers alike. Everyone who wants to visit the iconic Mayan city of Tikal , passes through Flores. 

But, there’s more to Flores than meets the eye! And there more to this place than visiting only Tikal. The beautiful colonial town of Flores is the perfect hub to do a plethora of other activities. One thing is certain: when we visit Guatemala again, we will stay longer in Flores, because we haven’t visited all the Mayan ruins and my interest in this subject has only grown since we visited our first ruins years ago.

In any case, let’s dive in! These are some of the most amazing things to do in Flores Guatemala. And, we will also give you a little more information about this quirky town at the end of the article. Keep scrolling!

7 Mayan ruins to visit in the area around Flores

First of all, the Mayan ruins! Most travellers come to Flores to visit Tikal. Those are the most famous and most popular ruins in this area. It’s simply what Flores is known for. Flores is the place where you find accommodation for visiting Tikal. But there’s more to explore!

1. Explore the most popular Mayan ruins: Tikal

So, the one everybody already knows! Tikal Mayan ruins are the most popular and well-known Mayan ruins in Guatemala. They are located in the jungle of the Peten department in the North of the country. These iconic ruins have been featured in one of the older Star Wars movie, which gives this place an extra special touch.

Getting to Tikal from Flores takes around 1,5 hours. If you have your own car, it’s pretty straight forward. If not, you can book a tour to the ruins. A shuttle will then pick you up at your hostel or hotel.

Oh yes, expect to be surrounded by hundreds of people when visiting these ruins. If you want your visit to be more tranquil, go very early in the morning (before 8 o’clock) or select your travel dates outside of the touristy season.

Did you know: you can also spend the night in a hotel in Tikal National Park!

Tikal Mayan Ruins near Flores
Tikal Mayan Ruins near Flores

2. Venture out to the lesser know ruins of Yaxha

Want to explore some of the most amazing ruins in the area, but without the crowds? Do what we did: venture out to the lesser known and lesser visited ruins of Yaxha. This Mayan city is just a little smaller than Tikal, but the fact that you’re not surrounded by hundreds of other people really adds to the magic of this ancient place.

We did a day visit and a few years later, a sunset visit. Seeing the sun set into the beautiful Lake Yaxha, while listingen to the howler monkeys in the jungle… Sublime!

Yaxha is located 70 km from Flores.You can reach Yaxha ruins by car or motorcycle, if you have your own transportation. If not, you can book a guided tour or a shuttle from Flores easily. We did the trip from El Remate and took care of transportation with our hostel. Some agencies offer a combined tour to Yaxha and Tikal in one day.

Read our in-depth guide about Yaxha ruins to find out more.

3. Discover the island ruins of Topoxte

Topoxte ruins are located on an island in Lake Yaxha. This Mayan city has survived longer than most other cities in the region. Probably, the protection of the island location helped to maintain the city and culture a lot longer. Topoxte ruins are spread over a few different islands, but the most important structures are built together on the main island.

Getting to Topoxte is a little more difficult, as you will need a boat. Most tour operators don’t have this trip in their standard offering, but you can always ask when you’re in Flores. Ask in your hostel or find a tour operator down the street. 

One certain method to visit Topoxte is by spending the night in Ecolodge El Sombrero at the shores of Lake Yaxha. They have a boat, certified guides, and they offer tours on the lake or to the ruins of Topoxte. 

4. Travel deeper into the jungle: Uaxactun

If you’re already going to Tikal, Uaxactun is just a little deeper into the jungle from there. So, if you (or your driver) continues on the road from Tikal, about one hour deeper into the dense jungle, the majestic Mayan city of Uaxactun awaits.

Uaxactun is located 23 kilometres from Tikal and around 90 kilometres from Flores. These cities can be reached by following the same road. Some tour companies offer a combined tour to Tikal and Uaxactun from Flores, but it’s also possible to book a separate tour. If you have your own transportation, the site can be reached easily via a dirt road. (When the weather is really bad, you might want to reconsider driving there yourself. It can get very muddy)

Uaxactun, Mayan city near Tikal
Uaxactun, Mayan city near Tikal

5. Off the beaten path: Nakum

Nakum is an ancient Mayan city, located in the National Park of Yaxha. While most people only visit the easy-to-reach Yaxha ruins, you can easily go further and travel to the city of Nakum. This site is located 17 km from Yaxha, but don’t let the short distance fool you. The road is not in good condition, so the journey will take a while.

You do need your own transportation to get there, or hire guided transportation to find the ruins. Even though they’re not too far from Yaxha, 17km is a long distance to get lost in the Guatemalan jungle. Most tour agencies don’t have Nakum as a standard destination in their excursion menu, but if you ask they will probably offer you a trip.

Read more about the history and details of Nakum in our article about Yaxha ruins and National Park.

6. Even furter? Go to Naranjo

Naranjo is one of those ruins where you won’t see many other travellers.  Located deep in the Guatemalese jungle, this is a sacred place where only few travellers venture out to. It is, however, worth the trip. Naranjo is a Mayan city, which is connected to Yaxha and Nakum, but it lies even deeper in the jungle. So, you can consider this one as labelled ‘off the beaten path’. 

I don’t suggest going there on your own, as the ruins are pretty difficult to find. The road to go there isn’t in good shape, so you can only reach the city if the weather has been good for a while. This road turns into a mud pool pretty easily.

We have some extra information about Naranjo in our article about Yaxha ruins and National Park.

7. Epic 5 day trip to El Mirador

The most epic and memorable Mayan ruins trip you can do in this area? Hike to the biggest, largest, and greatest Mayan city in Guatemala. The 5 day jungle hike to El Mirador is just unforgettable. You’ll get to see some amazing landscapes along the way, but the very best is the arrival at this Mayan city. 

El Mirador is one of the largest Mayan cities. It covers over 26 square kilometres, which is larger than many big cities in Europe. It has thousands of structures, temples, buildings, and pyramids. 

The largest building at El Mirador is La Danta, which is almost 3 ties higher than the tallest structure at Tikal. With its 172 meter altitude, it’s taller than the Egyptian pyramids.

If you want to visit El Mirador, there are 2 different options. You can book a helicopter flight over the ruins, which is quite expensive, but magical. It only takes half a day. The real and hardcore way to visit El Mirador is by doing the 5 day hike and feel the euphoria when you finally see the majestic temples rise up in front of you.

This 6 day trek can be done from Carmelita, a small village in the jungle about 85 kilometres from Flores. The Cooperativa Carmelita offers a few cool options for trekking the jungle around El Mirador.

More Mayan ruins in the area

We listed the 7 most epic Mayan cities in the near vicinity of Flores, but there’s much more to explore. However, most of the other ruins in Peten have a different starting hub than Flores. The other ruins in this area of Guatemala are usually visited from Sayaxché, a small city 60 km South-West of Flores.

Do you want to know more about the Mayan history in this country? Read our in-depth article about 14 of the most interesting Mayan ruins in Guatemala.

3 Things to do in the colonial peninsula of Flores

The colonial town of Flores is a tiny peninsula in Lago Peten Itza. It’s really small, but it has a few things to offer. 

Many visitors compare the architectural style of this town with the beauty of Antigua, but in a smaller package. We suggest not skipping Antigua just yet, but do make sure to calculate some time to explore Flores Island.

Explore the beautiful streets of the island

Flores is a colourful, colonial town that won’t disappoint you! Take your time to walk around and explore the beautiful streets. And yes, everywhere you go, eventually you will hit the lake after a short while. The island isn’t too large, so this activity doesn’t take too long. 

But be prepared to stop a few times to get the delicious street food or to enter a restaurant, hostel, or rooftop bar.

Streets of Flores Peninsula in Guatemala
Streets of Flores Peninsula in Guatemala

Enjoy the sunset from one of the rooftop bars

Speaking of rooftop bars, Flores has a few rooftop bars where you can enjoy the beautiful sunset over Lake Peten Itza. Make sure to select a bar that is facing West, in order to see the sun setting behind the lake. 

Sky Bar is a popular location for watching the sunset in Flores. But of course, there are more options!

Sunset on Lake Peten Itza seen from Flores
Sunset on Lake Peten Itza seen from Flores

Rent a kayak and venture out on the lake

Lake Peten Itza is the perfect location for kayaking. Besides just exploring the lake itself, you can also use a kayak to visit some of the places we mention in the next chapter. So, it’s a fun activity and it can bring you to some interesting places!

You can rent kayaks in some of the hostels in Flores. Make sure to ask in your own accommodation first. If not, just head to Los Amigos Hostel, where you can rent kayaks and SUP boards.

5 Things to do around Lake Peten Itza

Since Flores is pretty tiny, we also include a few things you can do in the area around the lake. Some are actually on the lake itself, while other are a bit further away.

Relax and play at Jorge's rope swing

Jorge’s Rope Swing sounds like it’s only a rope swing and it might not be something that attracts you straight away. But actually, the house of Jorge offers a nice place to relax and have some beach time with your friends or with your travel companion.

So, yes! You can enjoy an entire day of diving into the lake with the rope swing!

But you can also enjoy hanging out at the lounge area, playing a board game, having a drink, and so on.

Jorge’s rope swing is a family owned place. It’s a 15 minute boat ride from Flores and you have to pay an admission in order to use the facilities.

Hike to the Mirador Del Rey Canek

The Mirador Del Rey Canek offers beautiful and up close views over Flores Island. This viewpoint is located on the other side of the lake, wich is, in this case, not too far away. But you still need a boat to get there. 

Either you kayak to the small town of San Miguel on the other side of the lake, or you hire a boat for you and your friends. From the shore on the other side, the viewpoint is just a short hike away.

Enjoy some beach time at Playa Chechenal

This lake beach at Lake Peten Izta might be one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Guatemala… To be discussed! In any case, locals will tell you it is, and they might be right. 

This lake beach is a really relaxing and beautiful place where you can relax under the trees and enjoy a swim in the lake. The water here is so clear and it has a turquoise 

Playa Chechenal is also on the other side of the lake, a little further than the viewpoint hike, but still manageable by kayak. An other option is to combine the hike to the viewpoint with a half day at the beach. You can get a boat from Flores to drop you off at San Miguel on the other side of the lake. The boat ride only takes about 15 minutes.  From there, a 15-minute hike takes you to the beautiful Playa Chechenal.

Visit the tiny island and museum of Santa Barbara

The Museo de Santa Barbara s a very small island which hosts a very small museum with Mayan artifacts. All of these artifacts were found in the local area, which isn’t unusual if you count the amount of Mayan ruins in the area. Aside from the museum, the island also houses a restaurant and a hotel. 

You might find it more interesting just to circle the island and be in awe of how small it is, in order to house all three of these things: museum, restaurant, and hotel.

You can only reach the island by boat, and the boat trip only takes 5 minutes.

Museo de Santa Barbara at sunset
Museo de Santa Barbara at sunset

Have fun at the Mopan Falls

Las Cataratas de Mopan are off the tourist trail. They’re hidden in the jungle and not too many tourists know about them. Once you get there, you will be wondering why they’re not more popular. 

Mopan Waterfalls are located about 90 km from Flores, and it is a popular day trip to do. You can reach the waterfall on the Mopan River in a one hour drive from the town. If you don’t have your own transportation, you can always book a trip in one of the tour agencies in town. 

If you want to make sure that you’re in good company, book your tour at Los Amigos Hostel in Flores.

How to get to Flores Guatemala

If you’re planning a trip to Guatemala, you should not skip Flores. Well, Flores itself is not the place you’re not allowed to skip, it’s actually those majestic Mayan ruins that are scattered all over the Peten area. 

So, depending on the Guatemala itinerary you plan on following, you might be travelling from one of these places. Let’s get into the specifics of visiting Flores from any of these places.

From San Ignacio, Belize

If you’re travelling from Belize into Guatemala, Flores is probably your first stop. Or it should be!

We did the trip from San Ignacio to Flores with a shuttle, which we arranged in our hostel in San Ignacio. We were in a shuttle, together with a few other travellers. Getting a shuttle is convenient because this way, you are sure of transportation beyond the border. We did other border crossings with public transportation and then you have to find a new method of transport after customs.

So, with the shuttle, the driver drops you off at the first border ( to get out of Belize). You carry your bags through customs, get your OUT stamp, load you bag back into the shuttle, continue your journey to the Guatemalan border a few minutes further, unload your bags again, get your IN stamp for Guatemala, and load your stuff back into the shuttle to continue the ride to Flores.

Well, that’s the short story! If you want to know everything about crossing the border from Belize to Guatemala at the border crossing of Melchor de Mencos, read our detailed article: Belize to Guatemala border crossing.

From Rio Dulce to Flores

From Rio Dulce, you can simply get a public bus. This can either be a normal bus, as you probably know them in your home country, but it can also be a chicken bus. Although I must say, I didn’t see too any chicken buses in this part of Guatemala. For us, the drive to Rio Dulce (other direction) was partly done with a collectivo and partly with a normal public bus.

The ride from Rio Dulce to Flores is 200 km and it takes around 3,5 to 4 hours.

From Semuc Champey to Flores

Getting from Semuc Champey to Flores will, most likely, happen in a shuttle bus. These shuttles can be booked from your lodging in Lanquin. And this is, by far, the best way to do it. A shuttle bus will pick you up at your lodge and drive you all the way to your hostel in Flores.

For this drive, I recommend getting a shuttle, because it’s a very long drive. The distance is only 240 km, but the road isn’t that good, so the journey will take a while. This trip takes around 6 hours, but it can be longer, depending on the weather and traffic.

From Antigua to Flores Guatemala

Antigua really is super far from Flores. This journey takes a very long time. It’s more than 500 km and you always have to pass through either Rio Dulce or Coban. So, you can definitely break up this journey by visiting the beautiful Rio Dulce area or in Semuc Champey.

Public bus vs shuttle vs collectivo to reach Flores

Public buses as well as shuttles are a good way to get to Flores. Usually, a public bus is a little cheaper and it offers a more local experience. Shuttles, on the other hand are convenient and you’re more likely to meet other travellers. 

This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Some times we were very happy to be in a shuttle and talk English with other people, but at other times, it bothered us that it seemed we only saw tourists and weren’t in touch with the local culture at all. So, it depends!

If you get a shuttle, they will drop you off at your hostel, hotel, or lodge. Or, if they’re having a bad day, they might drop you off somewhere in town.

If you get a collectivo (one of my favourite ways to travel Guatemala) they might drop you off at your accommodation, if it’s on their route, and if you can explain your destination well. 

Then, if you’re getting a public bus to Flores, these buses just stop at the bus terminal. In the case of Flores, the bus terminal is just a short walk from the island. The bus terminal that is the closest to Flores Island is just a stop in the street. So, don’t expect a big bus terminal. If the driver stops in a street that’s a little wider than the last one and you hear a scream: ‘Flores!’. You’re there!

Where to stay in Flores

Flores is a popular destination for travellers in Guatemala. A lot of backpackers pass through this cute colonial island. But, there are also many travellers who are here for the Mayan heritage, who are less interested in the backpacker lifestyle and care for peace and quiet. 

Flores accommodates for all of these travellers and there’s a little bit of everything for everyone.

Hostels in Flores

Finding backpacker accommodation in the town of Flores is pretty easy and straight forward. Flores is a great hub for exploring the region, and also for exploring the Mayan sites. Flores has accommodation for every budget and there will, most likely be something there for you as well!

Check out these great hostels in Flores Guatemala!

Boutique hotels in Flores

Rather find accommodation that is equally memorable as your visit to the Mayan ruins? What about booking a well-designed boutique hotel in Flores? Have a look at these beautifully designed hotels in Flores and the surrounding area.

Check out these amazing boutique hotels in Flores

Staying in El Remate

El Remate is a more rural town, right on the road to Tikal. We spent one night in El Remate, the night we visited Yaxha at sunset. From El Remate, the distance to the ruins is shorter and it gives you a more rural experience.

Have a look at the best hotels in El Remate

Staying in Tikal National Park

If you want to beat the crowds at Tikal, then staying in Tikal National Park is one of the best ways to do that. The park opens at 6 in the morning, but most tourist only arrive around 8. If you’re staying at the National Park, you’re already inside before sunrise. 

This gives you access to the ruins before the crowds arrive and it offers you the option to get sunrise access.

Check out these hotels in Tikal National Park

Staying in Yaxha National Park

Are you visiting the Mayan city of Yaxha? Then a sunrise tour might also be something you consider. For the same reason as for Tikal, being inside the national park before day break gives you the advantage of sunrise views. Plus, staying at the eco lodge inside Yaxha National Park gives you access to the boat tours to Topoxte Ruins, which are otherwise difficult to reach and book.

In Yaxha National Park, you can spend the night in El Sombrero Ecolodge.

Frequently asked questions about Flores Guatemala

Still in doubt or still having questions about la Isla de Flores in Guatemala? Let’s answer a few questions that are regularly asked by travellers planning their visit.

Is Flores Guatemala worth visiting?

It depends, as is the case with so many things in life. 

I would say that the little town of Flores itself is not really a must-visit, but it is a great hub to visit the must-visit places in the area. 

So, Tikal, Uaxactun, Yaxha, Nakum, … These places are very much worth visiting, so why not visit them through the hub of Flores and get to know the region while you’re there?

Can you swim in Lake Peten Itza?

Yes, you can swim in the lake. There are quite a few beaches and other places where you can easily access the water. Don’t expect white sanded Caribbean beaches, but rather grassy lake beaches.

We heard that there are crocodiles in the lake, but they stay far away from people. I admit that we didn’t swim in the lake, but we saw quite a few locals do it.

For instance, the lake at Yaxha Ruins houses many crocodiles and it is not advised to swim there. But then again, in the Rio Dulce, there are certainly crocodiles, and we swam there without any issues.

Is it safe in Flores?

Flores Island is a pretty safe destination. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should stop using your brain. Always take you standard precautions and be more vigilant in the nighttime. Also, don’t show of your golden jewels or crawl down the streets drunk in the middle of the night.

Other than those situations t avoid, you can walk around Flores and explore the island without fear. People are happy to help and they’re very much used to the tourism in the area.

Is mainland Flores interesting for me?

The mainland city of Flores is not really a touristy destination. There are a few hostels, hotels, and tons of local restaurants, so you can easily venture out and explore. But, most tourists rather stay in the colonial peninsula of Flores island.

How much time do I need for Flores?

This depends on what you want to see and do exactly.

If you’re here on a short trip and you only want to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, then one or two nights are enough. But if you really want to explore the area better of if you want to get to know more about the Mayan history in this area, then I’d recommend some extra time. 

For our next visit to Guatemala, we want to spend even more time in Flores. We didn’t visit all the Mayan ruins and there are quite a few other things we haven’t seen yet. So, for that matter, if you have the time, one week, maybe two would be good!

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