Flores is one of the unmissable destinations in Guatemala. The capital of the Peten Departments, this small city is the perfect starting point to explore the world-famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. Yet, there are many more things to do in Flores, Guatemala, than what you’d probably expect – in fact, plan to spend at least two full days there to appreciate all that it has to offer.
I have actually been to Flores three times so I have plenty of ideas for things to to in Flores, Guatemala, to keep yourself entertained! Continue reading to discover more!
The Best Things To Do In Flores Guatemala
Explore the ruins of Uaxactún
If you’re looking for a nice day trip to take from Flores, you could visit the incredible archaeological site of Uaxactún. Situated deep in the Peten rainforest, these ruins of the ancient Maya civilization were one of the first excavated sites in Guatemala. Situated close to the more famous Tikal, Uaxactún may be remote, but your efforts will be rewarded.
Here you can spend a day exploring pyramids and temples. Uaxactún is a former ceremonial center, and it boasts the oldest astrological observatory in the Mayan world. Less restored than other places, it feels much more off the beaten track.
Have a go on Jorge’s Rope Swing
A fun way to cool off on a hot day in Flores, Jorge’s Rope Swing has become something of a famous landmark in the area. Simply hop on a boat, or arrange travel with your accommodation, and you’ll be at the rope swing in no time. Although it’s “just” a rope swing, this place is more than that, being a veritable hang-out spot. There’s a bar for beer and snacks, hammocks, and you can even hire a tube to float around on the water.
Pay a visit to the once great Mayan city of Tikal
Seventy kilometers away from Flores, you’ll find the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal. This once thriving city boasted at its peak a population of 100,000 people, and flourished between 200 and 850 AD. It was abandoned for millennia before being rediscovered in the mid-19th century. Today it’s a place to marvel at the wonders of this ancient civilization.
Make sure to read my post The Best Guide To Visiting Tikal.
Take a trip to Ixpanpajul Natural Park
Situated practically on the doorstep of Flores, Ixpanpajul Natural Park encompasses 3.5 square miles of subtropical rainforest. This eco-adventure park is a perfect way to see the life of the jungle from the safety of suspension bridges and well-maintained pathways. There’s even the option to zipline, so you can really feel like a bird flying through the forest canopy. A great way to soak up nature if you’re not interested in a challenging trek.
Cool off with a swim in the lake
Flores is an island in Lake Petén Itzá, so it’s no surprise that one of the best things to do in Flores is to simply take a dip in the waters of the lake itself. It’s the ideal activity to while away some hours on a warm afternoon. One great spot in particular is on the north side of the lake – Playa Chechenal Peten, located on the opposite side of Mirador Del Rey Canek on San Miguel. Head to one of the public piers where you can jump off and enjoy the cooling water of the lake.
Soak up the atmosphere on Isla de Flores
One of the best things to do in Flores is to wander the small lanes and backstreets of this charming island. Whether you’re staying on the mainland or the island itself, you should definitely carve out some time to explore the old streets of Isla de Flores. The colorful facades of the houses, the cobbled streets, the views out over the lake – it’s a perfectly picturesque and pleasant place to spend some time. For when your feet are tired, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to kick back in.
Swing by Monkey Island
But Isla de Flores is not the only island in Lake Petén Itzá. For your chance to get up close and personal with the primate population of Flores, you should take a trip to Monkey Island which is just a short drive from Flores. There’s actually not one, but two islands here, both dedicated to the care and breeding of Guatemala’s spider monkeys. For that reason, you can’t explore the islands on foot, but you can take a boat trip to get a glimpse of the monkeys enjoying life in their natural habitat.
Embrace Your Inner Explorer at El Mirador
For a real adventure, you may want to get off the beaten track to visit El Mirador. Located on the Mexican border, deep within the Peten jungle, this was once a powerful city that reached its peak between 6th century BC and 1st century AD. You can get there on multi-day treks that depart from Flores, or else go on guided tours that involve a helicopter ride. Trust me, it is worth it.
Take a tour of Actún Can Cave
Close to the town of Santa Elena lies Actún Can Cave. This natural cave is actually part of a larger underground network of caverns and tunnels. Once you’re inside, you can admire stalactites and stalagmites, and other strange natural rock formations that have been formed over thousands of years. Make sure you wear sturdy shoes and bring a flashlight if you plan to explore the caves (entrance is ticketed).
Hop on a boat and explore
Being situated on a lake, getting around by boat from Flores is a given. But taking a boat trip by yourself (with a driver, of course) is something that you can definitely do here. So for the adventurous travelers out there, hire your boat and head out on the waters of the lake. You could moor up at San Jose (around 40 minutes away) and watch the scenery change along the lakeside as you breeze along.
Brush up on your Spanish
If you’ve got time to spare on your Flores excursion, why not brush up on your Spanish? There are many different options for learning the local lingo in Flores. You could get chatting to locals, opt to stay at a homestay, or you could sign up for classes at a Spanish language school – Dos Mundos is a good option.
People-watch at Parque Central
Sometimes there’s no better thing to do than to while away some an hour or so, drink or snack in hand, while you watch the world go by. The place to do this in Flores is at Parque Central. This small local plaza is a perfect place to come and relax – it’s clean, boasts shady trees, a kiosk, and a few shops. There’s a nice community feel here, especially when festivals are held (come at Christmas to see the huge Christmas tree).
Head over to the beautiful island of Santa Barbara
The lesser-known islet of Santa Barbara may be small, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. In fact, this little island is particularly beautiful – surrounded by the lake and natural scenery, there’s even a beach here. Better yet, there’s a bar on the island too! You could easily make a day of hanging out on the beach here, or simply visit to watch a sunset.
Not only that, but there’s also a museum on the island, featuring Maya artefacts discovered at nearby archaeological sites and even old broadcasting equipment. Feel like going? Call ahead and you can get picked up at the dock near Hotel Santana.
Admire Flores’ captivating Cathedral
Officially called the Catedral Nuestra Senora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of the Remedies), this Catholic church crowns the Isla de Flores at the highest point of the island. Interestingly, this remnant of the Spanish colonial era was actually built on top of a pre-Colombian structure. Sadly, the church was damaged by earthquakes throughout the years, but it’s still a charming place to visit – it’s particularly elegant when illuminated after dark.
Check out the CINCAP Museum
Close to Flores Cathedral is the Centro de Información sobre la Naturaleza, Cultura y Artesanía de Petén (CINCAP) Museum. As you may be able to tell from the name, this museum hosts an array of local exhibits from culture and crafts to nature, as well as historical artefacts. You should make sure you visit the CINCAP Museum for a deeper understanding of not only the Peten region, but of Guatemalan culture and history as a whole.
Sample a selection of local food at the Flores Night Market
For all the sights, smells, and sounds of Flores, you should head to the city’s night market – but make sure you visit on an empty stomach! There’s a great selection of food on offer here, from pepián – a chicken stew with Mayan and Spanish influences – and tortillas, to seafood and other delights. Once you’ve got some food, take a seat by the lake and enjoy the view of the sun setting. It’s a great option for backpackers on a shoestring budget, and a great introduction to the array of Guatemalan cuisine.
Meet the animals at Petencito Zoo
Petencito Zoo is a rehabilitation center for sick or injured wild animals. Situated two islands over to the east of Flores, the center is home to a variety of wildlife including pumas, ocelots, and jaguars. Unlike Monkey Island, which you can’t walk around in, visitors are free to explore the trails and paths connecting the various animal enclosures. There’s also a bridge connecting the two islands, making for a pretty fun way to experience a zoo with a good heart.
Petencito Zoo is open daily from 8:00 to 18:00.
Wander the centuries-old structures at Yaxha
Situated to the east of Flores, Yaxha is Guatemala’s third-largest ancient ruin, and was once a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization. This large urban settlement reached its peak in 250 to 600 AD, and it’s estimated to have had a population of 42,000 in its heyday. More than 500 structures remain today – including a large acropolis, plazas, a causeway, and a pyramid complex – making for a relatively vast area to explore.
Yaxha is the most visited of the three Mayan sites in the area, and it’s particularly worth your time – not only for the incredibly restored buildings, but also for the lush surrounding flora and fauna. To top it all off, head to the top of the tallest pyramid for some breathtaking views.
Enjoy drinks in some of the islands bars
When you’re not exploring ancient ruins or visiting other cultural hotspots around Flores, you’ll need something to do in your down time. So how about hitting up some of the best bars on the Isla de Flores? There are plenty to choose from, each one different from the rest – some of them are actually pretty lively if you feel like dancing late into the night. Some of the best bars in Flores include the lively and local Que Pachanga, Sky Bar, and Mangos Bar (featuring a rooftop for great views over the city).
Enjoy the views at Malecòn Isla de Flores
If you don’t feel like visiting a bar, but you feel like a bit of R&R, then you should consider checking out Malecòn Isla de Flores. This lakeside promenade is the perfect spot for a morning run or afternoon stroll alike (provided you can bare the heat), a beautiful place where you can sit and lap up the sights and sounds of the island as people go about their daily business. Take a book, grab a cold drink, and enjoy some time relaxing by the water of the lake.
Take a tour along the Pasion River to Seibal
Pasion River – or the Rio de la Pasion – offers up an unique experience for visitors. Booking yourself onto a tour is simple enough, after which you’ll get taken to the nearby town of Sayaxcha. From here, you’ll hop on a boat that’ll float you along the Pasion River to the UNESCO-recognized ancient Maya settlement of Seibal (aka El Ceibal). Approaching by boat is a memorable experience, feeling like a real adventurer as you step off the craft to explore the ancient buildings.
For guided tours of Seibal departing from Flores, click here.
Dine on the terrace at Raices Restaurante
For a romantic evening, or simply a place to enjoy a delicious meal, book a table at Raices Restaurante. Not only does this recommended spot serve up some mouthwatering bites to eat, it’s also the location and ambiance that keeps people coming back. One of the best bits of this restaurant is the fact that you can eat out on a pontoon floating on the lake. You may even catch a glimpse of fish and turtles swimming around in the sparkling water as you eat.
Practical Information To Plan Your Trip To Flores Guatemala
How to get to Flores Guatemala
Flores is well connected to the rest of Guatemala by bus or plane, and can be easily reached also from Belize.
Flores has its very own airport so it is easy to reach from other destinations in Central America. There are direct flights from Guatemala City, and connecting flights from a variety of other destinations.
You can search for flights from Guatemala City to Flores here.
Linea Dorada runs direct buses to Flores from Guatemala City, usually leaving at 10:00 pm and arriving in Santa Elena, Flores’s sister town connected to it via a causeway, at 6:00 am. If you are traveling from Antigua, Chichicastenango or Lake Atitlan you will have to hop on a colectivo to Guatemala City and then take the bus there. You can buy tickets directly at the station – just make sure to buy them at the official bus stand.
You’ll have the option of traveling first or second class buses. Pick the first class bus as it is direct and much faster.
Most hotels and hostels in Antigua and Lanquin / Semuc Champey will be happy to arrange a direct transfer to Flores – but you can also book them online for virtually the same price. Travel time varies depending on where you are traveling from – but you’ll end up saving time compared to the bus as you won’t have to go through Guatemala City, and it may be even cheaper. The only downside is that these minibuses are not comfortable.
For shuttles from Antigua, click here.
For shuttles from Lanquin, click here.
How to get to Flores from Belize
Flores is close to the border with Belize: the nearest city is San Ignacio, which is less than 2 hours drive. There are direct buses leaving twice a day from Belize City to Santa Elena. The overall trip takes around 5 hours.
Beware of border scams – customs guards may ask you for unofficial fees to let you through. You can simply pretend not to understand and chances are they will let you go.
Where to stay in Flores Guatemala
There are plenty of excellent accommodation options in Flores, perfect for any budget and kind of traveler. As I have been there three times, I can recommend a few places I have tried:
- LOS AMIGOS HOSTEL – By far the best hostel in Flores, it offers both private rooms and dorms. There are plenty of social places to meet other travelers.
- HOTEL ISLA DE FLORES – A great mid range option, with large cozy rooms. It’s located in the heart of the city.
- LAS LAGUNAS BOUTIQUE HOTEL – A bit outside of town and immersed in the jungle, it’s the best place to stay if you have the budget to splurge. Rooms are massive!
Make sure to read my other posts:
- Everything You Need To Know Before Visiting Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Antigua, Guatemala
- The Best Things To Do In Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
- The Best Guide To Chichicastenango Market
- Everything You Need To Know To Hike Pacaya Volcano
- Everything You Must Know About Chicken Buses
- The Most Beautiful Mayan Ruins In Guatemala
- The Best Guide To Semuc Champey
- The Best Itinerary For Two Weeks In Guatemala