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Let’s start with the most obvious reason to visit. Flores is the gateway to Tikal, the largest and most spectacular excavated Mayan site in the world. Dating from the first century, Tikal flourished between 200 and 850 A.D and is home to the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the Americas, Temple IV. Spending the day wandering around this jungle-shrouded ancient kingdom is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Flores isn’t short of cool watering holes or cafes, but for an authentic experience head to La Galleria del Zotz. This hole in the wall restaurant has the cheapest beer on the island, and the food is also delicious. For only Q15 – 25 you can enjoy an enormous meal that will keep you going for hours, and the chilled ambiance will have you coming back again and again. Be sure to try the traditional breakfast, too!
One of the best ways to explore the lake is by renting a canoe. You can easily do this in Flores, but nearby El Remate is also a great place to paddle in peace. You’ll be able to hire a canoe for less than $2 per hour. Go in the morning if possible, as the winds pick up in the afternoon.
If canoeing isn’t for you, why not hire a boat to explore the lake? Take some snacks and drinks and make an afternoon of it, and keep an eye out for lakeside wildlife. If your boat has a ladder, even better: Lake Peten Itza is great spot for a swim, and on a hot day not much beats leaping in for a refreshing dip.
Uaxactún is a Maya ceremonial centre, and while the pyramids and temples here have been uncovered, they haven’t been restored to the extent of Tikal. Here you can explore the oldest astrological observatory from the Mayan world and wander through the jungle-covered grounds.
On the north shore of Lake Peten Itza is Jorge’s rope swing, which you can reach by public boat or kayak. Run by a friendly family, this is a great place to hang out: you can jump into the lake from the rope swing, eat in the restaurant, and if you don’t want to head home after, you can nap in the hammocks outside.
Pupusas are thick corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of fillings then fried until the surface is crisp and the inside soft. While they’re traditionally from El Salvador, Pupusas are are everywhere in Guatemala and Flores is home to one of the very best pupusa restaurants.
Thanks to the clear local accent, Guatemala is one of the best places in the world to learn Spanish. If you want to brush up on your skills, Eco Escuela de Español is a community-based language program in the San Andrés, the next village from Flores. You can stay for a week with a local family with daily classes, lodging and three meals a day for just $150.
Yaxhá is the third-largest Maya ceremonial city in Guatemala, and once was home to more than 20,000 pepole. Over 400 buildings, five acropolises, and three ball courts have been discovered here, and from Temple 216 you can admire stunning views of Lake Yaxhá. A word of warning, however: the lake is home to a large group of crocodiles, so make sure you look from a distance!
If you’re an animal lover, pop over to Petencito Zoo, a conservation organisation and animal rehabilitation centre. Here you can stroll along some pretty trails and meet animals that are either recuperating after sickness or injury, or are unable to be released and live in the zoo permanently.
Ixpanpajul is a natural park about 15 minutes from Flores and there’s plenty of activities you can do here to get your blood pumping; you can hike through dense jungle, swing through the forest on a zip-line, walk along the Sky Way and go horse riding. There’s a decent pick-up service from Flores so it’s easily accessible.