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When passing through Guatemala, one place you really must visit is the charming island of Flores.
Located in the northern end of Guatemala, it’s relatively easy to get to if you're backpacking through the country.
It has grown increasingly famous in recent years for being close to some of Guatemala's biggest Mayan ruin sites.
But as well as Mayan ruins, there are plenty of things to do in Flores, and it proved to be the ideal place to stay in for people of all ages.
And after 2 nights spent here, here is my go-to guide on not just what to see and do in Flores, but also some answers to most common questions, like how much to budget and how to get around.
First up ...
It makes sense to start with perhaps the most famous Flores attraction, the Tikal ruins.
These are located roughly 1 and a half hours from Flores and are what draw in thousands of tourists to Flores every single month.
We took a day tour with a guide and I highly recommend doing this as well.
The site itself is incredibly large, and there are dozens of temples and monuments that still have not been excavated.
The guide will be able to show you the best way through the ruins, and also give you deep insight into how the temples were built and how long the Mayans ruled for.
Cazzy’s complete guide to the Tikal Mayan ruins answers any more questions you might possibly have; such as how to get there and how much they cost to visit.
The Uaxactun ruins are less famous than those at Tikal, but even more impressive in some ways.
They haven't been excavated or renovated as much as the ones at Tikal, so they have a much more rugged feel.
Once again, it’s worth getting a guide if you choose to visit, so that you can gain deeper insight into the 8 major sites that have been categorised in Uaxactun.
You might want to consider spending a night in one of the guest houses located near to the Tikal ruins.
That way, you can visit Tikal one day, enjoy sleeping in the jungle for the night and then explore Uaxactun the next day, which is about 23 km further along.
There are a limited number of properties to choose from, but they actually surprisingly modern and good quality.
I would recommend checking out the listings available on Booking.com.
The first night we arrived in Flores we really weren't too sure what to expect.
All we knew was that we were hungry and wanted somewhere to grab a drink!
So we headed up to the centre of Flores and saw a small bar/restaurant located down near the edge of the lake.
Only once we got to the rooftop bar did we realise how incredible the views are around Flores!
We sat down, ordered a couple of frozen blue Margaritas and watched the sunset.
Simply relaxing with some food and drinks from any one of the bars and restaurants is easily one of the best things to do in Flores.
However, that first restaurant proved to be our favorite place to eat in Flores.
If you’re interested in trying it out, it's called Sky Bar Flores and they offer 2-for-1 frozen blue Margaritas for just Q30 between 5pm and 9pm.
If you’re looking for another great way to enjoy the views out over Flores, then you should head up to El Mirador del Rey Canek.
It's located just over the water near to a small village called San Miguel.
The easiest and cheapest way to get here is to catch one of the ferry boats which seems to leave all throughout the day.
They stop at docks located all around Flores, so speak to your hostel/hotel owner about the best one to use to get across the water.
The hike up to El Mirador takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes from where you get dropped off.
There’s not too much uphill walking as the actual platform is a sort of tree house building that rises up through the surrounding canopy.
It's only small, but you get to enjoy some great view back out over the lake and to Flores.
Whilst on this side of the water, it’s worth heading over to another one of the best things to do in Flores, which is Jorge’s rope swing.
It’s good fun and is a simple swing operated by a family who live nearby.
Of course, you can jump from the rope swing and into the water, a great way to cool off on a hot day; especially if you've just come back from El Mirador.
They also have a restaurant and hammocks by the water, so it's a great place to relax and unwind and simply enjoy the peacefulness of the area.
Another place you can sail to when in Flores is the Museo Santa Barbara, located on a small island off the Western coast of Flores.
It’s certainly not the largest museum in Central America, but it’s still well worth the visit for the modest collection of artefacts they have on display.
This includes a number of Mayan relics, many dating back almost 2000 years!
So though it’s not as grandiose as other museums, this small island plays host to some of Guatemala’s most treasured relics.
The island also has a small cafe, and it’s possible to sit and relax and enjoy the peacefulness of this secluded spot.
Getting there only costs Q10, and you get a ferry that leaves from behind Hotel Santana.
The island of Flores isn't particularly big and you can easily walk round it in as little as 20 minutes.
But it’s a really nice walk, especially on a calm, clear sunny day.
Maybe we were just lucky when we visited Flores, but the weather was impeccable and the early evenings were particularly nice.
So take your camera, snap some phones, stick them on Instagram and make your friends back home jealous!
If walking round Flores isn't your thing, then here’s something a little more high octane.
In the Ixpanpajul Natural Park you’ll find plenty to get your heart racing.
One of the most popular tours to this park includes ziplining and you can book a half day tour from many of the tour agencies dotted all around Flores.
They drive you deep into the jungle, before you come to the various ziplining wires.
We’ve ziplined across a few places now, most notably Vang Vieng, and it’s always good fun!
It’s worth mentioning that there are other things to get up to in Ixpanpajul Park, including hiking and horseback riding.
I recommend visiting a tour agency and speaking to them to see what’s available.
Most things in Flores are surprisingly affordable.
Though this is something we didn’t get to do when in Flores, I would seriously consider returning one day to do it.
We learned about this epic trekking opportunity from our guide at Tikal park, who has spent years taking guests for 5 day hikes through the jungle to el Mirador.
This Mayan site houses the world’s 8th largest pyramid, called el Dante.
It’s worth noting that this is also the largest Mayan pyramid in the world, so it’s well worth visiting if you wish to fully immerse yourself in Mayan history.
Typical trips last either 5 or 6 days, with 4 days spent walking (2 there and 2 back) with another day spent exploring el Mirador.
If you want to book yourself onto a tour, then many people wait until they arrive in Flores.
However, it is possible to find out more beforehand and to start contacting tour agencies which require a minimum number of people before they can take you.
For a better idea of what to expect and how to contact tour operators, I recommend checking out this incredibly in-depth post here.
We stayed in Flores for 2 nights, but this really wasn't enough time to make the most of what Flores had to offer.
If I could do it again, I’d stay for 4 nights and have plenty of time to see and do all of the things discussed here, and still have chance to relax and unwind a bit more; before heading off for another long minibus ride through Guatemala.
If you’re pressed for time, then I’d recommend 2 nights as a bare minimum, and 3 if you can spare it.
Flores isn't particularly big, but that being said, there are plenty of different hotels and guest houses to choose from.
Location is important so far as you are willing to pay a little extra to have a nice view.
We booked into Hotel Villa del Lago which turned out to be a very nice hotel, with great views from the balcony, which made for the ideal spot to work from in the evening.
PUT PIC OF WORKING
The rooms are clean, if not a little dated, and the staff are friendly enough.
If you are interested then you can check out the best prices for this hotel on Booking.com.
Here are a few more good value accommodation options for Flores …
Note: For all of the properties listed above, I’ve included links through to Booking.com. If you click one of these and book through that link, then we get a small commision, at no added cost to you. So thanks ahead of time for helping support our blog! :D I recommend Booking.com as we use them all over the world as they offer the best prices and have the widest range of accommodation almost everywhere.
The most common method of getting to and from Flores is by minibus.
If you’re backpacking through Guatemala, then you will use minibuses to get to and from all major cities, and very rarely do they offer bus services.
We took the minibus from Palenque in Mexico and it cost us a grand total of 600 Mexican pesos.
We then went from Flores to Lanquin, which cost us Q100.
These seem to be the going rates and you can get these prices in most tour agencies.
That being said, some will try to rip you off so, like when you visit any country, it’s worth shopping around first to get a good price.
Oftentimes, hotels and hostels in Guatemala offer the same price, if not better, than tour agencies.
Just bear in mind that you will be grouped together with passengers who bought their tickets from all kinds of different companies, the actual tour agents themselves don’t operate the buses.
Instead, they get a commision for selling on behalf of the minibus owners.
As such, make sure you ask your tour operator which minibus company you should ask for when you arrive.
All buses pick up and drop off from the same point, which is just over the bridge when you enter Flores.
They are not allowed to go any further. To help, the tour companies will pick you up at and drop you off at your hotel in a smaller car (for free).
When researching the best things to do in Flores, one of the things I saw mentioned a few times on other blogs and Tripadvisor was the Zoologico Petencito.
We have mixed views on Zoos and tend to prefer animal sanctuaries that deal with caring for or housing animals that are ill, disabled or unable to live on their own in the wild.
According to descriptions of this zoo, they are supposed to do just this and help to get animals ready for lives back in the world.
But upon digging a bit deeper into other people’s reviews, it turns out that conditions here are anything but ideal.
Many animals are caged up in areas far too small and dirty and they seem bored and almost lifeless.
This is a far cry from what we encountered in the Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Centre in Cambodia, which is my base standard for a great wildlife centre.
As such we decided to give it a miss, and perhaps you shouldn't too if you aren't happy to support such zoos.
There are two ATMs on Flores island, one of which hardly ever works apparently and the other of which would not work for us the first night.
In order to get cash out, you will, therefore, need to head out over the bridge towards the Burger King.
Just next to the Burger King is a shopping centre and downstairs on the right is an ATM.
This worked for us the first night, however, when we went to use it again a couple days later it wouldn't work.
And neither did 4 other ATMs located further away inland Flores.
Apparently, this is common across all of Guatemala where ATMs almost all stop working for periods of time, either because they run out of cash or for other unexplained reasons.
My point is, when in Guatemala I recommend getting out as much cash as possible whenever you find one that does work.
It also helps to save money as all ATMs have a fixed withdrawal fee, usually around Q31, regardless of how much you withdraw.
At least, this was the case for us ...
I would love to go back and spend at least a few more nights here, relaxing and enjoying the great views and cocktail deals!
If you’re feeling a bit worn out from constantly travelling from spot to spot across Central America, then I highly recommend using Flores as a place to regroup and rest up before moving on.
Well, that’s about it.
If you’ve got any more questions about what to do in Flores and how to make the most of your time here, then just let me know in the comments below ...