Flores and Santa Elena
Flores, Guatemala is a charming slow paced village with a trademark Caribbean sensibility. It is situated on an island surrounded by the beautiful waters of Lake Peten Itza and is only about 45 minutes away from one of Guatemala’s most popular archeological discoveries – the ruined Mayan city of Tikal. Flores is home to many of the beautiful pastel stucco buildings that seem to be so integral to that Caribbean feel. You can experience the old world charm of strolling along cobble stone streets and visiting the city’s many handicraft shops and charming colonial style homes, many of which have been converted into hotels, guest houses and restaurants. While you’re there, you can find just about any international cuisine you might crave, and enjoy dining in a distinctly tropical setting. The people are incredibly friendly, and while you’re there, be sure to be on the look out for many of Flores signature souvenirs, like local hand-made garments, fabrics and authentic Guatemalan mementos.
Flores: A Taste of Venice
Another thing that you’ll find if you really take the time to explore Flores is water – lots of it. Not only is Flores situated on an island, but the surrounding waters are constantly rising. But this slowly encroaching lake hasn’t daunted the spirit of the citizens. Instead, they’ve continued to adapt to this by turning to canoes, kayaks and other small boats to reach their homes. In fact, many of the older multi-story colonial buildings have seen their bottom floors abandoned as owners scramble to the higher floors to escape the waters but still reclaim their homes. If you’d like to witness this yourself, there are many locals offering boat and canoe tours of the shorelines slowly rising limits.
Santa Elena: Shopping Central
In nearby Santa Elena, visitors can enjoy a fantastic market bursting at the seams with the wares of local small enterprises. The selection is enormous, ranging from the vibrant beauty of locally woven fabrics to telephone accessories to sunglasses, watches and other hot items. There isn’t quite as much to do or see inside Santa Elena, but there are plenty of affordable hotels if you’re working around a budget during your Guatemalan explorations.
One of the biggest reasons travelers head over to Flores or Santa Elena is that there are so many attractions nearby. No matter what you’re looking to do, you can probably find a trip or a tour leading to it from here. Here are a few destinations you might want to take time to visit:
Lake Peten Itza
Lake Peten Itza is probably the primary destination of the Flores and Santa Elena area. It’s a magnificent and picturesque body of water, with beautiful blue waters and dotted with tiny islands along the way. Most visitors get around Lake Peten Itza by way of “launchas” or wooden speedboats that travel the area much like taxis do along city streets. For a reasonable fee, you can:
- Travel to visit the small local zoo on the nearby island of Petencito
- Make your way to an amusing “Wet and Wild” style water slide
- Journey to many remote and beautiful nature trails or
- Visit un-excavated Mayan structures and sites.
Another popular destination in the local area is the ARCAS, a wildlife rescue center where you can have the opportunity to come face to face with much of the areas local wildlife. There are creatures like macaws, parrots, jaguars, monkeys and others, all of which have been rescued from the illegal animal market that plagues the area.
El Mirador translates to “the view”, and it offers one of the most spectacular views of Flores and Lake Peten Itza that you’ll be able to find – ever! To experience it, you’ll need to get to San Miguel and climb to an old Mayan pyramid. Once you’re there, you’ll be privy to an amazing panoramic view of the lake and island city. On the other side of the island you can find a secluded beach ideal for swimming and snorkeling, or a chance to take a horseback tour of the landscape. There are also plenty of other Mayan ruins and structures nearby, since you’re fairly close to Tikal, Uaxactun and Yaxha.
Flores’s Museum of Cultural and Natural History
Another popular destination for Flores’s tourists is the museum of cultural and natural history that is stationed just outside of the islands beautiful Catholic Church and within view of its amazing stained glass windows. There are several interesting exhibits, including one on the local resource, chicle, the ingredient that helped make chewing gum chewy (and inspired a popular chewing gum brand of a similar name). Other exhibits unveil the secrets and wonders of the local ecology, especially when it comes to some of the local medicinal plants.
If you’ve headed to Flores or Santa Elena is search of a charming portal to an entirely different world, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll find ancient ruins, rescued wildlife, insights into the local history and culture and plenty of chances to explore and immerse yourself in the nearby Lake Peten Itza. If you’ll be headed this way, plan on staying at least a few days so that you can truly capture the essence of the lake’s dazzling shores, islands and treasures.