With copper-toned rooftops, colourfully coated architecture and cobbled streets ascending to a perfect sunset on the lake, the 'island' of Flores sometimes has the feel of a small coastal town in the south of France or Italy.
Yet, beneath these colonial inspired streets lies the ancient Mayan city of Tayasal, the last independent Maya state, and the last to resist the onslaught of the Spanish inquisition. The only trace of this once great city can be found in the Catholic church overlooking the lake, whose stones were once part the buildings of this stronghold.
A number of people may only use Flores as a one or two-night stop-over to undertake the sunset or sunrise excursion to Tikal. This is often after a mammoth bus journey from the south, Belize or Mexico. However, try to take an extra day here to enjoy the lake, peaceful atmosphere and colonial architecture.
We imagine that in peak season, the place could feel slightly over-run. On certain days, when it was clear that a bus-load of tourists had ust arrived for the night, the atmosphere did change a little. Unless you really don't plan on visiting Tikal (but then why are you in Guatemala?), Flores is probably too far out of your way.
Aside from taking the mandatory day-trip to Tikal, make sure to join the locals for a beautiful sunset dip in the lake.
For Tikal, you will find no limit of companies offering 'information' and tours. Be sure to ask around as the entrance to their mark-up is usually on the cost of transiting you there (quotes range from $100 – 150 GTQ per person).
Also, with sunrise tours necessitating an alarm-call of 3 a.m., try to gauge from a few companies before booking what the weather will be so you can make a judgement call on whether it is worth the extra cost and effort.
Locals drink together in the La Galleria del Zotz restaurant, with a litre bottle of Brahva at 10 GTQ, so make sure to drop by (particulary if you're staying the gringo-ghetto of Los Amigos on top of the hill).
On the main Guatemala backpacker trail, hostels will usually provide shuttle buses to Flores from all corners of the country. As usual, prices for a direct and gringo-oriented service will be inflated.
If making it there on your own, cheaper local buses to Flores go regularly from Coban (5 hours) and Rio Dulce (4 hours / $65 GTQ per person.). If crossing over from Belize via San Ignacio, buses to Flores are clearly marked and promoted (2 hours to Santa Elena followed by 5-10 min tuk-tuk ride to Flores.)
In both directions, this route tends to get very busy and will frequently pick-up and drop-off locals, so be prepared for the potential to stand for quite a while in cramped conditions on the second-class. First class reservations will provide allocated seating, but with less frequent buses you may exchange comfort for practicality.
Budget-breaker or maker?
Maker. It's always 5 o'clock somewhere in Flores with Happy Hour deals tending to last all day, so you are able to properly enjoy yourself on a budget.
The main reason for your visit – the trip to Tikal – is an unavoidably high expenditure, but this can be levelled out with the savings available elsewhere.