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Flores is a gorgeous island in Lake Peten Itza in Northern Guatemala. Most people use it as a base to explore Tikal and other Mayan ruins in the area. While these amazing ruins are one of the best things to do in Guatemala, Flores itself is also a nice place to visit.
There are plenty of options for Tikal tours from Flores, that depart from sunrise to sunset. I made a huge mistake while visiting Tikal, so learn from me and don’t do this!
Tikal Tours from Flores
The major attraction of Flores is Tikal National Park, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. Dating back to the 1st Century AD, Tikal is one of the most impressive Mayan ruins sites that you can visit in Central America. It used to be the capital of the Mayan empire, so you can imagine how large this site is. Walking through the ruins will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time or an Indiana Jones movie. It’s one of the best experiences to have in Guatemala.
Flores is about an hour and a half from Tikal, so the easiest way to visit is to arrange a tour to Tikal from Flores. Since it’s so big, the best way to visit is with a guide who can show you around and tell you about the fascinating history of this area. While you can DIY, I recommend taking a tour as you will learn so much more.
The best time to see Tikal is either at sunrise or sunset. Partly because the explosion of colors over the sky is beautiful, but also because this region is incredibly hot and if you visit in the middle of the day it will be uncomfortable walking around.
Therefore, the two most common Tikal tours from Flores are the sunrise tour and sunset tour. You can do a day tour of Tikal from Flores, but I don’t recommend it because of the heat.
My Tikal Tour From Flores
I was staying at Los Amigos hostel in Flores and upon arriving met two Australia guys (always a dangerous game). We immediately started drinking, which led to many a tequila shot late into the night. Somewhere along the way that day I had convinced them to sign up for the sunrise tour with me, which didn’t seem to affect their tequila consumption.
Given that it’s a sunrise tour and Flores is about an hour and a half away from Tikal, this meant the pickup time from the hostel was around 3 am. Knowing this, I was convinced that the best idea would be stay up all night drinking until the van came to pick us up. They didn’t entirely agree with me that it was a good idea, but were on board to keep drinking.
Around 2:00 am, I had to get something from my room so I left the hostel bar and told them I would be right back. I guess the lure of my bed was too much to resist, because the next thing I know I was waking up to someone else’s alarm going off in my room. I woke up in a panic, thinking that I had missed the pickup. It turns out that person was going on the same tour, so I scrambled to pull my stuff together and got on the bus, presumably reeking of alcohol. My Aussie friends were nowhere to be seen, so we ended up leaving without them.
I passed out almost immediately and woke up abut an hour later when we arrived at Tikal. At this point, it was 4 in the morning and the alcohol was slowly wearing off, but I had to keep it together as the first part of the tour involves walking through a pitch-black jungle. Our guide immediately pointed out a giant tarantula!
You climb onto one of the ruins and watch the sunrise from there. Despite my creeping hangover, the sunrise was incredible. You hear the entire jungle wake up, including the howler monkeys which are so loud they could be mistaken for the roar of a lion. There’s something so peaceful about listening to the sounds of a jungle waking up.
Once the sun was up, we continued on with our tour of Tikal, and this is when my regret of last nights decisions really started to kick in.
Since the complex is so large, it takes hours to walk around all the ruins. it started off well for me, but by 9 am the sun was scorching and I felt like I was sweating pure alcohol out of my body. It became too unbearable to stand, that I actually just went and sat behind one of the ruins in the shade at one point. It wasn’t my finest hour.
That said, I still managed to get some enjoyment out of visiting Tikal. It’s an amazing area to walk around. Even in my hungover pain, I couldn’t help but feel amazed walking through such a remarkable place.
Besides the ancient ruins, there’s a remarkable amount of wildlife here. On my walking tour, we spotted monkeys, coatis, and toucans perching in the trees.
When we got back to the hostel I found my new friends and they explained to me that they assumed I had fallen asleep so they switched the tour from the sunrise to sunset so they could sleep in. That would have been a smart decision!
If you do decide to visit Tikal at sunrise, get a good night’s sleep beforehand. Be wary of fun Australia, and avoid Tequila.
Other Things to do in Flores
Kayak on lake Peten Itza
From Los Amigos hostel you can rent canoes to take out on Lake Petén Itzá. You can also rent kayaks in town. This is a great way to spend an afternoon in Flores as the lake is gorgeous, it’s the second-largest lake in Guatemala after Izabal Lake.
Walk around Flores
Flores is a cute town to walk around. While not quite as pretty as colonial Antigua, it’s got its own charm. It’s a pretty small town, and you can walk around the entire town in about 20 minutes.
Jorge’s Rope Swing in Flores Guatemala
This is a really fun way to spend a day in Flores. Six of us caught a 15-minute boat ride across the lake to Jorge’s rope swing, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a simple rope swing over the lake, with a nice area you can relax on.
He has board games you can play, hammocks to relax on, cheap beer, and a gorgeous view of the sunset over the lake. There’s also a small restaurant there you can order local food from. It’s a 10Q entrance to the rope swing which is well worth it.
El Mirador Del Rey Canek On San Miguel Island
Take a 10-minute boat ride over to San Miguel island to check out El Mirador Del Rey Canek. Here you can get great views fo Flores, and it’s only a 10-minute walk to the top. There is also a beach nearby, Playa Chechenal Peten, that you can visit on San Miguel island.
Visit the Uaxactún Ruins
Tikal isn’t the only Mayan ruin site around Flores. The Uaxactún ruins are less popular then Tikal and have not been as excavated, making it a perfect off the beaten path destination. The ruins are home to the world’s oldest astronomical observatory! Uaxactun is about two hours outside of Flores and you can visit them on a guided day tour.
Visit the ruins of Yaxha
Another lesser known Mayan ruin in the area, Yaxha makes an excellent day trip from Flores. It’s also a great place to explore the wildlife and nature of the area as you can see monkeys and birds in addition to the ruins. Similarly to Tikal, you can do a sunset tour here.
Visit El Mirador by Helicopter
If you’re looking for a really unique adventure, visit El Mirador Archeological Site by helicopter. El Mirador is an ancient Maya city located in the Mirador Basin in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. You’ll fly from Flores to the site, then take a guided tour around the area.
There is also a 6-day trek you can take through the jungle to El Mirador, which I’m sure would be an incredible experience. Since trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, I’ve been obsessed with trekking to ancient wonders.
How Long to Spend in Flores
A Tikal tour from Flores can be done in one day but many also spread it out over two to truly enjoy them. If you are interested in exploring the other Mayan ruin sites around Flores, then I advise spending three to four days here. The town is well worth spending a day exploring on its own, especially if you head over to Jorge’s rope swing for a relaxing day on the lake.
Where to Stay in Flores
Los Amigos is the most popular hostel in Flores, and I enjoyed my time here as you can probably tell from this story. Although it has a party atmosphere, they’ve actually soundproofed the bar so you can still get a good night’s sleep here. It’s got a lovely garden common area.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury while in Flores, Hotel Isla de Flores is a great option. It’s got a 9.0 rating with hundreds of reviews, and affordable private rooms.
You can also skip Flores entirely and stay right inside the park. Accommodation options here are pricier, but you won’t have to worry about transport to/from the park. This is a good option if you’re interested in visiting multiple Mayan ruins. You can also camp inside the park, which is a great way to connect with nature.
Getting to Flores
From Belize: If you traveling from Belize to Guatemala, Flores is a perfect first stop on your Guatemala itinerary. There is a shuttle that travels from Belize City and San Ignacio to Flores. The first time I traveled to Guatemala it was from Belize City to Flores via a bus and it took about four hours.
You can also get to Flores from Southern Mexico via bus.
From Guatemala by bus: The natural wonder of Semuc Champey is another logical stop to visit before or after Flores, as there are regular tourist shuttles that run between the two. It’s still about an 8-hour drive, as Semuc Champey is literally in the middle of the jungle. It’s worth visiting though.
There’s ground transportation from just about any other city in Guatemala to Flores. If you’re landing in Guatemala City, you can catch an overnight bus to Flores. You can also catch busses here from Antigua, Lake Atitlan,and Rio Dulce.
Flying: If you are short on time, it is possible to fly to Flores from Guatemala City through Mundo Maya International Airport. Flights to Tikal leave in the early morning at 6:30 am from Guatemala city and arrive back on the same day. There are also organized day tours which will arrange all of this for you.
Flores is a great addition to any Guatemala itinerary. Whether you’re starting your trip here from Belize or Mexico, or just making your way through Guatemala, it’s well worth a stop. Just don’t stay up drinking for the sunrise tour – it’s not worth it!
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Even when you’re not hungover, getting up that early for the bus to Tikal is hard. We tried to go to bed early the evening before and were still shocked when our alarm clocks rang.
Despite the hungover, it still sounds as if you had a great time. The sunrise in Tikal must have been amazing and I wish we could have experienced that. Unfortunately, the day we went, the gates to Tikal didn’t open until the sun was already up. We spent ages waiting before we could buy our tickets. To make matters worse, our bus driver then dropped us off and told us that he couldn’t find our guide. Despite our protests, he just drove away and we had to explore Tikal ourselves.
Despite everything, the ruins were amazing. I really loved climbing to the top of those pyramids and seeing all the jungle around us. I just wish we’d had more time in Flores. We went on a sunset tour to Yaxha (and this time, our guide showed up), which was amazing. Unfortunately, we had to leave the next day. But I hope I can go back one day for the activities you suggested.
Sorry to hear all of that happened to you! I’m glad you still enjoyed the ruins! Sunset at Yaxha must have been amazing too.
It sounds like we had the exact same Tikal experience! Except I was staying around the corner from Los Amigos where I was hanging out and got locked out of my hostel and no one would answer the door when we were knocking. It was still so fun though!
That’s so funny! I guess that happens a lot with 3am tours haha