Another bum blistering eight hours in a van without suspension or a/c and we’d found ourselves at a little river. We were lined up in the heat of the afternoon sun with several other cars and buses where instead of a bridge there was a car ferry ready to take us over the Rio de la Pasion. We’d been watching our painful journey unfold on the phone GPS but this little quirk was unaccounted for. I could’ve sung when I saw it magically cut four hours off our estimated time of arrival! As we drove into Santa Elena I was questioning the descriptions I’d read online about Flores… How could “a picturesque, ramshackle of red roofed and quaint colonial houses, broken by cobblestoned streets” be hiding somewhere in amongst this grimy looking Guatemalan city? However, as we crossed the causeway that joins lake Peten with the island of Flores I was flooded with a sense of awe and amazement, it was as though we’d just transcended a time portal and been plonked back a couple of centuries.
Flores is tipped as the best place to stay if you’re planning to explore the magnificent ruins of Tikal and for good reason. It’s only an hour or so away and with its quiet pace and stunning aesthetics we really enjoyed spending a few nights here, just going slow and enjoying the views! Although there is not a lot to do here I still have a definite top 5.
Learn to do things the Maya way: Maya Wild is a not for profit organisation who run amazing workshops for the many tourists of Flores. They offer many different classes from Mayan chocolate to medicinal plants or jungle survival! I chose the avocado oil workshop and went in with four avocados, then I learnt how to turn them into delicious oil using nothing more than I’d find in my own kitchen. I came away with a new skill and was so pleased to know the money I’d invested was going back to the Mayan communities in the area. Maya Wild help by teaching english and by building sustainable homes and permaculture gardens empowering poorer rural communities. If you’re in the area check out the Maya Wild website for more details.
Take a colourful boat across the water: Because Flores is set on an island there are plenty of boats just waiting to take you across to the mainland or on little tours. Make sure you haggle, or just look for the place where the water taxi’s leave from for a very cheap trip across the lake (4Q). Just the boat ride in itself is fun and at sunset when the light is doing its thang across the surface of the lake it’s a succulent treat for the eyes!
Climb up a treehouse: If you take the water ferry from the northern (or the backside) of the island you will end up in a very quiet little local neighbourhood. Follow the road up until you get to the football field, then turn left and follow the path. Eventually you’ll arrive at a hill with a gnarled old skeleton tree and a treehouse known as “Mirador de Canek”. From here the views over Lake Peten in all directions are superb but the picture of the island of Flores peaked by a humble little church are what inspired me to make the journey. What we didn’t realise was that all around this little hill are buried Mayan Ruins. We bumped into an interesting old man who helped excavate Tikal back in the 70s and he told us that the permits have been granted and restoration of this site’s many temples will begin in 2018. So things will soon change for this little corner of Guatemala as another archaeological site is uncovered overlooking Lake Peten and Flores.
Eat on the street: Eating in Flores is at tourist prices but at about 4pm, all along the northern edge of Flores, little popup street food stalls start setting up. They offer delicious big flat round corn chips (called tostadas) piled with different salads or meats and crumbly white local cheese. They also have tamales (or corn bread filled with meat or beans wrapped in a banana leaf then steamed) and very bready empanadas. If you’d rather something sweet they have a great selection of scrumptious cakes, cheese cakes and fresh juices. Everything is super cheap and it’s all served al fresco with a lake view.
Wander the beautiful streets: Flores is a charming little dollop of a town floating in a lake and just waiting to be explored. Walking around its entire circumference can be done in half an hour or so, then you can cut into the centre and see the view of the lake from the church.
Also… If you get hungry might I recommend
La Casa Del Lacandon, Calle Union: We actually stayed here and I can’t recommend the place highly enough! The food is scrumdidlyumptious and very well priced. Also, they have lovely sunset views and a good happy hour.
Cool Beans, Calle Fraternidad: Funky little spot with good coffee and yummy food. Good prices.
San Telmo, Calle Union: This 3 story restaurant has plants growing all over it and was consistently pretty busy so we thought we’d give it a try. They had really good vegetarian options and we loved the Curry and the Pad Thai. It’s nice to have something a bit different every now and again.
Legumbres Mayas, Calle Centro America: Good vegetarian place! We loved their smoothies.