We picked Flores Guatemala, or more accurately, Flores Island, as our stopping point. Both, when getting ready to cross into Belize, and on our way back. No surprise really, since it’s a charming, scenic island set on Lake Peten Itza. Flores is a popular jumping-off point for those who want to visit the Mayan temples at Tikal National Park (about an hour away) and surrounding areas. For us, it was just a welcome oasis after driving 8+ hours from Antigua Guatemala.
For the most parts, the trip was uneventful. There are a few spots where there’s ongoing road construction (always happening in Guatemala), but nothing too bad. I’ll condense both stays in Flores into one post.
Big Man on Campus
As I followed the signs for Santa Elena, the bigger town right next to Flores, I spotted a “Monument to Elderly Citizens.” It caught my attention because it looked suspiciously like that of Joe Paterno, Penn State’s former coach. Later, I found out that it was the likeness of Manuel Baldizon, runner-up in Guatemala’s last Presidential election.
Baldizon, who talks in the third-person and fashions himself after Clark Kent (seriously… he said that), was born in Flores. His family pretty much owns the city and Baldizon, a Congressman, is set on renaming everything he possibly can after himself.
He built the monument below to the Mayans, which is also on the main road to Flores.
He owns the one and only mall in Flores (below), the only news channel in the Peten Department, and scores of other businesses in town. If you’re interested ainthe shady dealings in the area, read InsightCrime.org’s interesting report on the subject.
Flores Guatemala Island
The island of Flores is reachable from a causeway that joins it to the town of Santa Elena.
Peten is really humid most of the year and it takes some getting used to. Temperatures are pleasant enough to walk around at sunrise and strolling at sundown is an enjoyable activity.
A new lakeside promenade has been built on the western side of the island, making for a pleasant walk early in the early mornings and late afternoons. Any time in between and you risk sweating your face off.
Lake Peten Itza Promenade
It takes about 15-20 minutes to circle the island on foot, depending on your pace.
Launches are everywhere and will take you to nearby attractions, such as the Petencito Zoo and an archeological museum located on a smaller island right across the water from Flores (below).
Sunsets are beautiful here and can be enjoyed from the promenade or many of the restaurants facing the western side of the island.
The following morning, we headed to Belize for the next leg of the journey.
Upon returning from Belize, after the hassle of catching a Water Taxi out of Caye Caulker before Hurricane Ernesto hit, dealing with Customs in two countries, it only made sense to spend the night at Flores again and continue to Guatemala the following morning.
Since we had more time this time around, the next morning we were up and running pretty early to do some exploring.
The Streets of Flores Guatemala
Flores cobblestone streets remind me of Antigua Guatemala, although the city itself is about half the size and there’s way less vehicle traffic.
Finding a parking space is nowhere near the hassle it can be in Antigua at times.
The first day, we had breakfast at Dona Goya’s Restaurant, which had a nice view of the lake and good prices. I also recommend Cool Beans Cafe, another lakeside restaurant that serves a great meal. No charge for the entertainment provided by the young chickens roaming around.
There are a few docks around the island, from which the locals and tourist alike like to launch into the lake for a swim.
Flores’ Central Plaza is located at the highest point on the island. So that’s where we started walking towards.
Humidity started climbing, which meant all the walking I was going to do, I had better do it fast.
The plaza was simple, with the church and government buildings dominating the landscape.
A replica of the “Monument to Peace” is here, although it’s a mystery to me whatever happened to the other hand. Vandals most likely.
The plaza was named after Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio (below), who was born in Flores.
There’s a nice view of the lake from the eastern side of the plaza.
The main church is actually a cathedral (Catedral Nuestra Señora de Los Remedios y San Pablo Itzá) and houses an image of the black Christ.
Since it was getting late, we headed back to the car to start our long trip back home.
We passed the city of Santa Elena on our way out.
Flores is a little too remote for my tastes, not to mention hot, so it wouldn’t be on my list of long-term cities in Guatemala. However, I can see how it may be attractive to other expats.
Flores does have an airport with daily flights to Guatemala City, and its relative closeness to the Belizean border makes renewing one’s visa a relatively painless affair. It’s a pretty laid-back town where you can get to know everyone if you really wanted to. I had a good time there and I’m sure I’ll be back to Flores again soon :)
Have you visited Flores?