In the heart of Petén, the twin towns of Flores and Santa Elena are often referred to simply and collectively as “Flores.” The former is actually limited to a small island on Lake Petén Itzá connected to Santa Elena, on the mainland, by a causeway.
Flores is a pleasant island town unlike any other in Guatemala with pastel houses and quiet streets. Santa Elena is a bit noisier and more chaotic because of its prominence as Petén’s main commercial center. Farther west, Santa Elena runs into the downright ugly town of San Benito.
Flores is the natural starting point for a visit to Petén’s wild interior, as it is the region’s transportation and services hub. Many NGOs are based here and the quiet streets are lined with a variety of shops, restaurants, and comfortable lodgings.
While Flores is excellent from a logistical standpoint and entirely attractive, it has been somewhat displaced in recent years by the emergence of El Remate, a lakeside town on the road to Tikal that is convenient for travelers to and from Belize. Still, there are a number of local attractions that make spending at least one day in the Flores area worthwhile.
Getting to Flores
By Air: Flights arrive at Mundo Maya International Airport (FRS), a few kilometers outside of Santa Elena east on the road to Tikal. In 2008, the airport underwent a substantial renovation and the facilities are vastly improved (including badly needed air-conditioning).
Most flights to the Flores/Santa Elena airport arrive from Guatemala City, with several daily on TACA (800/400-8222, www.taca.com) and a handful of smaller local carriers, among them TAG (www.tag.com.gt). TACA also flies to and from Cancún, Mexico.
Within Guatemala, travel agencies in Antigua, Panajachel, Guatemala City, or Quetzaltenango can help you find lower fares from Guatemala City to Flores on the regional carriers. These are in constant flux, with at least one of these airlines having recently gone under. Flights on TACA are usually in the $200 range for a round-trip flight, but you can often save a substantial amount by booking through one of these travel agencies.
By Bus: Linea Dorada (tel. 7926-1788, www.tikalmayanworld.com, $15–30 one-way) has buses from Guatemala City at 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, stopping in Río Dulce and Poptún along the way. There are also daily buses to and from Belize City ($17 one-way), leaving at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and returning at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Buses arrive and depart from the main bus terminal along 4a Calle in Santa Elena as well as from another office on Playa Sur in Flores (tel. 7926-3649).
You’ll find minibuses to Melchor de Mencos, Poptún, and Sayaxché west of the market in Santa Elena on 4a Calle. Buses and minibuses to San José and San Andrés ($1, 40 minutes) leave from 5a Calle, west of the market.
San Juan Travel (2a Calle, Santa Elena, and Playa Sur, Flores, tel. 7926-0041/2) operates service to Belize City ($20), continuing to Chetumal, Mexico, leaving daily at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. from its office on 2a Calle in Santa Elena. The shuttle also picks up passengers at the hotels in Flores and Santa Elena with prior arrangement. Return trips are at 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com