The road from Flores  heads west before cutting north along the lakeside to the small town of San José. You’ll find the people here and in neighboring San Andrés  extremely friendly and laid-back. Many of the villagers still make their living from harvesting forest products such as chicle, allspice, and xate palm. NGOs have been particularly active here since the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve and have found the communities very amenable to their conservation goals.
San José is a surprisingly pleasant town complete with a municipal recreation area on the lakeshore. Its somewhat steep streets meander into the surrounding hillside, affording stunning views of the pretty bay below. Adding to the town’s intrigue is a Mayan cultural revival of the Itzá people. You’ll see signs in this Mayan dialect around town. A community organization, the Bio Itzá, has its own language school and also manages a private forest preserve north of town along the fringes of Biotopo El Zotz–San Miguel la Palotada .
Another unique aspect of the local culture are the town’s two main annual fiestas. The first of these takes place between March 10 and 19 and includes a parade and fireworks, capped off by an unusual costumed dance in which a young girl and a horse skip together through the town streets.
The second annual festival takes place on October 31 and November 1. It begins with a solemn Mass in the town’s Catholic church, which houses three skulls in a glass case thought to belong to Spanish missionaries or the town’s founders, depending on whom you believe. One of these skulls is removed from its resting place and is put on the church altar during the service; it is then carried through town on a velvet pillow by black-clad devotees, followed closely by children in traditional village costume and townsfolk. The procession stops along the way in several homes, where cane liquor, along with traditional food, are consumed and prayers and chants are offered. At the end, the skull is returned to its glass case in the town church, where it remains on display throughout the year.
The first of the town’s two Spanish schools, Escuela Bio Itzá (tel. 7926-1363, bioitza [at] guate [dot] net), works with the Bio Itzá’s women’s cooperative, which runs a botanical garden for the production of natural products such as soap.
San José’s other language school is the more recently established Mundo Maya Ecological Spanish School (tel. 7928-8321).
The splendid Bahía Taitzá (along the road into town, tel. 7928-8125 or 5402-1961, www.taitza.com , $47 d) is set along the lakeshore on one of Lake Petén Itzá’s prettiest beaches. Its eight comfortable rooms are housed in a large building. All have high wooden ceilings and come equipped with fan, tiled floors, comfortable beds, and private hot-water bath. A patio out front offers nice views of the manicured lawns toward the lake. There are lakeside hammocks and a restaurant/bar serving good food and wonderful cocktails.
For food, there’s pleasant El Búngalo serving reasonably priced Guatemalan fare right by the lakeside.
Although accessible from Flores  by boat, the ease of access from the road has made this a less popular option for getting here. Still, boats sometimes leave from the boat dock near Hotel Santana.