Guatemala – Flores and Tikal Ruins

Flores is a small town on an island, surrounded by Lake Peten Itza. Its situated north of Guatemala, close to the Belize border. The island is connected to the town of Santa Elena by a causeway which is about 200 m long. This small town with colourful buildings and red corrugated roofs is popular among travellers mainly because its close to Tikal, Guatemala’s famous Maya ruins.

Flores, Lake Peten Itza
created by dji camera
The causeway between the mainland and Flores
The sun setting over Lake Peten Itza

How we got to Flores

From Antigua, we went to Guatemala City and spent one night there. We needed to make this pit stop just so I could do my hair.

I took out my braids back in Palenque, Mexico and had been travelling for over a month with my natural hair. I’m not sure how much you know about the struggles of maintaining your natural hair as an African woman but believe me, its not easy, well at least not for me.

I soon got tired of plaiting my hair every night before I went to sleep (just so it could look decent the next morning), so I started seeking for help. I was in desperate need, I even randomly approached people with a similar hair texture as mine, asking if they knew where I could go, LOL! Because I am travelling full time and enjoy water activities, life is definitely easier for me when my hair is braided.

After googling “African Salons in Guatemala” for the 100th time, I found a lady based in Guatemala City. She does not have a salon so we arranged to have it done at her house. Her and her family were very welcoming and friendly, they were also the only Africans I had seen in a while. In just a few hours, I was done and ready to get back on the road.

The next morning we took the Cristobal Colon bus and travelled almost 500 km (a total of 8 hours) across the country to Flores. The journey was very comfortable because the bus had an a/c, wifi, screens, the works! We paid 205 GTQ / R 360 / 26 USD pp. Of course it wasn’t the cheapest option but I was happy we chose it.

About Flores

Flores is a dream! It’s cute, quiet and very small. We spent our days exploring the streets, it only takes about 15 minutes to walk the perimeter of the island. Its filled with cute little places to eat and drink. My favourite restaurant was Cool Beans, they serve large and affordable breakfast and also have a relaxing outdoor space with lake views. Meals started from 25 GTQ / R 45 / 3 USD.

The view of the lake form our accommodation
Lake Peten Itza
Exploring the streets in Flores
Flores, Lake Peten Itza

What to do in Flores

  • Walk around the town – As I have mentioned above, Flores is a picturesque town and very easy to navigate, so walking around is a fun thing to do and you’ll be rewarded by stunning lake views, especially at sunset.
  • Explore the lake by boat – There are plenty of cruises offered in Flores or you can also negotiate with locals to take you on a ride. Keep in mind that it cuts down costs when you rent a boat with a large group of people because prices are per boat ride and not per person.

When to visit Flores

Although the best time to visit Flores is from November to February, the weather was a bit chilly, especially in the mornings when the lake would be covered in fog. We did experience some rain but for the most part it was clear blue skies.

Thick fog over the lake in the morning
Thick fog over the lake in the morning
Lake view from our accommodation
The buildings light up in the evening

Tikal Ruins

Basically, the Tikal ruins are to Guatemala what Chichén Itzá is to Mexico. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is Guatemala’s most famous ruins and is situated in the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation. After the Amazon, the Maya forest which extends into Mexico and Belize is the largest tropical rain forest in the Americas.

I enjoy visiting ruins because I try to imagine how people were living so many years ago. It is also fun knowing that the ground I am walking on was once a busy city and the ruins I am looking at used to be a family’s home.

The Great Jaguar Temple
The Ruins of Tikal
The Temple of the Masks
Th Great Jaguar Temple
The Ruins of Tikal

Tikal is impressive! As we wandered through the jungle, in the distance we heard a deep growling sound – it was howling monkeys! I was also surprised by how huge the complex is because it took us 5 hours to explore. Tikal covers an area of about 575 square kilometers. The most spectacular attraction is the Great Plaza, home to palaces, ceremonial buildings and the two giant pyramids. The magnificent Great Jaguar Temple is 47 meters tall. All the buildings were built from limestone.

Unlike the other Mayan Ruins that I visited in Mexico, Tikal carried a distinctively more authentic feel. We had an incredibly rare opportunity to witness an actual Mayan ritual taking place. A woman had made a fire at the bottom of one of the pyramids and began to perform various ceremonies around the fire.

There are monkeys on trees all over the jungle
Mayan ritual taking place
There are many beautiful trees in the Mayan Forest
The Great Jaguar Temple
The Ruins of Tikal

Tikal – Transport and Tickets

As you can imagine, there are many different types of tours offered to Tikal from Flores. We booked transportation to Tikal and back for 70 GTQ / R 125 / 9 USD pp. We were picked up from our hotel at 7:30 am and came back at around 5 pm. The tickets to the ruins cost an additional 150 GTQ / R 265 / 20 USD pp.

The Ruins of Tikal
We spotted several Coatimundis at Tikal
The Ruins of Tikal
The Ruins of Tikal

My thoughts on Guatemala

Thinking about my time in Guatemala and I am lost for words. How can one country offer so many different experiences?! From the wonderful friends we met in Quetzaltenago, paragliding over the mind blowing landscape of Lake Atitlan, the cobbled streets of Antigua, witnessing Fuego Volcano erupting and exploring the Mayan city of Tikal. It certainly was an amazing adventure and I feel so fortunate to have travelled in Guatemala.

A question people keep asking is “How safe is Guatemala?” From the 16th of November to the 16th of December 2018 (31 days), I backpacked across the country on a tight budget, using the cheapest modes of transport and staying at budget accommodation (most of the time). From my experience, Guatemala is a safe country to travel in and I urge you to take some time out and visit.

Places explored in Guatemala

Below is a map showing the places Frederik and I covered during our time in Guatemala. Please see my previous blog posts for the details on what we did in the other areas.

Places explored in Guatemala

Next, we spent a week in Belize. I’ll be writing about our time there soon, so stay tuned.

Thank you for reading,

Dineo Zonke.

5 Replies to “Guatemala – Flores and Tikal Ruins”

  1. I loved Flores and Tikal! In fact Guatemala was pretty close to being my favourite country in Central America which was a surprise for me. Belize is cool and I love the Caribbean vibes there..I think you’ll like it too! Hope you’re checking out Caye Caulker aka Heaven on Earth 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Guatemala really surprised me! When I arrived I just didn’t know what to expect and kept comparing it to Mexico 🙈 even though each country is different and has its own unique beauty.

      We went to Caye Caulker 😁 That’s my next post!

      Liked by 1 person

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