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Flores, in Guatemala’s northern Petén region, sits on an island protected by the Maya Biosphere Reserve. It's a small town of red corrugated roofs and colourfully painted buildings, which takes only 20 minutes to circle around. Surrounded by the waters of Lake Petén Itzá, it has views of shimmering landscapes from almost any angle. To top it all off, you can use Flores as a gateway to the Mayan ruins nestled in the tropical jungle of Tikal National Park.
Try traditional Mayan dishes like Pupusas (crispy stuffed corn tortillas) in a Flores hostel with its own café, or get jungle vibes in a hostel with its own tropical garden strung with hammocks for lazy afternoons. On the opposite shore, a lakeside hostel lets you unwind on a jetty above the water. Mingle in outdoor common areas with happy hour drinks, and look forward to luxuries like air con and free Wi-Fi in many Flores hostels.
Flores sits neatly on its compact island with a central square marking the heart of the town. Leading from there are narrow streets with local handicraft shops selling souvenirs like jade and replicas of Mayan treasures. Across the causeway that connects the island to the mainland towns of Santa Elena and San Benito, you'll find the vast national park of Ixpanpajul. This area of dense jungle is about 15 minutes from Flores and features zip lines, sky-high walkways and native wildlife.
For things to do on the island, stop by the twin-domed Nuestra Señora de los Remedios cathedral by Parque Central square, then view Mayan artefacts from nearby archaeological sites at Museo Santa Bárbara. Across the lake lies Yaxhá, the third-largest site of ruins in Guatemala, with 400 buildings, five acropolises and three courts. There's also the ancient Mayan site of Tikal, which is thought to have been first settled in 900 BC.
To reach Flores, you can fly in to Flores Airport from Guatemala City Airport and take a shuttle bus into the centre. Otherwise, it's an overnight bus from Guatemala City. Once there, take advantage of the island's title as the safest place in the north of Petén by exploring on foot, or you can rent a canoe to get out on the lake. There are also boats for hire that will get you across to San José in around 40 minutes.