5 reasons to make Flores, Guatemala, your next holiday destination

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.

TAG Airlines begins a new flight from Mérida to Flores, Guatemala, starting Monday.

The Island of Flores is northern Guatemala’s most main tourism hub. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

For travelers on the Peninsula, the new flight will open up easy travel to Flores and Guatemala’s Petén region. 

Since April 2022, TAG Airlines has also operated a direct flight from Mérida to Guatemala City. Photo: Courtesy

Land travel to the Petén from Yucatán has long been popular, especially among young backpackers, but the trip is extremely long and requires transit through Belize. 

Several small islands dot lake Petén Itzá in northern Guatemala. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

With this new flight, it has never been easier to visit Flores from Mérida. Here are five reasons you should make it your next destination. 

1. Colorful vibes

The Island of Flores sits in lake Petén Itzá and is one of Central America’s most popular tourist areas.

Flore’s streets are extremely colorful and full of several styles of architecture. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The town is exceptionally colorful and jampacked with interesting architecture, mazelike narrow streets, and a large number of hotels and restaurants. 

Most streets in Flores are quite narrow, so always be aware of oncoming traffic.  Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Despite being located on a lake, the island of Flores throws off some fairly intense Caribbean vibes and is extremely fun to explore on foot.

Movement back and forth to the mainland is possible via a bridge, but for a small fee, you can take a small barge — which is honestly much more fun.  Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

2. Intriguing history

During antiquity, Flores was known by the Maya as Nojpetén, which translates to “great island.” 

A large stone is covered with Maya hieroglyphs in Flore’s main Plaza. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The island was a hub for the Itzá people who would migrate north into Yucatán and settle many of the region’s greatest ancient cities, including Chichén Itzá and Edzná. After the fall of their great cities, it is believed that the Itzá returned to their ancestral home on what today is the Island of Flores. 

The ruins of once-great cities dot the entire region surrounding lake Petén Itzá. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Spanish attempted to take over the island in the 16th century but were repelled despite the presence at the battle of the famous conquistador Hernán Cortés. The island was, however, eventually conquered by Europeans in the late 17th century, who then pillaged the city’s great temples to build their own. 

Aerial view of the Island of Flores in the Petén District of Guatemala. Photo: Courtesy

3. Archaeological sites

Northern Guatemala is jam-packed with Mayan archaeological sites, including the world-famous Tikal. This is a must-see for any enthusiast of Mesoamerican archaeology and is comparable in size with other great Mayan cities like Calakmul and Caracol

One of the best ways to experience Tikal is to take an early-morning tour departing Flores at 4 a.m. to see the sunrise from atop a grand pyramid. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But Tikal is far from being the only archaeological site worth visiting. Organized tours can also be found to other ancient cities such as Yaxhá and Uaxactún. But if you are feeling adventurous, there are several off-the-beaten-path archaeological sites like Motul de San José, which are almost never visited by tourists. 

Like several other sites in the region, Yaxhá exhibits an interesting mix of architectural styles spanning three millennia. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

4. The Wildlife

Despite being Guatemala’s largest department — or state — the Petén is also the least densely populated. As a result, the area is a haven for wildlife, especially in its far north in what is known as the Mirador Basin. 

The entire region is a birder’s paradise, with large amounts of toucans, ocellated turkeys, toucanets, and trogons.

Despite what many believe, toucanets are not simply toucan chicks but rather an entirely different species. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Large mammals endemic to the region include the mighty jaguar, along with tapirs, wild boars, and deer.

Though they look sluggish, Tapirs are extremely fast and territorial, so if you see one in the wild, you best not get too close. Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

5. Something for everyone at every budget

Because Flores is popular with tourists of all kinds, there are plenty of accommodations and restaurants to meet just about any budget. 

A luxury hotel constructed entirely out of wood was built on the banks of lake Petén Itzá. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The same is also true of food. If you are looking for a quick and inexpensive bite, you may want to try some traditional Guatemalan tamales, which are quite a bit larger than Yucatán’s vaporcitos.

Tamales are extremely popular in Guatemala and can be found just about everywhere. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Excellent restaurants offering up international cuisine are extremely easy to find. But if you are feeling particularly adventurous, you may want to try some sereque, a large rodent known in Guatemala as agutí.

The sereque or agutí is a large rodent that inhabits much of the Yucatán Peninsula and Central America. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Can I, in all honesty, recommend this dish? Well, no, I can’t. But if you are the type of person who would like to say to their friends, “I got so hungry I ate a rodent in Central America,” this is your chance. 

If you are not feeling particularly adventurous, check out Guatemala’s largest and most famous chain restaurant, Pollo Campero, which serves excellent fried chicken. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

There are, of course, many more reasons to explore this amazing corner of Central America, from the local culture and music to its art scene. So get exploring.

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