The colorful, charming town of Flores is a popular stop on the backpacker trail in Central America due to its proximity to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal (the largest in the region). But Flores is more than just a convenient place to stay when visiting Tikal. It’s cobblestoned lanes, beautiful waterfront and great accommodation options make it a wonderful place to slow down and spend a few days relaxing.
This beautiful island stop over was the perfect introduction to Guatemala and was a great intro to traveling in a country where English is spoken only in the most touristy places. Here’s what we did to pass the time on this little (kinda random) slice of island paradise.
Stayed at HOSTEL LOS AMIGOS
We decided to stay at Hostel Los Amigos based on many good reviews from travelers we had met in Belize. A private room (with a shared bath) ended up costing just a few more dollars than two beds in the dorm, so we opted for our own room in favor of privacy (we were on our honeymoon!). The room ended up being in the annex building of the hostel, which is just steps away from the main part of Los Amigos.
Los Amigos is a very eclectic, beautiful, funky place, with hammocks, a jungle, a bar, a restaurant and a great atmosphere. The only downside we found at Los Amigos is the lack of a kitchen, meaning you must either eat in the hostel restaurant (which is pretty affordable) or find somewhere to eat in town. We ended up eating most of our meals at the hostel, but this was in large part due to our extreme indecision when it comes to choosing a where to eat. Laziest choice possible for the win.
Los Amigos also has a very conveniently located travel agency (I mean inside the hostel is as convenient as it gets) where you can book tours as well as transport to your next destination. We only booked one tour (to Tikal) but you can book lots of other fun activities such a canoeing, some rope swing thing and day trips to other ruins.
Visit Tikal (obviously)
After paying for our accommodation, signing up for a Tikal tour, and booking an overnight bus to Antigua we were down to just one quetzale and in dire need of an ATM, so we set out on a desperate (and frustrating) search for cash. As far as we could tell, there is only one ATM on the island and it is hidden inside a supermarket. We walked past the store half a dozen times before sticking our heads in and asking where it was. The quest for the mythical cash machine took us all around the tiny town and it was during this search that I really began to fall in love with Flores.
It was so small and calm and the buildings were so colorful and the water was sparkling and no one was hassling us to buy anything.
Despite definitely being a tourist town, Flores somehow didn’t feel super commercialized and fake. It was a lot less gritty and “real” feeling than a lot of other places we went, but we didn’t really feel like tourists when we were there.
Order a Cocktail and Watch the Sunset on the Waterfront
In celebration of our hard-fought ATM success we headed to the waterfront for drinks at one of the many touristy restaurants overlooking beautiful Lago Peten Itza (upon which the island of Flores sits). Watching the sunset and sipping on mildly overpriced drinks by the water became our nightly ritual while in Flores. The food was out of our price range, but at Q10 the cost of the drinks felt like an okay price to pay for the ambiance and the view.
If cocktails aren’t your thing (I have heard those people exist…) then eating an ice cream sitting on the stone wall on the waters edge is a pretty good alternative.
Practice Your Spanish
We had been hearing signs of some sort of festival since we arrived (in the form of 24 hour firecrackers) so after our post-Tikal nap we decided to be brave and venture out to the locals only party in the town square where my Spanish would truly be put to the test for the first time. Up until this point all our interactions had either been 1) in English or 2) so short that no language skill was really required. (Ex. “¿Flores?” and “Gracias.” Was all I said to our collectivo driver.)
Turns out my Spanish is even worse than I hoped (and I am a chicken when it comes to trying) but I somehow was able to get us food from three different vendors. We had two different kinds taco things made on thick corn tortillas with mystery meat, cole-slaw stuff and sauce and empanadas. It was our first real Guatemalan food and we paid less for five small plates of food than we had been paying for one plate of food at the hostel. All hail cheap, cheap street food!!
Be on the Lookout for the Strange
While in Flores we…
…found a yellow building with a façade molded with the bottom of soda bottles.
…followed a parade of dancing children wearing creepy masks (which I don’t seem to have a picture of).
…stumbled into a strange room/home/shop/I’m not really sure what with this strange Christmas carnival display is (again, no picture although I could have sworn I took a video) . It was like a nativity scene, but with a Ferris wheel and a train set and dolls of all sizes.
Dollars and Sense
Private Room at Hostel Los Amigos: Q120 (~$15)
Food at Los Amigos: ~Q40 per dish (some a little more, some a little less)
Drinks on the waterfront Q10
TIP: Happy hour seems to run from 4 pm till ?? on the island, so if you want quiet at night, too bad. Bring earplugs.
TIP: Dogs don’t like fireworks, but Guatemalans do. Bring earplugs.
TIP: Roosters don’t care what time it is. BRING EARPLUGS!