Guatemala's North

SANTA ELENA & FLORES

Global Mark : 11.69

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
 4 3 2 2 2 4 4 2 11.50

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
26 85%(22) 35%(9) 73%(19) 3 to 18 11.88


Description :
A basic town tied by a 200m causeway to a peaceful and colorful little island

Comments : Flores, the "island of perpetual gossip" as it is locally called is a very tiny & relaxed place and it make sense to stop here on the way to Tikal. If you do not mind the tourist atmosphere, of course...

What to do ? 
- In Santa Elena : beside shopping at the market or supermarkets, there are not much else to do
- In Flores : Relax by the water / Swim / Walk the cobbled streets / Play basketball on the plaza / Admire the stained-glass windows of the church / Shop for souvenirs / Dine in style / Watch a movie / Tour the lake on lancha (Q100 for 1.5 hours, passing a Mirador and a small zoo), kayak (12) or pedalo (20) / Visit the ruins of Tayazol by the lake (best at sunset), taking a 2 hours Q20 tour with a deaf guy (info at CINCAP) / Make trip to the small traditional villages of San Andres & better San Jose (1.5km walk away from each other) / Visit caves (Aktun Kan also known as La Cueva de la Serpiente is a short walk from Sata Elena) / Dream at sunrise & sunset

What you may not like ? Santa Elena atmosphere compared to Flores / The accomodation cost / Having only hotels, restaurants, travel agents and souvenirs shops catering to tourists on Flores / The constant offering of services / The unreliable travel info

How long ? One or two days. Some people however stay much longer, charmed by the tranquility of the island.

Where to stay ? Santa Elena is cheaper, closer to the buses and more relaxed from the touristy point of view but Flores is much nicer. Except when mentioned, all rooms have ventilators.

- In Santa Elena :

  • Hotel Sac-Nicte (9260092), 1C. 4-45 / Dbl w. or without shower Q40 or nicer Dbl or Trpl Q100 / The downstairs rooms are basic and quite depressing but the upstairs, more expensive ones, are acceptable if you get a view on the lake. A bit expensive however for this location.
  • Hotel Jade, 6 Av, by the causeway / Q20(1) or Q30(2) / Go there for the cheapest rate in town, the acceptable cleanliness (beside maybe the station's hotelitos) and a few rooms w. lake view / What you may not like : not getting a room with a view, the lack of ventilator in those rooms and the noises from the causeway
  • Hotel San Juan (9260042), 8 C, left from the causeway / 30(1) or 40(2), w. shower 40 or 50, w. TV 50 or 60 / Busy travel agency / Go there for the best rates (if two) for acceptable Dbl w. shower on the upper floors / What you may not like : the cheapest rooms on the ground floor are depressing, the staff lack smiles and it is huge
  • Hotel Alonzo (9260105), 6 Av 4-99, South of 4 C. / 20 per person, w. shower 35 per person / Go there for the cheapest rate w. ventilator, the acceptable upstairs rooms and the correct rooms w. shower / What you may not like : it is small, noisy as next to the road and the common toilets aren't too attractive. More annoying, girls reported sexual harassment...
  • Hotel Continental (9261017), 6a Av, 100m South of the above / 30(1) 60(2), w. shower 40 or 75, w. cable TV 50 or 90 / Go there for the nice setting and to check the rooms at it was full.
  • Hotel Fiesta, South off the above / 25(1) 50(2), w. shower 35 or 60, w. cable TV 40 or 70 / Rather run down with the desolated garden but acceptable rooms w. shower. The cheapest are dark. 

- In Flores, from the causeway toward west:

  • Hotel Petenchel (9263359) / Low season : 40(1), 60(2) or 80(3) / HS : 60, 80 & 100 / Go there for the nice, clean and big rooms w. HW shower at good prices and the nice setting w. some greenery
  • Hotel La Canoa / 35(1), 50(2) or 75(3), w. shower 50, 70 or 100 / Acceptable rooms & garden at correct prices
  • Hotel Playa Sur / 25(1) or 40-50(2) / Go there for the correct rooms, the cheapest prices in Flores and the view from the terrace 
  • Hotel El Faisan / w. shower 40(1 or 2 if one bed), 60(2) or 100(3) / Acceptable prices but rather small & basic. Upstairs rooms better.
  • Hotel La Jungla (9260634), last hotel on south riverfront / w. HW shower 72(1), 100(2) or 130(3), w. cable TV & AC 175 / Go there for a bit of luxury at acceptable prices 
  • Hotel Santa Rita, opp. Hotel Santana, C. 30 de Junio / w. HW shower 54(1) or 72(2) / Exp for one but acceptable if two, especially for the room w. the view
  • Hotel Mayab (9260494), opp. the above / w. shower 50(1), 75(2) or 105(3) / Acceptable rooms and concrete garden by the water
  • Posada Tayazal (9260568), North-West section / 30(1) or 50(2), w. shower 40(1), 50-70(2), 95(3) or 150(5) / Rather small & basic rooms. Acceptable w. shower upstairs
  • Hotel Casa Del Lacandon, opp the above / w. HW shower 50(1) or 80(2), w. lake view 100, w. AC 150 / Go there for the correct clean rooms
  • Hospedaje Dona Goya, opp. the above / Dbl 60, w. shower 70 (2) or 105(3) / Go there for the correct rooms, especially one w. good view / What you may not like : no discount for Sgl traveler
  • Posada Santa Monica, East side, C 15 de Septiembre, by Av. Flores / 30 per person, w. shower (some w. HW) 35 / Go there for the correct rooms at good prices 
    Mirador Del Lago, south of the above / w. shower 50(1) 70-80(2), w. view 90 / Go there for the best setting at this price level, the correct rooms, the access to the water (pond) and the great view from the terrace

Backpacker's Tips :  Phil Mines, UK  (Dec 02)
Hotel Mayab in Flores. The desk clerk Olga is very helpful and really appreciates English lessons (I got a discount). However AVOID hotels at weekends on the South West of Flores. There is now a very loud disco
until 3am Friday and Saturday.
 


Where to eat ? 

  • In Santa Elena : Panaderia Santarita (2 C, East of 6 Av.) is a tiny pink place that offers some good cookies. There are 4 restaurants on 2 C. plus Pizzeria La Ceiba offering cheap dinners (Q12-15). Even cheaper, Restaurant Zarahemla (opp. Hotel Clasico Peten on C. Principale, West of 6 Av) : Q10 for the basic eggs dinner or Q12 for the menu of the day 
  • On Flores, the Maya Princess, south of the Plaza is popular w. backpackers as it run movies at 4 & 9pm. The good dishes cost Q29. Otherwise, plenty of trendy restaurants with great view over the water.

Info ? The Inguat office by the Plaza in Flores is friendly as usual w. info on transports (unfortunately outdated !), travel agents and a few leaflets. Opp the Plaza, the CINCAP may also get you some info but have little documents

Internet ? In Santa Elena, Tikal Net (C. Principal, East 6 Av) : Q24 per hour, Q6 per 15mn / In Flores : the same on C. Centro America (busy) or Flores Net on Av. Barrios. The latest is a bit slower but more relaxed and offer coffee & candies. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Phil Mines, UK  (Dec 02)
Naomis cafe on Calle Centro Americo. Internet Q7 for 1/2 hour and fast. Analy & elder are very helpful and serve very good coffee. The breakfasts are cheap and good. 

Banks ? Plenty in Santa Elena on 4 Calle (Calle Principal) : the best rates were offered by Corpobanco. Quite a few also offer free cold water so it is worth checking the rates if you are thirsty... ATM for visa at Banco Industrial. ATM for Mastercard at Banco G&T. A few banks also on Flores. Some of the airport's banks should also accept a few major european currencies.  

Learning Spanish ? It is possible to learn away from the tourist scene in ecologically & community oriented schools, by the Maya Biosphere Reserve (the 4 million acre protected area that includes Tikal) : Bio-Itza in San Jose cost $178 for 20 hours w. family stay, Eco-Ecuala in San Andres cost $200 but includes excursions. For more info ecomaya@guate.net

A boat trip ?  Approach the shoreline in Flores and you are likely to be offered a ride. Those private lancha are however expensive at around Q100. The trip to San Andres or San Jose should cost around Q60. It is therefore much cheaper to go with a lancha colectiva, although you need to you catch them from San Benito, West of Santa Elena. It cost Q3-5 only and leave as soon as 20 people show up. From Flores, there may also be an ecolancha leaving late afternoon from behind Hotel La Casona de La Isla, for the same price. 

Leaving ? Check the table and double check at the bus station ! To Poptun (Q15-20) or Rio Dulce (Q50-60), take a bus to Guatemala. Stopping at Poptun or Finca Ixabel on the way could save you some bucks as the trip from there to Rio Dulce cost only Q25-30 (that is if you pay the normal price !). 

To Mexico ? The easiest way to enter Mexico is via Bethel on the Rio Usumacinta. You need to proceed through the immigration there. Ask the bus to wait for you : it continues to the small village of La Technica (possible to change money) from where a boat to Mexico side cost Q5 only. From Bethel, it cost Q150 ! 

Bus Schedules ?

To Price Time Freq Hrs
Melchor (Belize) 15 5,8,11,14,17 na 2
Belize City $8 5 na 5
Bethel 30 5,8,13 na 5
Sayaxche 10 5,7,8,10,13,15 na 2
Tikal (1) 15 13 na 2
Uaxactun 15 13 na 3
Calmelita 20 13 na 5
El Remate 5 9,11,15 na 1
San Andres / San Jose 7 '7,8,12,13 na 2
Guatemala City 60,70 or 80 (2) 3:30, 6:30 to 22:30 hour 8-12
El Remate 60 13 na 5

Notes : (1) plenty of private micro-buses, incl Linea Dorada w. one way for $1.5 / (2) Q60 at 10:30,14 & 15:30, Q70 at 12pm


The trip to El Remate :
SS / L&R / Q5 / 45mn
I had been told by INGUAT that there would be buses every hour from 7 to 11am. But when I showed up at 7:30, I was told that the first bus of the day would leave at 8:45. 
So I wandered around the market a bit... I could also have taken a bus to Melchor (Belize Border), get off at the village of Puente Ixlu (also called El Cruce) and walk for 2km on the Tikal road but I was feeling lazy. 
We left on time and reached El Remate 45mn later, after a 2mn side trip to Puente Ixlu. The nicest scenery was on the left when arriving : the blue Lago de Peten Itza !

The trip to Finca Ixobel : SSS / L&R / Q20 / In theory : 1, in practice : 2.5 hours !
The 7:30 ugly & dirty 2nd class bus left packed at 7:35. It stopped 50 meters later for 10mn so that the ticket guy could count his money. 
Actually, it never really left, stopping every minute or so for more passengers in or off. Most people standing in the alley however got off at 9am at Dolores, a village that required a short side trip. 
We reached Poptun at 9:25. - "We will have a 10mn break" said the driver. Some people therefore got off (incl. the peasant sitting next to me who obviously was not too familiar with soap) and came back 10mn later. The driver however took his time to eat and the new ticket guy his time to count his new money. So, we only left at 10:00 for the 5mn additional journey to Finca Ixabel's path...
The scenery was quite nice (probably on both side but those crowded 2nd class buses with low seats do not allow for a good panoramic view) with ball shaped hills by the dozens. 

See also the trip from Sajaxche