We’ve made at least four trips to Flores already this year. Before that, I had not been to Flores in about fifteen years. I thought the only reason one would go to Flores would be as a side trip to Tikal. I assumed the roads were still bad, and feared the presence and actions of ‘bandidos’. For a very long time, Flores didn’t even appear on my radar of places I’d like to visit. That changed last year when photos of day trips to Flores started popping up in my Instagram feed. It piqued my interest, and I jumped at the chance to go see the island for myself after so many years.
Flores is an island just off of Santa Elena, Petén. It has a variety of restaurants with prices that range from cheap to moderate. There are many places to stay, some of which overlook the water. Across the bridge, in Santa Elena, you can have Pollo Campero, or American food chain franchise options like Pizza Hut. There is also a Katok Restaurant just outside of Santa Elena.
Flores sits on Lake Petén Itza. The bright colors of the painted buildings and the lake effect together make for great pictures. The sunrises and sunsets are stunning. The island does have a problem with an over-abundance of birds in the evenings, so be careful as you walk around at that time of the day. They will mess on you.
Flores floods in spots sometimes. That is an infrastructural problem, and visitors just have to flow with it.
One of the main attractions is a boat ride around the island for Q150-Q200, (around US25). You have the option to stop at different places, including being able to make the short uphill walk to ‘El Mirador’ from where you get an extraordinary view of the island.
The distance from Melchor to Flores is about fifty miles. To drive into Guatemala from Belize there is a process in place that has to be rigorously followed step by step. The first time you go through is the most tedious, but the process remains the same each time you go through after that. The Guatemalan Immigration and staff who handle the licenses are the friendliest and warmest government workers I have ever encountered. They follow their guidelines, but they seem to want things to run as smoothly and quickly as you do.
The owner of the vehicle has to be the one who applies for the sticker. Approach the left side of the Immigration desk on the Guatemalan side. You should have the vehicle ownership title, proof of insurance, and driver’s licences for each of the persons who will be driving the vehicle in Guatemala. You will be pointed over to a small window on the right side of Guatemalan Immigration to pay for the sticker. (If I remember correctly that one time payment is Q165, about US$23). Return to the processing area, and in a matter of minutes you will get a paper that you will have to hold on to as long as you’ll be going back and forth across the border. This is good for three months. They will keep it valid by adding three month increments if you use it regularly. However, if you only use it infrequently, or, if you don’t go back to that desk and close out the authorization before the end date, you will be penalized US$300 the next time you try to get another one of those documents.
That first time you will also get the sticker for your windshield. Place it where it is easy for the authorities to spot. Every time you plan to cross the border, you will need two copies of that original document. You will use one to go into Guatemala, and the other to return to Belize. The officer will stamp both the original and the copy; they keep the copy and give you back the original. When that is done, cross the street to OIRSA and pay a Q17, (US$2.50 approx) fee. Once your passports and the authorization are stamped, and you’ve paid the fee and gotten a receipt, you can then cross the border. Just before entering Melchor, you will pay Q5 at the booth on the bridge. After that, you’re good to go, and Guatemala lies before you. Of course, fuel is cheaper in Guatemala, so you might want to fill up in Melchor instead of on the Belize side.
The road to Flores is mostly smooth. It has some potholes caused by Hurricane Earl. One five minute patch not very far outside of Melchor is very bad, and you will have to drive extremely slowly. There is an armed checkpoint that you may or may not have to stop at. Unlike in Belize, these posts have three layers, which means you have to drive past three sets of uniformed and armed police/soldiers. They usually let you pass through without stopping you. You will drive through many small villages; each village has speed bumps and pedestrian ramps, so keep your eyes open for those.
Flores feels a world away from Belize, even though it is only an hour’s drive from the border. There, you will be among tourists from Guatemala and from many other countries around the world. We have never experienced any anti-Belize sentiment from anyone there. Service providers are welcoming. Be careful to check bill totals to make sure that you are the one who decides how much tip to leave.
WiFi is available everywhere. Some restaurants will have the password very visibly located; if you don’t see it, just ask for it.
Restaurant recommendations so far: La Tortuga for breakfast; El Terrazzo for lunch or dinner, (try their avocado salad); and La Villa del Chef (try their kabobs).
P.S. Use your credit card to pay for stuff. The exchange rate is best that way.