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488km (303 miles) NE of Guatemala City; 65km (40 miles) SW of Tikal; 136km (84 miles) NW of the Belizean border

Since accommodations in Tikal are limited, most travelers choose to (or must) overnight in the sister cities of Flores and Santa Elena, which are connected by a narrow causeway. This is not necessarily such a bad thing, since there's a lot more to do and see in these towns, plus a far wider range of hotels and restaurants.

Seen from the air, Flores appears almost perfectly round. This quiet town, with its colonial-style buildings and cobblestone streets, is one of the most fascinating in Guatemala. Though most people spend time here only en route to or from the Tikal ruins, Flores is well worth exploring for a day or two. A walk around the circumference of the island presents a sort of Venetian experience. Buildings come right down to the water's edge. In fact, since the lake's water level has risen over the years, some of the outlying streets and alleys are flooded. Dugout canoes, kayaks, and motor launches sit at makeshift docks all around the circumference of the island.

Santa Elena, Flores's mainland counterpart, on the other hand, is a ramshackle, modern boomtown with little at all to recommend it. However, Santa Elena is where you'll find the airport, bus stations, a host of hotels, and a good view of Flores. The name Flores is often used as an umbrella term encompassing Flores, Santa Elena, and San Benito, a small town to the west of Santa Elena.

Flores is the unofficial capital of Guatemala's Petén region. El Petén has always been a remote region, and it was here, on the banks of Lake Petén Itzá, that the Itzá people, descendants of the Mayas, resisted Spanish conquest until the end of the 17th century. Conquistador Hernán Cortés visited the Itzá city of Tayasal, which once stood on the far side of the lake, in 1525, but had not tried to conquer the Itzás, who had a reputation for being fierce warriors. However, in 1697, the Spanish finally conquered the Itzás, and Tayasal became the last Indian city to fall under Spanish rule. Two years after taking Tayasal, the Spanish moved to Flores, an island that could easily be defended. They renamed this island Nuestra Señora de los Remedios y San Pablo de los Itzaes, and built a fort here between 1700 and 1701. In 1831, the island was once again renamed, this time being given the name Flores in honor of a Guatemalan patriot.