Lake Peten Itza (Lago Petén Itzá)
Guatemala’s second largest lake is a sparkling expanse at the heart of the hot, humid Petén Basin, and was one of the earliest cradles of Mesoamerican civilization. The lush rain forests at its fringe are home to some 27 archaeological sites. Use the ancient Mayan town of Flores—the last Mayan city to fall to the Spanish in 1697—as a base to explore the lake and the surrounding area.
Head to the north shore to walk along the malecón, or jump in for a swim with the locals. The west side boasts lakefront restaurants and bars where you can watch the sunset. Take a cayuco (small motorized boat) to visit nearby ruins, the Petencito Zoo, Cerro Cahuí Nature Reserve, a small archaeological museum, and other villages. Aside from Flores, the small, arguably more authentic towns of El Remate, San José, and San Miguel have basic lodging.
Explore the lake on a day-trip that includes stops at the Mirador Canek lookout point for panoramic views, San Miguel, and Petencito Zoo, where jaguars, crocodiles, spider monkeys, ocelots, and more can be seen close up. Two-day tours venture into UNESCO-listed Tikal National Park for a half-day guided tour of the park’s Mayan ruins and the pre-Colombian ruins of Yaxha hidden in a dramatic jungle location above a lake. If you have more time, multi-day tours leave from Guatemala City and tack on visits to Antigua, Lake Atitlán, and a hike to the summit of Pacaya Volcano.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Explore the canals of Flores in a dugout canoe or kayak.
- Swimming in the lake is safe and there are a number of small beaches reachable by small boats from Flores and the other lakeside villages.
- You may volunteer or simply visit the Animal Rescue Center and Environmental Education facility in Flores, funded by the Disney Corporation and the Oakland Zoo; the center rescues injured rainforest animals and birds and releases them back into the wild.
- Bring sun protection and water for hydration.
- Budget travelers may want to travel to nearby towns via the local chicken buses, as opposed to the more expensive ferry boats.
How to Get There
Lake Petén Itzá is located in the northern part of Guatemala, which is about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Flores. The best way to reach the lake is to fly into Guatemala City and take a bus for about 10.5 hours or to fly into Belize City, Belize and take a bus for about 6.5 hours. From Flores, take a taxi along Calz Javier Lopez Marroquínroute; expect about 30 minutes on the road.
When to Get There
The rain forest of Guatemala where the lake is located boasts a pleasant climate year-round, with warm days and fresh, cool nights. Peak season coincides with the summer dry season, which is generally November to April. During the rainy season (May to November), rains can get quite heavy and roads may become impassable. Beat the crowds by avoiding Christmas and Easter holidays especially.
Lake Biodiversity Numerous indigenous species such as crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, giant cichlid, white-tailed deer, and macaws live in the vicinity of this magnificent body of water. And just northeast of the lake is a natural reserve for butterflies where you may also find even more rainforest species such as spider monkeys, toucans, howler monkeys, and more.
- Petencito Zoo
- Actún Can Caves
- Ixpanpajul Natural Park (Parque Natural Ixpanpajul)
- Tikal National Park (Parque Nacional Tikal)
- Petén Forest
- Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya)
- Seibal (Ceibal)
- Aguateca Archaeological Site
- Pasión River (Rio La Pasión)
- Estación Biológica las Guacamayas (EBG)