My Favorite Things to Do in El Peten, Guatemala

After living in Guatemala for several years, I must say that the Peten Department is a MUST visit! It’s home to the most impressive and ancient Mayan sites in the whole continent and is packed with stunning natural attractions like the Peten Itza Lake unfortunately, most tourists miss this side of the country, I know it’s remote but there are many things to do in El Peten Guatemala.

Why is Peten so Popular?

The Peten Department is home to the most impressive and mightiest Mayan citadel ever.

Tikal National Park, the main ruin, is located in a tropical forest part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, full of wildlife and exotic birds and trees as old as the buildings.

The Tikal Mayan Ruins have been featured in countless documentaries and movies like Star Wars, it’s visited by millions of people each year from all over the world and those ruins are not even the only ones, in Peten you can find other impressive Mayan ruins.

For example, you have the biggest Mayan pyramid in the country in El Mirador, the “La Danta” pyramid, which getting there is a whole adventure by itself, Uaxactun, Yaxha, and Topoxte.

The biggest attraction after the Mayan ruins are the small towns scattered around the stunning Lake Peten Itza. My favorite of all is Flores, which is a town situated on an island in the lake and is beautiful.

I highly recommend that you stay in Flores, but another good option is El Remate, which is another small town on the lake.

Things to Do in Peten, Guatemala

Petén is known for its rich biodiversity, and visitors can explore various natural attractions, including lush jungles, and exotic wildlife.

Below are some of my family and my favorite activities to do around the Peten area:

Do the Sunrise or Sunset Tour in Tikal

My kids and I agree that the best way to experience Tikal is during sunrise but you can also do a sunset tour, and I highly recommend that you stay for the sunrise or the sunset. Remember for a few bucks more, you can camp inside the park.

But you need to hire a tour, it’s a mandatory thing. Also, make sure to visit the two museums that are inside the Tikal National Park; the Stelae Museum and the Sylvannus G. Morley Museum.

I recommend the sunrise, and going there as early as possible.

Why as early as possible? Two main reasons:

Number one, this is a great fact about Tikal, it gets crazy hot, so if you’re there early enough, you can beat the heat.

Secondly, the majority of the animals come out earlier in the morning because they hate the sun, so you have a higher chance of seeing the animals.

kid wildlife tikal temple guatemala
Tikal is not only home to impressive ruins but also wildlife! My kids loved this place, and we both agree it’s the place to go to see animals differently.

Visit Less Traveled Cities

In addition to well-known places like Flores and Tikal, Peten is home to several lesser-known cities and towns that offer unique experiences.

While these places may not be as popular among tourists, they provide an opportunity to explore the local culture and natural beauty of the region.

Here are a few lesser-known cities and towns in Peten worth considering:

  • Sayaxche
  • San Jose
  • San Andres
  • Poptun
  • Melchor de Mencos
  • Laguna Macanche
  • Santa Elena
  • San Benito

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Visit ARCAS and be a volunteer

ARCAS (Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association) in Guatemala has facilities and programs that allow for visitor engagement, including tours and volunteer opportunities. A must-see for animal and wildlife lovers!

Animal Centers are an awesome way to get up close to the natural and unique wildlife in Peten, and you can even volunteer there too!

Petencito Zoo is another place to go if you want to learn more about local animals, conservation efforts, and more!

The Peten Department in Guatemala - arcas rescue center
I have so many memories of this place, it’s the reason why I met my husband, but the biggest draw is it’s a great place to see the unique wildlifeñ

Stroll Around and Enjoy Flores Town

Due to the small size of the island town, walking tours are a popular and enjoyable way to explore its charming streets, learn about its history, and take in the local culture. I called it a “tour” but in fact, you can do this all by yourself and you’ll be okay.

I highly recommend that you enjoy Lakeview restaurants, you will find several lakeside restaurants and viewpoints in Flores giving you stunning views of the lake.

  • Learn more about La Danta Restaurant in a Review I wrote after visiting the Restaurant and Cafe and sampling Chaya, considered a superfood of the Maya and also known as Maya Spinach.
flores guatemala
The town of Flores is a popular gateway for tourists visiting Tikal and was built entirely on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza.

Take a Hike in Biotopo Cerro Cahui

There’s a small mountain range (a cerro), which is a protected area near El Remate, on the shores of Lake Peten Itza.

It’s known for its diverse ecosystems and rich biodiversity with hiking trails and guided tours. You’ll get to hike to the top of the mountain and find some of the best views of the lake after that, you can hike back and take a swim on the shore of the lake.

Rent a Boat or a Kayak and Enjoy Lake Peten Itza

Boat tours are popular with visitors to Lake Peten Itza with a variety of boat tours available including sunset cruises, scenic tours (perfect for photographs), and some boat tours that focus on bird watching.

On the other hand, you can hire kayaks and canoes in Flores and surrounding areas to explore the scenic beauty of the lake while on the water. I highly recommend staying at Gringo Perdido, you can rent canoes and kayaks right there.

  • You can read more about Gringo Perdido Eco-Inn in a review I wrote about this quant and secluded (internet not guaranteed!) enjoyable Ecological Inn.
lake peten itza in peten guatemala
My kids and husband LOVED Lake Petén Itzá, they had a blast every time we visited it, is not only a natural attraction but also an important part of the local life.

Swim in Lake Peten Itza

There are various access points around the lake where you can swim, a lot of them are stunning and highly popular among locals.

You can easily find the “beaches” in Google Maps, or if you are staying around the area just ask someone for directions.

Enjoy the Maya Biosphere Reserve Highlights

If you want to explore the best to it, you’ll need to join a guided tour of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, since it’s a highly protected area and too huge for a tourist to go alone.

The biggest draw of it and my favorite place besides Tikal is the Laguna del Tigre National Park for bird watching and exploring nature, which is the best experience (even if you don’t like the activity).

Some tours can take you for a real camping experience in the middle of nowhere, camping in the reserve is okay, but only in permitted areas.

Visit a Caves

Petén is home to some impressive caves, and exploring these natural formations can be an exciting adventure for those interested in spelunking and cave exploration.

You will need a guide for this one too, it’s obligatory to get a local expert or tour operator, as some caves may be challenging to access and navigate.

But they are worth the visit! Below are some caves you should check out in Peten if you get the opportunity.

  • The Ak’tun Kan Caves
  • Naj Tunich
  • Ixobel Caves

Tip: You can pair your visit to Naj Tunich and Ixobel Caves with an amazing stay in Finca Ixobel, a true eco-friendly hotel.

inside a cave in guatemala
A visit to a cave is always impressive and the ones you can find in Peten are even more interesting, I remember the first time I visited them, and found paintings and artifacts.

Take a Boat Ride to El Remate

If you have some day to enjoy and you’re staying in Flores you could either take a boat over to El Remate.

I would recommend spending the night in El Remate, which is also right along the lake, but it is on the other end of the lake, making it crystal clear blue. It’s just a super serene place.

The cool thing about El Remate is that it’s closer to Tikal, and then you could get to Tikal the following morning get to Tikal as early as possible.

And the hotels that are right on the lake, and they’re really beautiful. Some of them are higher class, others not so much. It will depend on your budget.

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Where to Go in Peten, Guatemala?

With so many things to do and see in Peten, if you are only visiting for a few days it would be difficult to experience everything Peten has to offer.

But below in this Peten, Guatemala travel guide we provide some of the best things to see and do.

Tikal National Park

I would recommend a guide for Tikal simply because you will learn so much more, you’ll know what to look for. This way you get to see and learn a lot more and get a lot more out of it.

They’re also trained guides to spot Guatemalan wildlife, so if you’re not able to see them, they will certainly point it out for you.

The Tikal National Park is one of those Do-Not-Miss destinations, one of the largest Mayan cities to be excavated out of all the Mayan ceremonial sites from Honduras to Mexico.

The site is known for its impressive pyramids, temples, and other structures that date back to the Classic Period of the Maya civilization.

📖 Recommended Reading: If you’re looking for more useful information, check out Is Guatemala Safe? A Comprehensive Guide for Travelers

Flores Town

The town of Flores is a popular gateway for tourists visiting Tikal and was built entirely on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Peten Itza.

Flores is connected to the mainland by a causeway, and it provides a charming setting with colorful, pastel, and colonial-style buildings, cobblestone streets, and restaurants with lake views. From the sky, Flores is almost perfectly round and small enough to stroll around on foot.

I will say that hotels in Flores Town are a bit more expensive, but I would recommend spending at least one night here to get a feel for this charming little town in the middle of Lake Peten Itza.

El Remate

A small village near Lake Petén Itzá, El Remate is known for its relaxed atmosphere, handicraft markets, and as a gateway to Tikal. It’s a great place to experience local culture and enjoy the natural beauty of the surroundings.

El Remate is fast becoming a hot spot before hitting Tikal and other nearby ruins. You’ll find a great selection of hotels and tasty restaurants in this tranquil petite little village.

El Remate is also where I recommend you spend the night before you go exploring the local Mayan ruins.

a kid sitting on a dock peten lake, hotel gringo perdido el remate guatemala
The Peten Department is home to the most impressive and mightiest Mayan ancient ceremonial cities, and also home to an incredible outdoor paradise for adventure.

Maya Biosphere Reserve

The Petén region is largely covered by the Maya Biosphere Reserve, which is one of the largest protected areas in Central America.

This reserve is home to diverse ecosystems, including tropical rainforests and wetlands, and it plays a crucial role in biodiversity conservation.

The best way to get to the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Peten, Guatemala, typically involves arriving in the city of Flores and then traveling by road or boat to reach specific destinations within the reserve. 

Other Mayan Ruins 

Tikal is pretty awesome! You should go for a visit, but in Peten, there are several other Mayan ruins nearby like Uaxactun, Yaxha, and Topoxte. Mayan cities that most people don’t visit, and they are as good or even better.

Then there is also El Mirador, considered one of the earliest and largest Maya cities and home to the “La Danta” Pyramid, one of the largest pyramids in the world by volume.

But you need to go on a five-day hike through the jungle to get there and back. If you have the time and energy it is worth the trip!

On the other hand, if you are willing to spend a few extra bucks you could also take a helicopter there.

La Danta Pyramid Mayan site of El Mirador

How to get to Peten?

Normally the way people arrive in that region is either by local flight, which arrives early in the morning, or they take an overnight bus from either Guatemala City or Antigua.

If you are driving yourself there, I highly recommend that you leave super early in the morning take your time getting there, and do the Tikal tour the next day.

Where to Stay in Peten?

After visiting SEVERAL times the area and staying in most places, I would say that there are two main options to stay at: Flores and El Remate.

I know several, hotels around the lakes offer different experiences, but the most convenient are those two places, since, despite being small towns you will find several amenities that can make your stay comfortable.

Weather and Things to Pack

The weather in the northern area of Guatemala tends to be hot and humid all year long. The climate is tropical with distinct wet and dry seasons and the best time to visit El Peten is during the dry season, which is from mid-October to late April.

But just because it is called the dry season, it doesn’t mean it won’t rain. This is normal and caused by the large local jungle. You will probably get some soft ones, mostly in the afternoon.

So, be prepared and pack accordingly, I will list a few items that I WISH I had known back then during my first visit to this area:

  • Rain jacket
  • A good pair of boots/running shoes
  • Comfy clothes
  • First aid kit
  • Bug Repellent (IMPORTANT)
  • Sunhat
  • Sun Glasses
peten itza lake in peten guatemala
Lake Petén Itzá is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, making it a picturesque destination.

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Last Updated on June 7, 2024

5 thoughts on “My Favorite Things to Do in El Peten, Guatemala

  1. HI ,
    I am going to be in Guatemala for a CFCA mission trip from March 5th – March 12th, 2011. Then I am planning to stay on till 15th of March. I was wanting to take the tour to Tikal and or Copan out of Guatemala City. I could leave Saturday the 12th or Sunday the 13th, but have to fly out Wednesday the 16th from Guatemala City. Could you let me know what is available?
    Thank you, Colleen Llywleyn 541-515-6424
    1200 Executive Pkwy, Suite 330
    Eugene, OR 97401

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