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Ultimate Guide to Peten Guatemala With Activities and Tips

After living in Guatemala as an expat for several years, I have to say that the Peten Department, in my opinion, is a place you must see and travel to if you have the chance! Read on for a comprehensive Peten Guatemala travel guide for must-know information for any visitor to the region.

The Peten Department is home to the most impressive and mightiest Mayan ancient ceremonial cities. Tikal National Park, the main ruin, is located in a tropical forest part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, full of wildlife and exotic birds that will capture your heart and take you back to the ancient days of the powerful Mayans.

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.

Tikal is without a doubt breathtaking and one of the most magical places in Guatemala, aside from being a nature lover’s paradise. But don’t overlook the other fascinating lost cities of the Maya (Yaxha, and the impressive El Mirador), and the colorful island town of Flores located on Lake Peten Itza.

In addition to its ancient Maya ruins (which are major draws for visitors to Peten) and archaeological sites, the Petén region in Guatemala is known for several other features and activities that make it a great destination for all types of travelers.

In this Peten, Guatemala travel guide we will take a closer look at the best places to visit and things to do in Peten including; the amazing Biosphere Reserves, wildlife watching and adventure tourism and outdoor activities, exploring caves, and community tourism.

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Where is Peten in Guatemala?

Petén is the largest and one of the most sparsely populated departments in Guatemala. Petén is situated in the northern part of Guatemala, sharing borders with Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the east, and the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz and Izabal to the south.

Some of the major cities and towns in the Petén department include Flores, Santa Elena, and Sayaxché. Flores, located on an island on Lake Petén Itzá, is often used as a base for visitors exploring the archaeological sites in the area, particularly the famous Tikal ruins.

Check out the map for a better idea of where Peten is located within Guatemala.

The Peten, Guatemala Weather 

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.

The dry season 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.

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

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.

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.

Flores Town Activities You Can’t-Miss

  • Enjoy lakeview restaurants – Several lakeside restaurants and viewpoints in Flores provide stunning sunset views.
  • Walking tour of the colorful city – Given 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.
  • Visit ARCAS – 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!
  • Boat tour of 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.
  • 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.

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.

El Remate Village – Must Do’s

  • Biotopo Cerro Cahui – a protected area near Flores, on the shores of Lake Peten Itza known for diverse ecosystems and rich biodiversity with hiking trails and guided tours.
  • Kayaking or canoeing on Lake Peten Itza – you can hire out kayaks and canoes in Flores and surrounding areas to explore the scenic beauty of the lake while on the water.
  • Swim in Lake Peten Itza – there are various access points around the lake where you can swim. Popular locations include beaches, resorts, or designated swimming areas. 
  • 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.
peten itza lake in peten guatemala
Lake Petén Itzá is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, making it a picturesque destination.

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. 

Maya Biosphere Reserve Highlights

  • Join a guided tour of the Maya Biosphere Reserve
  • Visit Laguna del Tigre National Park for bird watching and exploring nature
  • Take part in community-based tourism initiatives within the reserve. Some local communities offer homestays, allowing visitors to experience traditional Mayan culture, cuisine, and daily life. 
  • Camping in the reserve in permitted areas for an opportunity to immerse yourself in pristine nature

Tikal National Park

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. Tikal Mayan Ruins are one of the most significant and well-preserved archaeological sites of the ancient Maya civilization. The site is known for its impressive pyramids, temples, and other structures that date back to the Classic Period of the Maya civilization.

Situated in the tropical forest, you’ll have plenty of close encounters with monkeys, coatimundis, deer, toucans, and many more wild and exotic animals.

Tikal National Park Must-See

  • The two museums: There are two museums inside the Tikal National Park; the Stelae Museum and the Sylvannus G. Morley Museum.
  • Take a tour of Tikal National Park to get the most out of your experience
  • Stay for the sunrise or the sunset
kid wildlife tikal temple guatemala
Tikal is not only home to impressive ruins but it also allows you to enjoy the beautiful scenery, including the lush surroundings and wildlife of the area.

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Other Mayan Ruins 

Tikal is pretty awesome! You should go for a visit, but places like Yaxhá, Nacum, or Naranjo are other nearby Mayan cities that most people don’t visit. And they are as good or even better.

Then there is also El Mirador. But you need to go on a five-day hike through the jungle to get there and back. But if you have the time and energy it is worth the trip! If you are willing to spend a few extra bucks you could also take a helicopter there.

As an important archaeological site in Petén, El Mirador is considered one of the earliest and largest Maya cities. It features massive structures, including the “La Danta” pyramid, one of the largest pyramids in the world by volume.

There is So much TO SEE in Peten

Below is a list of even more interesting and exciting things to do in Peten including parks and reserves to experience firsthand the natural ecosystems that make up Peten as well as a chance to explore the caves in the region and much much more!

Animal Centers

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!

  • ARCAS (Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association) rescue center
  • Petencito Zoo
The Peten Department in Guatemala - arcas rescue center
ARCAS (Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Association) rescue center is a great place to see the unique wildlife in Peten up close.

Other Parks & Reserves

In addition to the Maya Biosphere Reserve, highlighted earlier in this post, there are several other parks and reserves in Peten including:

  • Petexbatan Wildlife Refuge
  • Lake Peten Itza
  • Maya Mountains-Chiquibul Biosphere Reserve
  • Biotopo El Zotz’ San Miguel la Palotada
  • Reserva Natural Privada Yaxhá
  • Mirador Ra­o Azul National Park
  • Ri­o Azul
  • Naachtun’ Dos Lagunas Biotope
  • Laguna del Tigre National Park
  • Las Guacamayas Biological Research Station
  • Sierra del Lacandon National Park
  • Ri­o Usumacinta

Caves

Petén is home to some impressive caves and cenotes (natural sinkholes). Exploring these natural formations can be an exciting adventure for those interested in spelunking and cave exploration.

Exploring caves in Peten often requires guidance from local experts or tour operators, 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.

  • Naj Tunich
  • Aktun Kan (Cave of the Serpent)
  • Ixobel Caves
  • Echoing Cave
  • Santo Domingo
  • Pusila
  • San Miguel, Joboncho, Jovelte
  • Cueva de Las Pinturas
  • Balam Na
  • Petexbaton Area Caves
  • Tres Entradas Caves
  • Ixla

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 the nature-based and adventure activities you can take part in.

lake peten itza in peten guatemala
Lake Petén Itzá is not only a natural attraction but also an important part of the cultural and recreational life of the region and offers a tranquil setting for solo visitors and families alike.

Nature & Adventure Activities

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:

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

Looking for More Inspiration?

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Tips

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Places

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Food

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Last Updated on March 3, 2024

5 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Peten Guatemala With Activities and Tips

  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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