Planning a Trip
By Car -- The road between Tikal and Flores is well paved, and the trip takes around an hour by car. To get to either of the sister towns from Tikal, head south out of the ruins, and turn right at Ixlú (El Cruce). Continue on past the airport, and you'll come to Santa Elena first. Stay on the main avenue into town and head toward the lake, where you'll find the causeway to Flores.
Those in Santa Elena or Flores will most likely want to go to Tikal or explore the region around Lake Petén.
By Minivan -- If you don't have a car, the best way to get around this area is by minivan. Scheduled and independent minivans ply the route between Santa Elena or Flores and Tikal throughout the day. Minivans from Flores and Santa Elena leave roughly every hour between 5am and 10am, and less frequently thereafter. These minivans leave from Tikal for the return trip roughly every hour from noon to 6pm. Every hotel in Flores and Santa Elena can arrange a minivan pickup for you. The trip usually takes an hour and costs Q25 and Q50 ($3.35-$6.65/£1.65-£3.35) per person each way. You can buy a round-trip fare at a slight savings, but then you're committed to a specific minivan company; I prefer paying a little extra to have more flexibility in catching my return ride when I'm ready to leave.
By Taxi -- A private cab (which is usually a minivan) from Tikal to Santa Elena/Flores will run around Q250 to Q400 ($33-$53/£17-£27) each way. Between Tikal and El Remate (later in this chapter), the fare is about Q150 to Q200 ($20-$27/£10-£13). Be sure to bargain, as the first price you are quoted is almost certainly above the going rate and subject to some negotiation.
By Bus -- Very inexpensive local bus service connects Flores and Santa Elena to Tikal and several neighboring communities. However, this service is infrequent, slow, and often uncomfortably overcrowded. Línea Dorado has three daily buses from Santa Elena to Tikal leaving at 5 and 8:30am and 3:30pm. The return buses leave Tikal at 2 and 5pm. Ask at your hotel or around town for current schedules, as they change periodically. The trip takes 2 hours; the one-way fare is Q20 ($2.65/£1.35).
By Car -- The road between Santa Elena and Flores and Tikal is paved, well marked, and heavily traveled. It's about 32km (20 miles) from Flores to Ixlú, and another 32km (20 miles) on to the park and ruins of Tikal.
The town primarily known as Flores actually consists of three smaller towns that have merged. Flores proper sits on a small island out in Lake Petén Itzá, and is connected to the mainland by a long causeway. On the mainland are Santa Elena (nearest the airport) and San Benito (closer to the bus terminal and market). Whether you arrive by air or bus from Guatemala City or Belize, you'll come into town from the east. The road in from the airport leads straight through Santa Elena to the market and bus terminal, while the causeway to Flores is a right turn in the middle of Santa Elena.
Fast Facts -- There is an information booth run by the Guatemalan Tourist Board, INGUAT (tel. 502/7926-0533; www.visitguatemala.com), at the Flores airport, and another one in downtown Flores (tel. 502/5116-3182) on Avenida Flores, on the north side of the Central Park. Both can help provide basic maps to the region and ruins, as well as brochures for local hotels and tour agencies. To contact the local police, dial tel. 502/7926-1365.
You'll find several banks in downtown Santa Elena. Most have ATMs, and many of these will work with your debit or credit card. There are also a couple of ATMs on the island of Flores. Check with your home bank and the PLUS or Cirrus systems in advance to confirm. All will exchange money. Most of the hotels and restaurants in Flores and Santa Elena will also exchange dollars for quetzales, although they may give you a slightly less favorable rate than you would get at a bank.
The Flores post office is on the Avenida Barrios, 1 block south of the Parque Central, or Central Park, which is in front of the church. Santa Elena's post office is on Calle 4 and Avenida 7. Both are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm. To contact the local police, dial tel. 502/7926-1365. There are a host of Internet cafes around Flores and Santa Elena.