Flores

The red-roof town of Flores, on an island in the waters of Lago Petén Itzá connected to the mainland by a main road, is on the site of the ancient city of Tatyasal. This was the region's last unconquered outpost of Mayan civilization, until finally falling to the Spanish in 1697. The conquerors destroyed the city's huge pyramids.

Today, from afar the provincial capital looks like a toy village neatly assembled; up close it has narrow streets lined with buildings in buttermint pastels, and flowers spilling over balconies, making every corner photogenic. There's a central square presided over by a colonial church, and the pint-sized motorized tuk-tuks give you a real sense of being elsewhere. Touristy, yes, but still charming.

To stay in some of Flores' hotels is to experience a different era; you almost expect to see it through a yellow-tinted filter. Some hotels are quaint and unfussy; some are simply pedestrian, even mediocre. Frame your expectations well, and their eccentricities can enhance the experience.

Connected to the mainland by a bridge and causeway—don’t be put off by the Burger King at the entrance to the causeway—Flores serves as a base for many travelers to El Petén. It's also the center of many nongovernmental organizations working for the preservation of the Mayan Biosphere, an endangered area covering nearly all of northern Petén. Flores is also one of the last remaining vestiges of the Itzá, the people who built Mexico's monumental Chichén Itzá.

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