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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Flores, Guatemala

(Pronounced: FLOOR-es, Gwah-tay-MAH-lah)

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Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

After another night of loud music from the bar next door to our hotel in San Ignacio, we rose at about 5 a.m. to get ready for the dayís travel from Belize to Flores, Guatemala. Billy arranged for a van to take us to the border town of Benque for $5BZD each person Ė a price far more real than the one taxis were charging.

Once we got to the border we were approached by money changers. We figured that we had enough Belize Dollars to cover the $37.50 BZD each for the exit stamp and the exit fee - which, for some reason, are charged separately, each with their own receipt.

 

Combis or collectivos are a customary form of transportation in Central America along with buses

Flores is a town in Peten, Guatemala. The town itself is an island on Lake Peten Itza connected to the mainland by a causeway. The larger towns of Santa Elena and San Benito are on the other side of the road and all three are often referred to as "Flores."

 

A view of Flores proper from the road connecting it to the mainland

We arrive at the Flores bus station after being squished in the collectivo for 2 hours. The chaos, noise and confusion at these locations can be overwhelming. Guatemalans have a custom of berating and shouting at you to get their next fare. Mind you, they are trying to help, but they are also trying to gain business. It's best to step back away from the activity and collect yourself.

The first order of business for us was to get to a bank and obtain Guatemalan Quetzales before entering Flores proper.

We extricated ourselves from the clamorous pack of tuk-tuk drivers and headed in the direction of a bank I saw earlier as our combi pulled into the parking lot. There, on the edge of the pandemonium, was a lone driver and we approached him and asked about the bank. We needed an ATM machine and the driver explained that this bank didn't have one. But for 10Q's ($1.25) he would take us to a bank in town that did have an ATM, plus take us across the road to the island.

It was a good deal and a fair one.

 

From the island looking back at Santa Elena

We choose a hotel at the entrance to the island which offered a view of the lake, hot water, wifi and decent beds. After eating a couple of packed sandwiches, we lay down for a much-needed nap. Wind and the smell of rain on hot, dry pavement woke me up, and when I looked outside our window, I see sheets of rain pouring from the sky!

Oh yes! Tropical storms!

Red roofs and simple styled buildings

We chose to visit Flores in November at what was supposed to be the end of the rainy season. To our surprise, we were greeted in the mornings with 90% humidity. In the afternoons, we met the double whammy of temperatures in the high 80's with matching mugginess. Dramatic tropical rains poured forth from the skies each afternoon.

 

An abundance of restaurant choices abound in Flores

This restaurant used to have a resident toucan, hence the name, but the bird has since escaped or found another home. There are no shortages of restaurants to choose from - local, touristy, and international.

 

Narrow, cobblestone streets and alleyways are abundant in Flores

One of the main reasons to visit Flores is to go to Guatemala's most famous Maya ruin site, Tikal.

Wanting to avoid the weekend herds of visitors, we rose at 4:30 on Friday morning in order to be ready for the 2nd combi leaving for Tikal at 6 a.m. The ride takes about an hour to reach the site. If you want to catch the sunrise at the ruins, the first combi leaves at 5 a.m. The soggy weather didn't seem conducive to photographing a decent sunrise, and we figured if it was thick in Flores, it would be more dense in the jungles of Tikal. 

 

Brightly painted buildings are found all over Flores

Because this island is separated from the bustling towns of Santa Elena and San Benito, there is a sense of Old World appeal with a touch of Caribbean soul that pervades every street. Flores is clean, enchanting in a Disneyland sort of way, safe, and provides captivating views of the lake from many angles. 

The civilization on the island dates from the 9th century and was formerly called Tayasal. When the Spanish came in the 1500's, they gave the Maya a Spanish horse, which they treated almost as a god. The Spanish tried to convert the natives to Christianity, but the Maya held out. So, according to Spanish logic, the conquistadores destroyed Tayasal and it was abandoned until the 18th century.

 

Billy has found himself a home

The island is named after Cirilo Flores, one of the first Guatemaltecos to call for independence from Colonial powers.

Flores is small and quiet, but is geared towards tourists who visit Tikal, only 40 miles away. The local population depends on tourism for income and offers restaurants, hotels, guesthouses, handicraft stores, coffee houses and internet cafes.

 

Lined up at the bakery!

This local bakery does a buzzing business and daily its shelves are packed - then emptied - by purchases from restaurants and individual patrons.

 

Enchanting and romantic lake view restaurants abound in Flores

Since the town is so safe, you can easily walk around at sunset and enjoy a drink or an appetizer in one of the restaurants along the lake.

Flores provides a calm and affordable style of living

You can take a swim in the warm waters of Lake Peten Itza, refreshing yourself on a hot day. There are several public piers on the north side of the city where we saw many locals and tourists jumping off and swimming.

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Cutesy cottage-style restaurant and bar

When it wasn't raining, the sunlight was spectacular and the place came alive with color and charm.

The island can be circled on foot in about 15 minutes and mornings will find walkers and joggers doing a round or two before the heat kicks in.

 

Sunlight dazzles and pastel stucco colors beguile

Traffic is hardly mentionable. The streets have mostly the three-wheeled tuk-tuks looking to save stranded passengers from the daily downpours or to run errands to the neighboring towns where most of the staple shopping is done. One can meander aimlessly, passing the afternoon away starting with a cappuccino in one of the lake view restaurants.

 

Launches can take you 'round the island or to towns across the lake

The price for a launcha across the lake to the nearby town of San Miguel is 5Q per person. An hour tour is 120Q (about $15USD) - which will take you to the museum and to El Mirador, where you will find dramatic photo ops of Flores. Half an hour trips are 60Q.

Canoes and bicycles can also be rented.

 

Easy going water travel in a covered launcha

Hire a small covered boat and travel around Lake Peten Itza and visit the towns of San Andres and San Jose. It takes about 40 minutes and you will also be able to enjoy the beautiful aquatic scenery and the tropical birdlife.

 

Straight walkways make for an easy running surface

Flores is smooth and tranquil so if you want action you will need to cross the bridge (in the upper left here in this photo). to get to the markets. Most of the locals live on the mainland and you will find open air markets with fresh produce, banks, clinics and supply stores. The stores on the island itself do not offer anything substantial, only bottled water, milk, sodas, chips, baked goods, bananas and such.

But for 5Q each way, shopping is a breeze.

 

Spruced up buildings, clean streets

The town of Flores provides a bit of fantasy, an insulation from noisy Guatemalan daily life.

 

An historic church at the Spanish Plaza

The plaza is small and perhaps easy to overlook, but the church is painted brilliant white and hard to miss.

If you are interested in taking Spanish lessons, you can attend the Spanish Academy Dos Mundos which was opened in 2008. You can have one-on-one or group classes with competent local teachers. Or you can arrange a home stay with Guatemalan families. Want to become involved with the community? Volunteer at an orphanage, a nursing home or help out with a community project. This will put your Spanish to work!

 

Contrast of light and shadow

Walking, running or bicycling these small hills can get your blood moving, but remember that the island is small! If you move fast enough you could probably chase yourself up the hill!

 

Another restaurant-coffee shop with outside corner tables

I think to live life on this island might be quaint and fulfilling if you had a garden, happen to be writing a book, are an artist or can fill your time with volunteer activities. Plenty of restaurants are here for dining choices, and prices are reasonable. You can spend 20Q for lunch at a national, local restaurant and 150Q for dining in more upscale surroundings. Beer runs from 12Q a bottle to 30Q, depending on the location.

Public transport is affordable and easy to come by and the scenery is graceful. People are friendly and eager to please.

 It's a gentle lifestyle and could appeal to those who are looking for exactly that.

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About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

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