Tikal national park near Flores in Petén, Guatemala

Things to do in  Petén

Bringing Maya history to life

Encompassing swathes of tropical wilderness dotted with Maya temples, historic cities, and diverse wildlife, Petén in northern Guatemala is the largest state in the country. It’s also home to the Maya Biosphere Reserve—often referred to as the “third lung of the Earth.” This Maya heartland is best known as the home of Tikal, but there are plenty more things to do here, including visiting the pretty cities of Flores, Yaxhá, and Aguateca, and hiking to El Mirador, a 2,500-year-old city buried so deep in the jungle it’s only accessible via 5-day trek or helicopter ride.

Top 15 attractions in Petén

Tikal National Park (Parque Nacional Tikal)

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Once a powerful seat of the Mayan empire, the Tikal ruins are now the most famous archeological site in Guatemala and one of the most-visited sets of Mayan ruins in all of Latin America. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, consisting of temples, plazas, and pyramids, was first settled around 700 BC, and modern visitors still get swept away by their beauty and powerful aura.More

Yaxhá

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Yaxhá was founded circa 800 BC along the shores of Laguna Yaxhá, and was home to more than 40,000 people at its peak, around AD 250. Though overshadowed by Tikal, this ancient city is Guatemala’s third largest archaeological site. And since it’s less visited than its famous sibling, Yaxhá offers a peaceful, introspective experience—especially for birders and Maya aficionados.More

Petén Forest

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In the northeast region of Guatemala, Petén Forest is made up of dense swamp and jungle habitats connected via a chain of lakes, 40 percent of which is within the protected Maya Biosphere Reserve. The forest is home to dozens of Maya archaeological sites, and the highlight for most visitors is a trip to the impressive ruins of Tikal.More

Lake Peten Itza (Lago Petén Itzá)

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Guatemala’s second largest lake is a sparkling expanse at the heart of the hot, humid Petén Basin, and was one of the earliest cradles of Mesoamerican civilization. The lush rain forests at its fringe are home to some 27 archaeological sites. Use the ancient Mayan town of Flores—the last Mayan city to fall to the Spanish in 1697—as a base to explore the lake and the surrounding area.More

El Mirador

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An ancient urban center that flourished almost a thousand years before Tikal had constructed its first pyramid, El Mirador once had a population of close to 100,000 in 600 BC, making it one of the first megacities in the Americas. When it was excavated 30 years ago, the findings basically rewrote what was considered early Maya history.More

Ixpanpajul Natural Park (Parque Natural Ixpanpajul)

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Ixpanpajul Nature Park offers nature treks and activities within the lush rainforest just outside Petén. Ideal for family outings, the 1,112-acre (450-hectare) reserve has bridges and zip lines over the canopy, horseback rides, night safaris, birding treks, ATV rentals—and a chance to see some 200 species of trees, 150 birds, and 40 mammals, including three types of monkey.More

Uaxactún

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Founded centuries before Tikal, the ancient Mayan city of Uaxatún features the oldest arch in the Mayan world and may well be the birthplace of the Mayan calendar and writing system. Today, tiny modern houses sit alongside the ruins of pyramids and temples, which the Maya expertly positioned to accurately observe the seasonal positioning of the planets and stars.More
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Petencito Zoo

Petencito Zoo

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Set on the edge of Lake Petén Itzá (Lago Petén Itzá, this small zoo houses a collection of native Guatemalan animals, including ocelots, pumas, jaguars, and spider monkeys. Forested trails weave past the enclosures, which are spread across two islands connected by a bridge. Its shoreside position affords stunning views of the lake.More
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Pasión River (Rio La Pasión)

Pasión River (Rio La Pasión)

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The Pasión River (Río La Pasión) and its tributaries cover nearly 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) in Guatemala, forming a diverse ecological zone and main transportation source. The river traces the ancient trade route that the Maya used; today visitors use it to access many Maya archeological sites that lie near its shores.More

Estación Biológica las Guacamayas (EBG)

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Guatemala’s Estación Biológica las Guacamayas (EBG), named for the country’s endemic scarlet macaw, is an ecotourism-focused environmental research and conservation center. Its mission is to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of Laguna del Tigre National Park in the Maya Biosphere Reserve of Petén. The name means Las Guacamayas Biological Station.More
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Actún Can Caves

Actún Can Caves

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Hidden in limestone bedrock beneath the sacred ruins of Petén are the cavernous Ak'tun Kan Cave, which is Mayan for “Cave of the Serpent.” Inside the serpentine subterranean complex is an underground waterfall and plenty of impressive stalactites, stalagmites, and unusually-shapedxa0rock formations.More
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Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya)

Maya Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera Maya)

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Within the 5.1 million-acre (2.1 million-hectare) Maya Biosphere Reserve, created by UNESCO in 1990 is Tikal National Park, El Zotz and Naachtún-Dos Lagunas Biotopes (Uaxatún), Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park, and El Mirador National Monument—along with some 200 other Mayan ruins, mountains, rivers, cenotes, hiking trails, and lakes including Lake Petén Itza, gateway to the reserve.More
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Seibal (Ceibal)

Seibal (Ceibal)

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One of the best-preserved Mayan cities in Petén, the elevated ruins of El Ceibal peer out over the Pasión river. The site’s elegant ceremonial structures date to 900 BC, the earliest in the Mayan world, and remarkably detailed altars and stelae were carved after AD 800, when the rest of the empire had already collapsed.More
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Sayaxché

Sayaxché

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This small city on the southern shore of the Pasión River (Río La Pasión is a popular jumping-off point for travelers. Explore nearby Maya remains, including the ruins at Aguateca, Ceibal, and Dos Pilas, and go wildlife-viewing in the dense jungle, home to howler monkeys, iguanas, and other wildlife.More
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Aguateca Archaeological Site

Aguateca Archaeological Site

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Mayan archaeological site Aguateca sits atop a hill along the coast of the Petexbatún Lagoon in Guatemala’s Peten department. Hastily abandoned after an attack around 830AD, the city has a ghost town ambiance reminiscent of Pompei. Penned in by a defensive wall are some 700 structures including royal and elite residences and a grand plaza.More

All about Petén

When to visit

The best time to visit Petén, Guatemala is during the dry season from November through April, as opposed to the wet season that runs from May to October. Petén’s tropical climate means it's hot and humid most of the year, but the heavy downpours of the rainy season make certain parts extremely muddy—especially around the Maya archaeological sites such as Tikal. It’s also the worst time to brave the long hike to El Mirador.

Getting around

The majority of attractions in Petén are near Flores and Lake Petén Itzá in the center of the region. Due to the limited number of settlements, most of Petén is well connected by public buses and tourist shuttles. Bigger towns and cities such as Flores have plenty of tuk-tuks, taxis, and options to rent cars, although most travelers tend to join either private or group tours out to Tikal and other Maya archaeological sites. Convenient combo packages often include transport, guides, and admission tickets.

Traveler tips

While Flores and Tikal are two of the most popular places in Petén, there are several hidden gems. These include Poptún, a small town in eastern Petén known for its caves and lagoons, and Sayaxché, a popular jumping-off spot for travelers heading to the Maya ruins of Aguateca, Ceibal, Punta de Chimino, and Dos Pilos. East of Flores, you can also visit more historic Maya sites, including Yaxhá, Topoxté, Nakúm, and La Blanca, which you’ll find between El Remate and the Belize border.

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People Also Ask

What is Petén, Guatemala known for?

The birthplace of the Maya civilization, Petén is filled with ancient Maya cities, sites, and temples. Although Tikal is the most famous, there are plenty of others too, including Yaxhá, El Mirador, and the island town of Flores, which is built atop a historic Maya stronghold.

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What is there to do in Petén, Guatemala?

There are lots of things to do in Petén, Guatemala, including visiting ancient Maya sites, exploring Flores, kayaking around Lake Petén Itzá, wildlife-spotting, horseback riding, and ziplining through the tree canopy. Adventurous travelers can even take a 5-day trek or helicopter flight to El Mirador, a mysterious pre-Columbian Maya site.

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How long do you need in Petén, Guatemala?

Aim to spend at least 2-3 days in Petén, Guatemala. If you’re short on time, it’s worth spending one day exploring Tikal and one day in Flores. If you have a little longer, you could also stay overnight at Tikal, check out El Remate, and visit other Maya sites such as Yaxhá.

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Is it worth visiting Petén, Guatemala?

Yes, it’s well worth visiting Petén, Guatemala. While the main highlight of the historic Maya heartland are the temples of Tikal, there’s plenty more to see in this lush forested region too—top picks are Flores, Lake Petén Itzá, and spotting howler monkeys, toucans, coatimundi, and jaguars in the jungle.

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What is the best way to get to Petén, Guatemala?

The northernmost region in Guatemala, Petén is accessible by plane, bus, tourist shuttle, taxi, or private vehicle. If you’re limited on time, you might find flying into Flores the best option. Traveling there by road can take a long time, especially if you’re coming from Antigua or Guatemala City in the south.

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What animals can I find in Petén, Guatemala?

Petén is not only home to some of the most incredible historic sites in the Maya world, but it’s also home to the Maya Biosphere Reserve. This wildlife haven harbors an incredible array of animals, including monkeys, coatimundi, toucans, wild turkeys, jaguars, tapir, ocelots, and thousands of species of insects and butterflies.

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Frequently Asked Questions
The answers provided below are based on answers previously given by the tour provider to customers’ questions.
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