Lake Petén Itzá, Flores, and Santa Elena













Source: These images were taken by WTL on the edge of Lake Petén Itzá from the town of Flores, the capital of the Petén departamento of Guatemala.
Comments: The sites in this brief visual tour are in the heart of the Petén, which was the cradle of Maya civilization for a dozen centuries. This is where the Maya began somewhere around 1500 BCE. The Maya who once flourished in this area were called the Itzá (Maya), the same name and people at Chichén Itzá. Flores is the modern capital of this region, but when the Itzá controlled the area, the town on the island in Lake Petén was called Tayasal. After the downfall of the Petén Maya about 900 CE, Tayasal was resettled by Toltec Maya who returned to the area from the Yucatán. These people were again known as the Itzá, and they remained essentially unconquered by Spanish conquistadors and colonists until a final defeat in 1697 by Martín de Ursúa.
North of the lake and the Isla de Flores is the vaste Reserva de Biósfera Maya, which is the largest part of one of UNESCO's world ecological biosphere reserves. The few remaining Itzaes occupy a small area on the north side of the lake as a buffer between the Biósfera and encroachments by commercial interests. However, most of the Reserva is controlled not by Guatemalan park rangers but by the Mexican drug cartel known as the Zetas. In an article by Blake Schmidt in the New York Times ("Ranchers and Drug Barons Threaten Rain Forest Once Ruled by the Maya," July 18, 2010, p. 6), with a biline from El Mirador, Guatemala, N of Lake Petén Itzá, the journalist says: "Great sweeps of Guatemalan rain forest, once the cradle of one of the world's great civilizaitons, are being razed to clear land for cattle-ranching drug barons. [...] Looters and poachers, kept at bay when guerrilla armies roamed the region during the country's 36-year civil war, ply their trade freely." For the full article, see: => New York Times. For a map of the region, see: => Tikal #1.