Peten Itza, Guatemala

Lake Locations:

Guatemala -

Also known as:  Lago Peten Itza, Lake Peten Itza

Peten Itza is the destination tropical rain forest dreams are made of! Located in the northern region of Peten, the lake covers more than 24,400 acres. Historically, Lago Peten Itza lies within the Mayan Biosphere Reserve and is steeped in the romantic mystery of these ancient people. Descendents of the Maya – the Itza – still live around Peten Itza with a very few still speaking a nearly extinct Mayan dialect. Much of the area around the lake is jungle. The municipal center of the Peten District is actually on an island at the south end of the lake. Connected by a causeway to the shore, the city of Flores is tourist-friendly, modern in a rustic sort of way, and very picturesque.

Peten Itza isn’t a lake with many huge modern resort hotels, although a few four-star hotels do exist. It isn’t known for fishing, although what the locals call ‘white fish’ (actually petenia splendida-a member of the perch family) is abundant in the lake and often served locally. It isn’t even known for serious boating, but one of the favorite activities on the lake is to rent a small covered boat and operator to view the shoreline and travel to other villages. There are plenty of beaches for swimming and small shops for purchasing local handcrafted items such as textiles and wood carving. Several very comfortable hotels and a number of guest houses provide lodgings, and there is an assortment of local restaurants and internet cafes to provide for visitors’ needs.

The biggest draws to Peten Itza are the sites near the lake. Near Flores along the shoreline is a new Animal Rescue Center and Environmental Education facility funded by the Disney Corporation and the Oakland Zoo. The ARCAS Rescue Center rescues rainforest animals and birds that are injured or ill and releases them back into the wild after recovery. Those that are unable to be released remain at the ARCAS Environmental Education and Interpretation Center, Kinkajou Kingdom, where they can be viewed by visitors. The purpose of the entire complex is to further environmental education efforts and help to protect the surrounding rain forest. Some of the animals and birds living permanently at the Center are parrots, macaws, chachalacas, kinkajous, raccoons, spider monkeys, margays and coatimundis. The ARCAS Center is a 10-minute boat ride from Flores and right next to the Petencito Zoo, which also has an extensive collection of native animals. The forests bordering the lake are a wildlife paradise, with more than 100 important indigenous species such as the red snook fish, crocodiles, jaguars, pumas, white-tailed deer, red brocket, and several bird species, including parrots, toucans, and macaws. On the lake’s northeast shore is the Cerro Cahui Protected Biotope, a natural reserve for butterflies and birds. The 1,600-acre Biotope is home to toucans, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and other rain forest species.

The majority of visitors who arrive at Peten Itza use the town of Flores as their base for visiting the Tikal National Park. The Park holds one of the most fascinating and extensive Mayan sites in Guatemala. Although more structures are excavated here than any other site in the Americas, there is much yet to discover and excavations are on-going. Ten square miles of structures have been uncovered so far, and there are many more yet to be exposed. Tours to Tikal can be arranged at Flores, but visitors should be prepared for a great deal of walking once they get there. It is suggested that visitors pick up a guide book before going to Tikal so they can identify the structures they are looking at. Tikal has been declared by UNESCO as both a Natural & World Cultural Heritage site.

Museo Ceramico, near the park entrance, has fascinating archaeological exhibits, including a skeleton with ornate jade jewelry in a reproduction of a burial vault, stelae (stone monuments), shells, ceramics, inscribed bones and other items recovered from the excavations. Adventurous visitors will want to take advantage of the private canopy tours offered near the park entrance. With zip-line and harness, the intrepid adventurer can fly 20 feet above the ground on short sections of cable. The entire tour covers about three-quarters of a mile.

Another attraction near Peten Itza is Ixpanpajul Natural Park. Located in the opposite direction from Tikal, the park offers a Sky Way tour – hanging bridges and walkways that allow visitors to view the lush vegetation from above. The park also offers horseback riding and mountain biking (equipment is rented in the park ). In addition, there is a tropical bird observatory, a camping area, and a canopy tour.

After visitors have thoroughly explored the many sights and sounds of the local rain forest, it’s wise to take some time to explore Flores itself. The town has an interesting history extending to the ninth century. When the Spanish arrived in Guatemala, there was already a village at the site, a Mayan-Itza capital called Tayasal. The city was destroyed by the invaders in the 16th century and was vacant until the 18th century. Remains of the Mayan city and stelae can be seen along the lakeshore. Recently, divers retrieved a collection of intact ceramics from underwater near Flores, apparently abandoned when the water rose suddenly at some point in the past. The lake is over 500 feet deep, with parts of the north basin 165 feet below sea level.

Finding lodgings at Peten Itza is relatively easy if one makes reservations in advance. Hotels, guest houses and campsites are all well represented along the lakeshore. A growing number of resort-style hotels are being built, and tours arrive here regularly. Over 150,000 visitors come to Peten Itza each year. Real estate may be available in some of the smaller villages but will likely be hard to find as much of the area is now protected reserves. The Peten District and Peten Itza are probably the best places on earth to experience both the rainforest and its riches and the visible remnants of the Mayan culture. Bring the swim gear, the binoculars, camera, sturdy hiking boots and plenty of sun screen. You’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the lush rain forest and its flora and fauna. And you’ll no doubt want to come back!

Things to do at Peten Itza

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Peten Itza

  • Perch
  • Snook

Peten Itza Photo Gallery

Peten Itza Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 24,463 acres

Shoreline Length: 46 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 361 feet

Maximum Depth: 525 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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