EL MIRADOR GUATEMALA | 5-DAY TREK IN THE MAYAN JUNGLE
- Trekking El Mirador was high on top of my adventure list and the main reason why I decided to explore Guatemala -
A year ago I came across the Mirador Basin Project a non-profit organization focused on defending the unique biodiversity and cultural heritage found in the Mirador Basin in Northern Guatemala. The Mirador-Calakmul Basin is a geological depression found in the rainforests of northern Petén, Guatemala, and southern Campeche, Mexico. The entire system spreads across 1.6 million acres of pristine tropical forest (2500 square miles). Over the past two decades, archaeologist Dr. Richard Hansen (let’s call him a modern-day Indiana Jones) has taken great interest in the area due to its abundance of ancient sites and evidences of Pre-classic Maya occupation which tells a story of humanity that has never been revealed before…
I always been fascinated by ancient cultures and the mysteries surrounding the Maya civilization. While the best minds in Europe thought the world was 5000 years old, the Maya were writing accurate descriptions of celestial events that happened 500 million years ago and were building perfectly proportioned temples of magnificent beauty.
So after doing my own research about this remote area of Guatemala and its hidden treasures, I found out it was possible to access the jungle and discover the cradle of one of the greatest ancient societies in the world. Walking on ancient Mayan roads (Sacbe) miles deep in the subtropical rainforest went from a fantasy to reality! We waited for the dry season to come (November - April) and finally embarked on the Lost World journey.
- This is how the journey to the birthplace of Maya civilization started -
If you are passionate about Mayan ancient ruins, history and trekking, you are at the right place. We chose the 5 days - 4 nights expedition through the jungle stopping along the way to the ancient Mayan cities of El Tintal and El Mirador, home of the largest pyramid in the world: La Danta.
WHERE TO START
We arrived in the city of Flores few days before starting our adventure and decided to stay at Los Amigos hostel, which ended up being such a cool place to hang out and meet other travelers. They have their own travel agency at the hostel so they can organize each tour for you very easily at a very good price. Trip prices vary, but expect to pay about $250 per person. If you decide to stay somewhere else I would recommend to book your tour guides straight to the Carmelita Cooperativa where you will also find all infos regarding the trek. I highly suggest to hike with guides as they will provide great knowledge about the surroundings, mules to carry your food, camping gear and a cook. Most importantly you want to make sure you also help the community living there. By integrating villages like Carmelita into a potential “Eco-tourism” economic model you can help preserve the unique natural beauty and historic significance of this region, without leaving the local communities out of the tourism revenue generated by these projects.
DAY 1 - FLORES - CARMELITA - EL TINTAL
We woke up at 4am and said goodbye to our comfortable bed. The driver picked us up with two other couples and we started our journey with three hours on a bumpy dirt road, entering the jungle of Peten until Carmalita, the starting point of our adventure. We finally arrived in this tiny village, had our first traditional breakfast (can’t get enough fresh tortillas), loaded the mules and headed to the trail with our two guides, Antonio and Enrique. For some reason I assumed they will speak a little english but I was wrong ha! Our lovely companions, a couple from Chile and a couple from Spain helped us with translations… so grateful for that!
March is the hottest month of the year there, which made it difficult but also enjoyable as we had NO bugs during the entire trip. The only thing we needed to be careful of were ticks! A good repellent spray, big hat, light clothing and we were fine! I didn’t want to hike in sneakers so I spent five days in high top hiking shoes but it is not necessary at all during this season. The trek to El Mirador is not for the faint of heart and should not be attempted July-November, when the mud is knee-deep throughout most of the trail!
After about three hours we stopped for lunch break in a nice shaded area. I felt already so exhausted… We made it to our first base camp at the archeological site of El Tintal in a total of six hours, woohoo!
We ended the day by watching the sunset on top of a pyramid with a 360 view of the jungle above the canopy, it was dreamy!
We chilled the rest of the evening, had a yummy dinner, took a shower (yes they do have showers at the camps), hanged in hammocks while listening to the howlers monkeys and other wild life out there.
DAY 2 - EL TINTAL - LA MUERTA - EL MIRADOR
We survived the night! Woke up before sunrise to get ready for a LONG day, 7 hours hike. The morning and the first few hours were my favorite part, crossing the jungle while the sun was rising slowly. We seen a few “manos aragnos” (spider monkeys) and Coatis, I loved how the jungle felt alive.
Before arriving at Mirador we stopped to explore a small archeological site called La Muerta and went inside the ruins through a very tight underground tunnel… Tiny spaces aren’t my favorite but it was worth the experience, even the encounter with a giant alien-looking spider.
We kept walking until another site where we discovered a stone carved in the ground dating from the era of the serpent dynasty in Mirador, The Kan Kingdom. El Mirador is recognized as the capital of the Kan Kingdom during the late pre-classic era (200BC-250A.D) when it was the largest Maya city in the region.
Few minutes later we arrived at the camp. This one was way bigger than El Tintal, hundreds of archeologists and workers live there during the excavation season.
Before dinner we went to watch another beautiful sunset on top of the El Tigre pyramid (55meters high). On top of the canopy, I felt so connected to this magnificent place and a thought kept popping into my mind: What secrets remain buried under the jungle’s floor?
DAY 3 - EL MIRADOR - LA DANTA
Exploration day! I woke up very excited to walk around the Acropolis and discover the different sites built by the Maya in such a remote area (we were probably 35 miles deep in the jungle at this point).
El Mirador was a very huge city. Bigger than any other of the surrounding Maya cities, bigger than Tikal or Palenque. The city center covered an area of 28 square kilometres with more than 1000 buildings.
It might have been founded before 600 BC during the pre-classical period of the Maya civilization and could have been inhabited by more than 200.000 people during its hightime, controlling a surrounding area with more than a million of people. Like all cities of the region, it was finally abandoned around 900 AD. 1500 years of a lost civilization…
We spent the day walking around ancient carved stellas, murals with remain of vivid paint color, explored houses and temples.
The mural of Xibalba (The Underworld as the Maya describe it) was the most fascinating archeological site to me. Before this discovery, scholars thought the Maya mythology was created during the Classic period, but here we were, standing in front of a mural representing all the Maya deities as described in the Maya creation myth and carved during the Pre-classic era! Three levels were excavated but archeologists suppose that this structure contains 9 levels total still buried under the jungle floor. Pretty amazing to see how nature takes over when civilization disappears.
After lunch and few hours of rest in the shade, we headed towards La Danta. The colossal La Danta Complex lies to the east of the main plaza and Central Acropolis. Although technically lower than El Tigre, it rises to a height of 70 meters (230 feet) thanks to its elevated location on a hillside, making it the tallest structure in the Mayan world.
Due to a volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters La Danta is one of the biggest pyramids in the world.
We started climbing it without even realizing it, the final part was surrounded by wooden stairs helping us to access to the top. It felt like we were the last humans on top of the world, completely disconnected and reconnected to a lost civilization. The sunset was majestic, we all enjoyed this beautiful moment in silence until the stars appeared in the sky, looking at the dark sky and its constellations, on top of a pyramid that was once designed by very advanced Mayan astronomers…
I fell asleep that night realizing what I was living, feeling deeply grateful for this journey.
DAY 4 - TREK BACK TO EL TINTAL
We left El Mirador and walked back to El Tintal camp. I wish we could have kept going to Nakbe but it gave us a good reason to come back someday. The trail was exactly the same than on our way there so we took our time to observe more of the wildlife and reflect about our past four days of adventure. I have to be honest with you, four days in that jungle wasn’t easy but being solo in the middle of nowhere was the most mind/body rejuvenating experience. Walking long hours silently in nature is a great form of meditation, no distraction from the modern world for a week, it is just you, your breath and your thoughts.
DAY 5 - EL TINTAL - CARMELITA - FLORES
I suffered that day, probably because the end felt so close and the sun was out pretty early. The atmosphere was light and nostalgic at the same time. It will for sure take time to fully digest what just happened.
We reached Carmelita for a last lunch in the village, pretty excited to remove my hiking shoes and get a cold drink. After saying goodbye to our lovely guides (with some tears in my eyes) we jumped in the van direction Los Amigos in Flores, time to get back to civilization.
The Maya left many unsolved mysteries behind and this adventurous jungle trek through the vulnerable Mirador Basin, felt like a true pilgrimage following in their footsteps… A cosmic journey I won’t forget.