El Mirador – the almost forgotten city

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EL MIRADOR – GENERAL INFORMATION

Ever heard about El Mirador in Guatemala? You might not if you’re not so much into forgotten Mayan cities in Central America – but you should consider going because it’s an insane experience!

Before I’ll tell you more about it, let’s hear some general facts: El Mirador is the largest Mayan city and dates back to the pre-classic era. It was first discovered in 1926. In 2003 Richard D. Hansen from the Idaho State University started a major investigation, stabilization and conservation project which still continues on to this day. Of 26 known sites, only 14 have been studied; an estimated 30 more await discovery. All this makes El Mirador a very intriguing site to visit – especially right now as it’s not as touristic as Tikal and still very untouched and difficult to get to.

I have visited Yaxhá and Tikal last year – and both cities are amazing and definitely worth a visit. I love these kind of sites as there’s a certain mystery about the culture and how they were able to build such structures without heavy machinery and modern tools. El Mirador however was a completely different thing – it is awe inspiring and a truly exceptional experience. If you’re looking for such an adventure, read on!

PLANNING AND PREPARATION

El Mirador is a remote site which is not that easy to reach compared to the other Mayan sites in the area. Before leaving for Guatemala, I did some research about possible travel agencies, that would take me there. One that came up repeatedly and had very good reviews, was Dynastia Kan based in Santa Elena close to the island of Flores. Once I settled in Flores for a couple of days, I contacted them and Antonio offered to meet up right away to discuss the trek. The prices are pretty much the same wherever you ask – the trek will cost you 250 $. Antonio then told me, what was included. When you choose with Dynastia Kan, you’ll get free transportation from Flores or Santa Elena to the small community of Carmelita. Once you reach Carmelita, you’ll meet your guide and you get a nice breakfast before heading out into the jungle. The trek takes a total of 5 days (there’s a 6 day trek, too – but I would recommend doing the 5 day tour) and basically everything is included: Food, water, snacks, tents and mattresses, mules and horses that carry everything except your personal backpack, the guide and…vistas that you’ll never forget! Once I reached Carmelita, I met my two fellow hikers – Matt and Pearce from Australia – and our local guide Walter. They had more people going on that particular trek, but they split up the groups according to age and fitness level, to give everyone a pleasant experience according to their abilities. In total we were 3 groups and a total of maybe 15 people.

Here are some things to consider before going on such a hike: you will hike for 40 km – one way! The first day you’ll cover 17 km and it took us around 5 hours. The second day is harder – you have to cover 23 km. The temperature in the jungle around this time of year is approximately around 35 degrees Celsius – in the shade. You need sturdy footwear, light clothes that let you move freely, a bottle for water (which you can refill whenever you like), insect repellent, maybe a little camping pillow if you wanna be more comfortable at night, hygene articles such as soap, deodorant and shampoo and a trekking towel. Oh – and don’t forget a flashlight and a headlamp for the nights/early mornings. I had my camera and tripod with me and many spare batteries just in case.

These 5 days are going to be very basic: there will be no hot water whatsoever. You’ll have to use latrines (bring toilet paper just in case). There’s no internet or power to charge whatever you bring with you. And there’s not going to be any phone reception that far out in the jungle. You’ll be sleeping in basic tents on thin mats. What wasn’t basic to my surprise, was what we were served: The food was absolutely delicious – we had two ladies who took care of our culinary needs – and it was prepared in the two camps on fire stoves. They offered a variety of dinners throughout the 5 days, we even got snacks during the hike, nice cold cokes or juices after a day of hiking, wonderful breakfasts, fresh fruit, coffee or tea and sandwiches or tortillas for lunch – basically everything you could wish for!

You will hike during the early mornings and rest in the afternoon – so be prepared to get up early. The sunsets and sunrises are mostly spent on one of the temples and it is absolutely magical. In the evenings, you’ll socialize with your fellow hikers, enjoy the food or simply hang out in a hammock. After a long day of hiking, the thing I looked forward to the most, was the shower…well – let’s say – the buckets of water I poured over myself to get cleaned up and cool. I usually had the mules and horses watching me get a bucket from the pond in the jungle and washing down in the middle of the forest…definitely an amazing setting and something I really miss. There are “shower cabins” in camp – but they charge 10Q for bringing the water from the pond to the camp…I went for the easier – and cheaper way – and got my own water. 😛

OUR HIKE

We left Carmelita the first day and hiked for around 5 hours before we reached the first camp at El Tintal – the first big structure. It is a strenuous hike because there is no real “road” – you’ll hike on a path that is a bit tricky to walk on and you’ll always have to keep you eyes on the path. I stumbled a couple of times as there are many tree roots popping out of the ground. It is very hot and you NEED to drink a lot of water. 2-3 liters a day is the minimum. Walter – our guide – always asked if we needed a short break to catch our breath or have some water or snacks. Make sure, not to rest for too long as your muscles will cool down and it will be harder to walk. We had lunch at a nice little clearing in the jungle and then continued on. In the afternoon at around 2 pm we reached camp and set up for the night. After a nice shower and getting our wet clothes to dry, we gathered with the rest of the hikers and spend the evening to get to know each other. Right before sunset, we hiked up El Tigre (it’s a 5 minute hike from the camp) and watched the sun set over the jungle which was marvelous! Back in camp, we had dinner and hung out a bit longer to watch the stars. It is incredible, how many stars you’re able to see in the jungle. There’s no light pollution around whatsoever.

After a short but very good sleep, we had breakfast and got ready for the second day of hiking. Along the 23 km of hiking, we learned a lot about the old city and Mayan culture. There’s many structures along the way – mostly still covered by dense jungle and we passed time by listening to music or getting Spanish lessons from Walter along the way. It was really fun! The second day of walking, really drained out our energies and we were happy to reach camp in the afternoon. The knowledge of having the next day off, was a nice prospect after all that walking. We spend the evening resting, talking, cooling down, playing football and before sunset we went up the Templo El Tigre – the second largest structure after La Danta – the biggest temple of El Mirador. It was a beautiful sight: The jungle to your feet, the noises and sounds of the jungle below you and the descending sun on the horizon! I couldn’t get enough of it. After the sun was gone, we headed back to the camp and had a lovely dinner.

The next day was all about visiting the excavation sites of El Mirador and learning about the finds and the history. We hiked around the small temples and housings and Walter told us everything there is to know. It was incredibly interesting and seeing these relicts from ancient times, was like a trip to the past. In the evening we went to see La Danta – the most impressive structure of them all. Just to give you a sense of size: Tikal’s highest temple is 64 m high. The Templo El Tigre measures 53 m in height. La Danta is the highest temple with its 72 m and volume of 2.800.000 cubic meters. The base of the pyramid measures 135 x 130 m – and that is only the base of the main building. The whole construct with its 2 platforms has a height of 170 m and is the largest structure of its kind. To walk up this marvel of architetcure was such a special experience. And once you reach the very top of La Danta, the view will take your breath away! Check out the little gallery down below for some shots of the hike.

Final Thoughts

El Mirador is definitely not something for the average traveler. It is physically tough, challenging and the jungle with its sounds, animals and insects is something you need to be prepared for. You WILL hear howler monkeys – and it will be intimidating at first. There are Jaguars in the jungle and there is a chance you might see one – although we didn’t. You will see tarantulas – many of them. You will be bitten by mosquitoes, use holes in the ground for your human needs, shower with a bucket, have no internet or phone connection for 5 days…and some of that stuff just mentioned is me being sarcastic (considering there’s people who can’t live without their phone or internet connectivity :-P). What you will get in return: nature at its best, adventure, an experience not many have had, a timeout of the hustle and bustle of the cities and absolute peace and tranquility.

It was worth every cent I paid and every hurting muscle and sore foot. This experience – together with the people I met there, was truly incredible! I want to thank Walter for such a perfect job. You were the right guy for our group and your sense of humor was really great! Matt and Pearce – the pairing of us couldn’t have been a better match! You were easy going and fun to spend time with – although I had a hard time understanding your Aussie accent in the beginning. 😀 Thank you so much!! Two guys I also wanna thank for their inspiring stories: David and Bill! A life coach and entrepreneur from California and an Opal miner living in Australia – this can only be a lucky coincidence and I enjoyed every moment you shared your wonderful experiences! THANK YOU!

Humberto & Umberto


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