El Mirador

 
El Mirador
 

What to Expect

Mirador is an extremely impressive ancient Maya site that is perhaps best known for having the biggest pyramid in the world. Located deep within the jungle of El Peten District in Guatemala, the site was abandoned for millennia until an overflying airplane spotted it in 1930. Due to its remote location, it wasn’t until 1978 that a formal archeological investigation was begun.

Today, it’s exactly that remote setting that makes exploring El Mirador so interesting. Surrounded by verdant jungle teeming with wildlife, the buildings, carved stela, and pyramids feel like a movie set. It’s only when you climb “La Danta”, some 72 meters (236 feet) up in the air, that you finally realize that everything is real.

To get to El Mirador, you’ve got to be prepared for a trek through the jungle. The nearest town is quite far away and there are no roads. It takes about 2-3 days of hiking through the jungle to get to El Mirador. Only people in good physical shape can handle the humidity, high heat, bugs, and hacking through the thick foliage. But for those who want a truly unique adventure, a week in the bush with a local guide, sharing meals and stories around the fire at night, and learning about the native flora and fauna is an amazing experience.

What We Offer

The trip to El Mirador can be done in either 5 or 6 days. It takes two days to get to the site and two days back, with one or two days at El Mirador. The tour leaves from the village of La Carmelita.

The tour includes ground transportation to La Carmelita either by private shuttle or local bus. Participants will receive three hearty meals per day, plenty of drinking water, and camping gear (tents and mattresses). The tour will be led by an experienced jungle guide and may also include an assistant, cook, and mule wrangler depending on the size of the party.

Mules are the only animal that can handle carrying all of the supplies and equipment, including luggage, food, and water. Although hiking to El Mirador and back on foot is recommended, it is possible to pay for an extra mule for participants who get tired and want to ride for a bit.

Due to the remote location of El Mirador, the guides for this tour are local Guatemalans who speak Spanish only. It is possible to hire a translator, but this is not usually necessary. Participants will get three meals a day, but bringing along personal snacks like trail mix, chocolate, dried fruit, or nuts is recommended. If you want to share some adult beverages around the fire at night, you’ll need to bring your own.

The price of this epic tour is $250 U.S. dollars per person for groups of two or more. Solo travelers will need to pay $500.

Pro Tips:

  • The journey to and from El Mirador involves hiking through the jungle, so bring appropriate footwear.
  • Also bring along a pair of flip flops or lightweight shoes to wear at night so you can get some air on your feet.
  • The extra mule is highly recommended. You never know when a member of your party will get worn out or sprain a muscle and need to ride for a bit.
  • A bottle of local rum is great for the nightly fire, but bring some along for the workers and archaeologists at El Mirador and they’ll love you forever. They’ll be delighted to show you all the secrets of the site.
  • Another great present for the workers at El Mirador is a newspaper. They’re out there for weeks at a time with no contact with the outside world.
  • If you’re doing the trek during the rainy or green season, waterproof boots or rubber boots is highly, highly recommended.
  • Some tick powder (available at the veterinary store in Santa Elena) is great for keeping the pesky insects from irritating the mules.
  • If you’re doing the trek during the hot season, we recommend bringing some bags of rehydration powder (sold under the name ORS). You mix it with water and it acts as a local version of Gatorade, keeping you hydrated and energized.

History

When archaeologists first began to study El Mirador, they were surprised to learn that the buildings were far older than other cities in the region like Tikal and Uaxactun. El Mirador was a powerful city around 2,600 years ago but dwindled away and then was abandoned around 100 AD. Archeologists estimate that as many as a quarter of a million people lived or worked in the area based on calculations of the labor needed to build the enormous pyramids and buildings on the site. It is believed that El Mirador was the largest city in the Maya world between 300 BC and 100 AD and one of the top 10 biggest cities in the world.

Centuries after it was abandoned, other groups of Maya moved in and occupied the site but they too were all gone around the year 900 AD. The “downtown” civic area of El Mirador is more than 10 square miles in size and still has thousands of standing structures, including buildings more than 70 meters (230 feet) high. We know now that civil war or some other form of large-scale disturbance occurred around 150 AD due to the large number of fortifications and thick walls that were built. Nonetheless, these fortifications must have failed as the city was soon abandoned afterward.

Fun Facta
By volume (2.8 million cubic meters), La Danta is the biggest pyramid in the world.


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