Central America Guatemala

Guatemala – El Mirador trek

El Mirador is the largest Mayan city ever built, also having the tallest pyramid in the world! Unlike Tikal (read more about Tikal HERE) , it is hidden deep in the Guatemalan Jungle, and many of its ancient ruins and temples are still covered with trees and waiting to be excavated by archeologists still working there day by day. The only way how to actually see this unique sight  is to trek through the Guatemalan rainforest for five days. If you want to experience real adventure (and you’re not scared of giant insects, tarantulas, snakes, scorpions …), you definitely shouldn’t miss this one.

This trek was another absolutely unexpected highlight of my whole journey. You won’t find it when googling top 10 things to do in Guatemala and there is barely a few lines about it in the Lonely Planet guide. Still, it was one of the most amazing things I did during the whole trip.

This trip is not for Mainstream tourists and for most people it is too much effort to be made and too much time to be spent. But if you decide to go for it you’ll be well rewarded by an incredibly interesting and unique experience. I had no idea about El Mirador until my arrival to Flores and the plan was to leave the place in one day and head straight to Honduras. I found out about it from people I met at the reception of my hostel. Their trek was scheduled on the following day and I decided in a few minutes I am going to join them.

To El Mirador and back, it’s about 120 km that you have to do in five days. I know, it sounds like way too much and to be honest it’s no joke. I would definitely recommend this trek only to people in great physical condition. On the other hand, most of the time you walk on flat terrain in low altitude. Your legs will hurt, but if you’re used to walking, you can easily make it.

When buying the trek, watch out for the scammers who take your money, give you a fake voucher and disappear. Unfortunately, similar cases are quite common. The safest option is to purchase your ticket in travel agency Coperativa Carmelita, Flores. They organise the whole thing directly. The prices can differ quite a lot and it’s definitely worth bargaining and threatening them that you will head elsewhere if they won’t reduce the price. I paid 200USD (1400Q) for the whole thing, even though the original price offer was 350USD. 200USD it is also as far as I know the lowest price possible. (If the group has 6 and more members)

The Price Includes:

  • Transport from Flores to the village of Carmelita, where the trek begins and then back.
  • A Spanish speaking guide – for an English speaking guide it’s an additional 200USD.
  • Mules, carrying your backpacks, all food, water, etc. including the person looking after them.
  • Food for the entire five days (4 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 4 dinners) – The food actually surprised me a lot! The portions were really big and you could always help yourself to more if you wanted. We were followed by a cook throughout the entire trek and she really knew what she was doing! So not only the quantity but also the quality of the food was great. Each dish was absolutely delicious.
  • Unlimited access to drinking water.
  • Camping for 4 nights – tents, mattresses, sleeping bags, showers, wc

What to take with you:

  • Repellent!!!
  • Whatever reducing the mosquito bite itching – I use Tea Tree oil. This little miracle is natural oil imported from Australia and not only it’s a great disinfection, fights the headache, stuffy nose and many other things, it also completely eliminates the unpleasant itching after a mosquito bite. To be found in any pharmacy. Get it before you leave, it’s hardly available in Central America.
  • Change of clothes for each day
  • Comfortable clothes and slippers for the evening
  • Raincoat
  • Extra snacks (nuts, dried fruit … anything that refiles you energy)
  • Some alcohol for the evening – there is obviously no signal in the jungle, no internet … so what else to do during the evenings than to get drunk.
  • Mosquito net
  • Plasters
  • I had also a big folding fan which I bought in India last year. It proved to be the most useful thing of all. In the northern part of Guatemala it’s really hot anywhere, but in the rainforest the heat is taken to the next level! The humidity is about 85% which makes you to feel the heat in completely different way. On top of that, because of all the trees around there is no wind. I was feeling sticky and was sweating like a pig already before we even started to walk. Waving the fan around my face was the nicest thing ever.

If you thought that your greatest enemy in the jungle would be poisonous snakes, spiders, or big cats hunting after dark, you were wrong. The worst predators in the rain forest are mosquitoes! There are thousands of them, they chase you in huge flocks and wait for you to make a fatal mistake – to stop for a second so they can sit on you and eat you alive. During the trek, I was told few handy tricks about how to fight mosquitoes. (A bit too late.) As I basically followed none of them the mosquito situation was an absolute hell for me. But you, after reading this, will be a lot more prepared than I was!

  • Do not eat too much of sweets – the sweeter your blood is, the more attractive for mosquitos.
  • Eat a lot of garlic – mosquitos won’t like the taste of your blood.
  • Wear lose clothes made of firmer fabric that will block the access to your skin.
  • Wear clothes in light shades – dark colours attract the sun and warm surfaces attract mosquitoes. (After reading points 3. and 4. I don’t think I have to emphasise that my BLACK AND TIGHT leggings were probably the most stupid outfit idea of my life.)
  • The strongest repellent legally available in Guatemala is containing 25% of deet and I didn’t really notice much of an impact against those mutated jungle fuckers but on the internet or just in nearby Belize you can even find a 50% one which is apparently working much more effectively.

The trip begins around 4 a.m. when the minibus picks up all members of the group by the place they stay. I say around 4 a.m. because even though we were told to be ready at 4:00 waiting in front of our hostel, the minibus arrived at 5:30. From Flores to Carmelita it’s another 4 hours. Perfect time for a little nap before the long day. Our group had 8 members. After having a delicious breakfast together in Carmelita we were ready to go. The part of the journey that is scheduled for the first day is definitely the less pleasant one, on the other hand it’s lots of “fun”. In most places, the path looks more like a swamp full of mud, slippery clay and water than something a human being could normally walk on and often someone loses his shoe somewhere deep in the mud or slips while jumping over paddle and ending up all dirty on his back. Meanwhile the fearless guide with machete cuts the way down through the jungle.

At the end of the day, you all clim the El Tintal – the first of many pyramids you will discover on your way. Watching the sunset from the top is a wonderful finish of the long day…or it would have been if it just would’t get completely overcast and we actually saw some sunset.

The first 20 km is done. The arrival to the camp was actually a really nice surprise. Real showers with running water, toilets, electricity from solar panels and the possibility to charge your phone, electric lights in the whole area, private tent with a mattress for each person, kitchen, hammocks for evening chill…luxury I would never expect in the middle of the jungle so far from civilization. After a wonderful dinner and few glasses of wine, I was sleeping like a baby.

The following morning we were up before sunrise. I left my shoes outside to let them dry. They were still covered in mud. I took the left one and put my hand inside to get out the mud that had got in. Apart form a bit of mud I also squeezed something big and hairy in my hand. I yelled and threw my shoe and the “something” far away. Miguel – our guide, heard me and came to see what had happened. It was just a huge, hairy caterpillar. “I bet it was a deadly caterpillar with the luck I usually have.” I joked laughing. “Well not deadly.” Miguel answered. “But every one of it’s hairs is full of poison. I hope you didn’t squeeze it too much because otherwise you’ll have fevers for several days and we will have to leave you here and pick you up on the way back as you wont be able to make the rest of the trek.” I didn’t laugh anymore. Fortunately after thorough examination of my palm, Miguel decided I was lucky, and will make it to the next day.

This rainforest is one of the few places in the world where you can still spot the Jaguar in the wild. Although it’s very rare to actually get this opportunity the possibility is there.

I was just using one of the toilets when I heard a short scream behind the cubicle. The person just stayed in silence afterwards. I went out to see what happened. I found Jespa – a member of our group, with his eyes wide open in fear, standing in front of the door to the second toilets. When he saw me, he whispered: “Quiet! There is sleeping jaguar inside!” As I didn’t trust him I put my head inside of cubicle to see myself. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Half an hour ago I was almost poisoned by a crazy looking caterpillar and now I’m going to the toilet and there is jaguar inside. That’s a little bit too much for one morning. I run for Miguel to show him what we found. We all just quietly stared inside. “I don’t think it’s breathing.” Said Miguel after while. He picked up a stick and pocked the jaguar’s belly. No reaction.”It’s still a baby. His mother probably died before she managed to teach him how to hunt and now he starved to death, is really skinny.” Miguel took the jaguar out so we could see him properly. It was so beautiful and so sad. If I knew yesterday there is dying baby jaguar just few meters from our camp site I would have given him my entire dinner if I could.

The trail for the second day is about 10 kilometres longer than the previous day, but there the swamp turns into a nice sandy path. No one stops (as no one wants to be eaten by mosquitoes), so we’re moving quite fast. After several hours, we reached the ruins of La Muerta (The Death). “If you want, you can go inside.” Miguel told us. I wondered whether I really wanted to enter something that looked like the entrance to hell and I wasn’t really convinced by the lovely name either. I think the others felt the same.

La Muerta

A few of us finally got the courage and went in. The room was small, with low ceiling, full of spider webs. Two big rats just run from one side of the room to another. I pointed the flashlight upwards. The entire ceiling and walls were covered with spiders. At first I just wanted to run out, but the adrenaline made me stay inside. It was a real Indiana Jones shit! I just felt like I have to explore the whole space and find all the gold that is hidden there somewhere. In the corner we found a gate leading to the main hall. Actually according to the size it looked more like the little door for cats then a gate. The Mayans were basically midgets so this was probably a normal door size for them but we had to literary squeeze our bodies inside and touch all the walls covered in whatever shit. We used a stick to shake all the spiders off and quickly got in. This room was bigger, more spider webs, this time four rats running around, and everywhere on the walls besides normal spiders also something that looked like something between spider and crab. No gold. On the opposite wall there were three scorpions slowly crawling down.  For a while we just watched them beautifully glowing in the light of our torches. Suddenly Jespa pushed one of them with the stick. Scorpion fell right under our feet. That was already too much for me. I started panicking, quickly pushed myself back and got out.

Camp number two wasn’t such luxury anymore. No electricity, no light, just a bucket full of water in the forest instead of a shower. Before dinner we climbed the El Tigre pyramid located not far from the camp and finally enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the top! During the evening shower a snake crawled around my feet and I found a big tarantula when going to the bathroom.

On the third day, we finally explored the city itself. El Mirador is the epicenter of most of Mayan legends, as the spot specifically chosen as the planned center of their empire because it is the point of “highest energy.” The one point on earth that is metaphysically closest to the gods of creation. Some of the pyramids still look more like a perfectly pointed hill covered in trees rather than a monument. Some of the building are better excavated but it’s still far from the perfectly restored Mayan ruins we are used to. Still in comparison with the visit of Tikal, for example, this El Mirador trek is definitely winning for me! The most amazing thing is that you have the whole place just for yourself. No crowds, no tourists … you feel like you are on a real quest and after days spent in the jungle you finally discover the lost city. There are two groups a week and each group has about 10 members. This means that only less than 1000 people from all over the world visit this amazing amazing place every year. Sights like Tikal or Macuu Picchu are seen by 1000 people in a few hours. I’m saying this to emphasise how special and unique experience you will get.

The grand finale of the whole day is climbing up La Danta. When first found it was thought to have been built on a large hill, but recent excavations have revealed the entire hill is actually stone construction on completely flat ground, which gave La Danta the status of the highest pyramid in the world measuring unbelievable 172m. It was built around 400 b.c. The view from its top is breathtaking. As far as you can see all around just land covered by beautiful green jungle completely untouched by human.

That’s how El Mirador looked 2000 years ago

There is not much to be surprised with on the way back as you’re again taking the same road, sleeping in the same camp and finally falling into the same mud as you were at the beginning. Walking through the jungle is still lots of fun though. Every so often a group of monkeys pass above you throwing sticks on your head, crazy coloured butterfly or parrot flies by or beautiful blue cicada sits on your head.

During the fifth day we were all running out of energy. I tried not to think of the exhaustion and pain and the road felt actually shorter than I thought it will be at the end. In the past five days 12 painful blisters gradually appeared on my feet and I had about 867 935 mosquito bites all over my body. Nevertheless all of this was well worth it! As I said it was one of the absolute highlights of my whole journey! Unforgettable life experience and great fun!