El Mirador Guatemala is the country’s most recently discovered Mayan City and is believed to be the largest one. It’s home to the most mysterious and enormous Mayan pyramid in Central America and the world, the La Danta Pyramid.
If you are looking for an adventure in the heart of the Maya world, the archeological site of El Mirador is the place for you. It’s a hidden gem in the dense jungle of Petén, where you can explore the ruins of an ancient city once the region’s largest and most powerful.
Planning a Trip to El Mirador?
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- La Danta, the largest pyramid of all the Mayan World
- El Tigre, the pyramid at the other end of the complex
- Central Acropolis
- Monos Complex
- Climb to the top of La Danta and look beyond what you see. Most of the site is still hidden under the thick jungle since excavating this gargantuan place will take eons. It allows you to imagine what it once was.
- July – November is the rainy season, making the trail knee-deep with mud. But it will still be extra hot and humid, so it might not be the best time to visit.
- Once you hire the guide, make sure they bring plenty of water and food! Or, if you are strong and experienced as a hiker, bring some snacks with you just to be sure.
Visiting El Mirador Mayan Ruins
What is it, and why is it worth visiting?
El Mirador is an archaeological site of one of the oldest and largest Maya cities, dating back to the Preclassic period (900 BC – 250 AD). It is famous for its monumental architecture, especially its pyramids, among the largest in the world.
The Mayan site offers a unique opportunity to witness the origins and development of one of history’s most fascinating and influential civilizations and enjoy the beauty and diversity of the tropical rainforest surrounding it.
Where is it located?
The Mirador Mayan Ruins are located in the Mirador Basin, north of Tikal National Park, in the Peten Department; this ruin is not as widespread because it can only be accessed by helicopter or trekking, part of the adventure.
It’s located in a remote area, surrounded only by lush green jungle. The Peten department is one of the less populated areas of the country.
Best times to visit
The best time of the year to visit El Mirador is the dry season, from November to April, because it has less rain and more sun, more flights and tours, and lower rates and fees.
I don’t recommend visiting the ruins during the rainy season, from May to October, because it has more rain and less sun, and you will find fewer flights and tours and higher rates and fees.
How to get to El Mirador?
The ruins are challenging to get to, but that is part of its charm and appeal. Since located in a remote and protected area, within the Maya Biosphere Reserve, it can only be accessed by helicopter or foot.
- The helicopter option is faster, more comfortable, expensive, and less adventurous. The helicopter ride takes 30 minutes from the Mundo Maya International Airport in Flores.
- The hiking option is cheaper, more challenging, rewarding, and more immersive. The hike is 83km in total and takes about two days from the village of Carmelita.
The hike involves walking for about nine hours or a day through the jungle, carrying your backpack, and sleeping in tents or hammocks. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is an unforgettable experience that allows you to appreciate the natural and cultural wonders of the region, like the Guatemalan wildlife.
Main Attractions of El Mirador
Despite being located in a remote area, El Mirador is a unique and attractive destination for tourism and travel, combining history, nature, adventure, and culture.
It is a vast and complex site, covering an area of about 15 square kilometers. It consists of several groups and complexes of structures.
The main attractions and features of El Mirador are:
The Danta Pyramid
On the East Group, several structures surround a central plaza; on the complex, you’ll find the La Danta Pyramid on the east side.
This is the largest and most impressive complex of El Mirador; not only that, it is the largest in the country and one of the largest in the world. La Danta measures 72 meters high, has four levels, and is surrounded by several smaller structures.
The area’s west side comprises two structures that form an “e” shape, while the north side is home to a palace-like structure. To the south, you’ll find an acropolis, La Pava, which measures 32 meters high.
The Tigre Complex
The west group is the main one, and it’s composed of a large plaza at the center, called the Great Plaza, and the Tigre complex at the west side.
This is the second largest and most important complex of El Mirador. It consists of another giant pyramid called El Tigre, which is 55 meters high, composed of three levels, and flanked by two smaller pyramids.
The Tigre Complex symbolizes the cosmic order and balance of the Maya and represents the underworld where the forces of death and life operate.
To the south, you’ll find the Central Acropolis and the Chicharra complex to the east.
The Monos Complex
The third largest and most significant complex of El Mirador is located in the northeast of the site. It consists of a large pyramid, Los Monos, which is 48 meters high. It has two levels and is surrounded by several platforms and buildings.
The complex is a symbol of the royal lineage and authority of El Mirador and a representation of the upper world where the sun and the stars move.
The Central Acropolis
The Acropolis was built upon a vast platform that is 400 meters x 500 meters and 10 meters high above the level of the plaza and is composed of 19 main structures and several others that are smaller.
It’s believed that the central acropolis was the main administrative and residential area of El Mirador, located in the southeast of the site that supports several palaces, courtyards, and patios.
The Central Acropolis is where the elite and the nobility of El Mirador lived and governed, and where the most elaborate and refined art and architecture can be found.
Wildlife and Nature
El Mirador’s environment is one of the most beautiful and diverse aspects of the site, as it reflects the variety and richness of the tropical rainforest and its biodiversity and is characterized by its humidity and temperature, vegetation and soil, water and air, and wildlife.
The area’s fauna is diverse, meaning that it has a high number and variety of species. The main types of animals you can find in the area are the jaguar, monkeys, and tapir, as well as several types of birds like the toucan, parrots, and quetzal.
Also, it’s well known that the site’s surrounding area is packed with reptiles, from snakes to turtles and insects.
El Mirador Trek
The trek to El Mirador is a challenging but rewarding experience that requires physical and mental preparation. The trek covers a distance of about 80 kilometers, with an average of six to nine hours of hiking per day.
The terrain is mostly flat, but some parts can be uneven and rocky. It allows us to see diverse wildlife, such as monkeys, toucans, macaws, parrots, coatis, peccaries, deer, and jaguars.
Also, trekking to El Mirador is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the local culture and community since you’ll interact with the guides and villagers.
The duration and difficulty of the trek
The trek can be done in different ways, depending on your preference and availability.
But the most common option is the 5-day trek, which is the shortest and most popular option, as it allows you to see the main highlights of El Mirador in a relatively short time.
The itinerary is as follows:
- Day 1: You will start your journey from Flores town in the morning and drive for about two hours to the village of Carmelita, where you will meet your guide and other people assisting you. You will start your hike from Carmelita to the campsite of El Tintal, which is about 20 kilometers away. After, You will arrive at El Tintal in the afternoon, where you will set up your tent and have dinner. (El Tintal is an archaeological site with some pyramids and a lookout point, where you can enjoy the sunset and the stars.)
- Day 2: Get breakfast at El Tintal and then continue your hike to the campsite of La Muerta, about 23 kilometers away. You will arrive at La Muerta in the afternoon, where you will set up your tent and have dinner. (La Muerta is also an archaeological site that has some exciting structures)
- Day 3: You will have breakfast at La Muerta and then continue your hike to the campsite of El Mirador, which is about 14 kilometers away. After arriving at El Mirador in the early afternoon, you will set up your tent and have dinner at the camp. You will have the rest of the day and the next day to explore the archaeological site of El Mirador.
- Day 4: Get breakfast at El Mirador and then start your hike back to the campsite of El Tintal; you will arrive at El Tintal in the evening, set up your tent, and have dinner.
- Day 5: Eat breakfast at El Tintal and then finish your hike back to the village of Carmelita. You will arrive at Carmelita in the afternoon and say goodbye to your guide! After that, drive back to Flores.
Is the El Mirador hike worth it?
The trek or hike to El Mirador is difficult but a highly worthwhile adventure; it requires good physical fitness, endurance, and effort. It is not recommended for people who have health problems, such as heart conditions, asthma, or diabetes.
It’s also not recommended for people afraid of heights, insects, or snakes.
A rewarding and unforgettable experience that will challenge you and inspire you.
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What Will You Need to Bring?
Most tours include a guide and other helpers, a tent, a sleeping bag, a mattress, or hammocks, and three meals daily, but you must bring your own items and extras.
Here is a list of the essential equipment and supplies that you will need for the trek:
A backpack: You will need a comfortable and durable backpack with at least 40 liters capacity.
Clothes: Bring clothes suitable for tropical weather and hiking activities. Sports clothing is a good option since they are light, breathable, and quick-drying. Preferably long-sleeved, to protect you from the sun, insects, and plants. You will need to bring clothes for five to eight days, depending on the duration of your trip.
Shoes: A good option is comfortable and sturdy shoes, with good traction and support. Hiking boots or shoes will get the job done, plus they are waterproof, and breathable to protect you from mud, water, and snakes.
Toiletries: Basic and biodegradable toiletries, to maintain your hygiene and to respect the environment. Pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, and wet wipes. You will also need to bring a small, light, and quick-drying towel as well as a personal first-aid kit
Snacks: This is optional, but I highly recommend you bring some nutritious and energizing snacks to supplement your meals and boost your stamina. Also, pack electrolyte drinks or tablets, to replenish your fluids and minerals.
Other things to bring:
- Tain jacket or poncho
- Hiking socks
- Sandals or flip-flops
- Water bottles or bladder
- A water filter or purification tablets
Where to Stay?
Several accommodation options depend on your budget, comfort, and preference. I highly recommend you stay at Flores Island, which offers a more rural or colonial option. and you can explore the town or do activities at the lake, but there are several places to stay around Peten Itza Lake.
Recommendation: Gringo Perdido
While it’s not on Flores Island, it’s close to El Remate town; this eco-lodge is situated on the shore of the lake and offers top-notch rooms, cabins, and more.
Our room was stunning; it had a private porch with a jacuzzi, and we got a four-course dinner and breakfast included.
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Facts about El Mirador Guatemala
- This site is for the adventurous, outdoorsy traveler.
- You can only go with a trained guide. It’s a 60 Km hike each way, with no facilities or amenities. You have to carry in and carry out all your stuff.
- Once in, the rewards are endless. El Mirador was a massive metropolis from 200 BC to 150 AD (Preclassic Maya Period).
- This city has the most buildings of any Mayan site and, at one point, was believed to be home to over 80,000 people.
- El Mirador is also home to the largest pyramid of the entire Maya World: La Danta.
- La Danta (the Tapir) pyramid reaches 203 feet, simply because it is built on an elevated ground covering.
- Small buildings border the Central Acropolis.
- The entire El Mirador city covers 16 sq km.
- Dr. Richard Hansen, the excavation director, is determined to keep this an eco-archaeological preserve. Hansen and his associates live in houses with polycarbonate roofs to protect them from rain and UV rays.
Tips and Recommendations for Visiting El Mirador
To visit and explore the Mayan ruins, you need to plan and prepare well, and follow some tips and recommendations, such as:
- Choose the best time to visit the ruins between November and April, when the weather is dry and cool, and the trails are clear and accessible.
- Decide the best way to visit it, either by helicopter or hiking, depending on your budget, time, and preference.
- Hire a reliable and experienced guide who will provide the necessary information, equipment, and assistance and make your visit and exploration safe and enjoyable.
- Pack light and smart, and bring only the essential items, such as comfortable clothes and shoes, water and snacks, sunscreen and insect repellent, camera and binoculars, flashlight and batteries, and passport and permit.
- Respect and protect the site and the environment, and do not litter, damage, or disturb anything or anyone.
- Do not climb the off-limits structures and artifacts, as they are fragile and sacred and can be easily damaged and destroyed.
- Do not take or leave anything from or on the site
- Please do not feed or disturb the plants and the animals on the site; they are wild and sensitive.
- Have fun, learn, and do not be afraid to ask questions, take pictures, and share your impressions and opinions.
El Mirador is a place that awaits and welcomes you, and that will make you fall in love with it. A place that you will never forget, and that will make you want to come back again, a place that you will be glad and proud to have visited.
How long does it take to explore El Mirador?
The time it takes to explore El Mirador, Guatemala, depends on how you choose to transport and your itinerary. If you visit it by helicopter, you can explore the site in one day, as the flight takes about 45 minutes each way, and the tour lasts about 4 hours.
On the other hand, if you decide to visit the site by hiking, you can take your time and explore it in several days, as the hike takes about nine hours each way to get there, and you will be spending the night there. I will take you at least three days to explore El Mirador.
How much does it cost to visit it?
The cost to visit El Mirador varies depending on how you decide to visit it. For example, if you choose to visit it by helicopter, you can expect to pay between $500 and $600 per person, which includes the flight, the guide, the entrance fee, and the lunch.
But if you visit it by hiking, you can expect to pay between $200 and $400 per person, which includes the guide, the entrance fee, the food, and the camping equipment. You can also save money by joining a group tour or bringing supplies.
Is El Mirador safe and accessible?
El Mirador is a safe and somewhat accessible site, but it also requires caution and preparation. It is located in a remote and protected area, which means that it is not affected by crime or violence, but it also means that it is not easy to reach or communicate with.
It’s also located in a dense and humid jungle, which means that it is not exposed to pollution or noise, but it also means that it is prone to heat, insects, and diseases.
To visit and explore the Mayan site safely and comfortably, you should follow the advice of your guide and the park rangers and take care of your health and hygiene.
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