After a few days of lounging around the beaches of Belize, I was ready for a little challenge. I met this cool French dude named Scotty, who instantly agreed on my proposition of hiking El Mirador. With a population of more than a hundred thousand people, El Mirador was the largest and most spectacular of all Mayan cities back in the 6th century BC. It covers around 17 square km and holds the largest manmade structure in the ancient World, the Danta Pyramid (75m high!). El Mirador was abandoned around 900 AD, in the great Mayan collapse. It is today an archeological site where only a few structures are excavated. Most of the ruins are still undiscovered, covered with vegetation. Furthermore, El Mirador is located 50km deep in the Guatemalan jungle and is only accessible by foot or mules. Thus, not as touristy and busy like Tikal! To the contrary, only the vivid hikers will venture to El Mirador, normally with an organised trip and local guides. Being both on a backpacker budget, having decent physical condition and sharing a sense of adventure, Scotty and I decided to attempt the hike…alone. We thought this would be a great opportunity to get out of our comfort zone. We did and it was an unbelievable experience. Here’s a summary of our journey to the lost Mayan capital.
Day 1: Flores – Carmelita
After stocking up on all necessities at the grocery store in Flores, we caught a chicken bus (local transportation) to get to Carmelita; a small community that serves as the starting point of the trek. After a five hour drive on dirt roads, cruising through rural villages and farms, we finally arrived at destination. It didn’t take long before we found the restaurant of the village where we devoured our last warm meal and cold drinks before our gruelling 5 day jungle trek. The lovely owner, Brenda, even offered us to install our tent under her roof for the night. What a warm hospitality.
Day 2: Carmelita – Tintal (20km)
We left at the crack of dawn to try to beat the heat as much as possible. We quickly found the head of the trail and off we were! We are very grateful for the application Maps.me with which we were able to download and study the trail beforehand. This was a lifesaver for us. We would not have been able to do the trek on our own without the digital map. The joys of technology! 🙌🏻 The beginning of the trail is quite large and is mostly made of dry mud and holes (it does get better later!). We were also surprised to find a couple of “rest stops” with wooden chairs and shelters along the way. We arrived at Tintal (our first campsite) around noon, just in time for lunch. One of the cooperatives offered us to use their camp kitchen and toilet as well as inviting us to setup our tent on their propriety. We were also relieved to learn that we could buy water at all the campsites (Tintal, Mirador, Nabke and Jabali), which meant (much) less weight on our back! We spent the rest of the day exploring the ruins around the site and admiring the sunset on the Tintal Pyramid.
Day 3: Tintal – Mirador (25km)
The next day we left around 7am, rested and ready to tackle our 25km to the Mirador. The trail itself is pretty flat and straight forward. What makes it challenging is the humidity, the mosquitoes, and of course, our heavy backpacks (but that was our idea!). The scenery is also pretty much the same: a lush green rainforest with tall trees and creepers. Once in awhile you can hear a wild goose, a howler monkey or even see a deer (apparently there are also jaguars and snakes crawling around but we were lucky enough to avoid them! 😅 It could have made a cool story though…). We made a pit stop at the new Jabali camp where we shared coffee, nuts and a few words with the very friendly workers. They invited us to spend the night there on our way back. Que amable! We arrived at El Mirador around 2pm where we had lunch and a well-deserved nap. And what better way to conclude our day by watching another stunning sunset on El Tigre Pyramid (the second highest of the site).
Day 4: Mirador
Our third day in the jungle was all about resting and exploring the vast archaeological site. It started with a disappointing cloudy sunrise on El Tigre Pyramid (hey, at least we tried!). Then, after our typical peanut-butter-banana-english-muffins breakfast, we were off for some discovering. As I mentioned earlier, most of the city is still unexcavated. Only the main structures can be seen and climb such as: El Tigre Temple, Los Monos Pyramid, El Jaguar Paw Temple, El Pava Complex and of course La Danta Pyramid. It was enough to keep us busy for most of the day. Our highlight was, undoubtedly, the sunset on Danta. We were lucky to have the whole pyramid to ourselves. What an amazing feeling to watch this red sphere disappear in the horizon, while listening to the sound of the jungle and being caressed by the warm breeze. It made me feel alive and grateful to be where I am, at this very moment.
Day 5: Mirador – Nabke – Jabali (27km)
We attempted a second sunrise, but this time on Danta. However, the clouds decided to show up, leaving us with another overcast sky… After packing and a quick bite, we were off to Nabke; another campsite with a few ruins to visit. We got there in about three hours (14km). After checking out the ruins, swallowing our sandwiches, chocolate cookies and filling up our bottles, we continued our journey to Jabali. Normally, the trek goes from Nabke to La Florida and then to Carmelita. However, we’ve been told that the trail through La Florida was not well cleared and that there would not be any water points for the next 40km. Thus, it left us with no choice than to take the new trail that crosses from Nabke to Jabali (which is currently not on Maps.me but we will upload it for the next ones braving the trek!). We got to Jabali late afternoon where we were warmly welcomed by our new friends with a complimentary shower, coffee and pasta dinner. We were unbelievably happy. ☺️ Multi-day treks definitely make you appreciate the little pleasures of life.
Day 6: Jabali – Tintal – Carmelita (34km)
The last day was the toughest. We had to face the 34km between Jabali and Tintal. Our plan was take a water/snack break every hour and a quick lunch at Tintal. We had a long day ahead and didn’t want to drag too much. We surprised ourselves by completing the whole trek in less than 7 hours. We felt so energised and strong. It’s crazy how you body and mind adapt to the mileage and harsh conditions when you do multi-day hikes. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We finally arrived in Carmelita sweaty, hungry and weary but oh-so-happy! We rewarded ourselves with a ice-cold coke and another tasty dinner from Brenda. It didn’t take long before we were off to dreamland that evening.
Day 7: Carmelita – Flores
After a lazy morning wandering around Carmelita and chatting with the friendly locals, we were off to Flores. Thankfully the return was much faster, we arrived home in less than four hours. It was a good but strange feeling to get back into the real world after a week without network. I was even a little anxious to get connected again! If you have the chance to do a tech detox one day, I encourage you to do so. It helps you clear your mind and focus on the present moment. 😊 We spent that evening exactly how we planned it: a long shower, a sundowner cold beer, a pizza dinner and a movie night stuffing ourselves with chips and chocolate. Perfect ending to a perfect adventure.
I would like to conclude with a special mention to DIY Travel Blog who guided us the whole way with their article about How to Hike El Mirador Without a Tour. We probably would not have been able to do it without you guys. Thank you! And I hope you get the chance to complete the hike yourselves one day! It’s worth every effort! 😉
4 thoughts on “My Trek to The Lost Mayan Capital”
Wow! As I’ve said before, you do know how to have a lot of fun, Juliane. What an accomplishment. I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure!
Good job! I did this in 1990, sans gps
my friend and i are planning to do this trek without a guide mid december and we are wondering how to book campsites. do you need to book them ahead of time or do you just show up and hope they have room? or can you literally pitch a tent anywhere?
LikeLiked by 1 person
Hi Leah! Sorry for the late reply. Did you end up doing the trek? To answer your question, no you do not need to book anything (it is important to know that you will not have any mobile reception in the area). Basically, I would say that 98% of the trekkers do it with a guide, so all the campsites are actually for the different hiking groups. So what my friend and I did, was when we got to a camping site, we would go chat with the ‘official’ hiking guides and politely ask them if we can pitch out tent for the night. They were all very nice and generous with us. It is quite uncommon to do the trek without a guide so we were always warmly welcomed. Just remember that the park is preserved with part of the fees the hiking groups are paying. Doing it without a guide means that you are not financially participating in the conservation of the park. Therefore, be extremely respectful of the environment, the guides and the few tourists around (which I am sure you would already know). Best of luck and enjoy this majestical journey!