My Trek to The Lost Mayan Capital

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 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 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! 😉

Hola de Xela! 🇬🇹

¡Buenos días a todos!

Here I am at the moment, sitting in a cozy Guatemalan coffee shop, drinking an amazing latte (made with local beans), eating a vegan chocolate cake and writing this over-due blog post (tough life huh? 😌). I moved to the hippie-outdoorsy city of Xela five weeks ago para aprender español. I have always dreamed to learn a third language (unfortunately Chinese and I didn’t quite get along!) so I decided that Spanish was my best option (and I have in mind to travel to South America later this year!). After researching online and talking with my dear colleagues in China, I chose to come to Guatemala which is currently a very hot (and cheap!) destination to learn Spanish. Let’s not forget to mention that the country offers spectacular volcanoes hikes, some of the best Maya ruins in the world, glorious lakes and of course awesome coffee AND chocolate! I didn’t think twice before buying my one-way ticket! ☺️

Xela (short for ‘Quetzaltenango) is the second largest city in Guatemala where foreigners come either to hike, volunteer or learn Spanish (I came for all three!). Today, I am starting my 5th week of classes in the lovely family-run El Quetzal school. Every student at the school receives one-on-one lessons in the morning for 4 or 5 hours. In the afternoon, the school organises plenty of activities for us such as cooking classes, salsa classes, visits to museums, hikes in the countryside etc. In order to have the full immersion, I opted to stay with a local family (that doesn’t speak a word English of course!). At first, family dinners were definitely putting me out of my comfort zone! However, in four weeks only, I went from mumbling a few words into telling stories about my weekends’ hikes. I am also teaching English once a week to a small group of chicas at my school. It feels good to give a little bit of my time while doing what I like! So far, my stay in Xela has been muy bueno! No doubt I have a hard time leaving!

The 1st of November was El Dia de los Muertos; a day celebrated throughout Latin America where people commemorate the deceased. In Guatemala, families go to the cemetery for the day to eat, pray, play music and spend time with their loved ones who have died. Contrary to what one would expect, it a very happy and festive day! I have never seen cemeteries with that much colours, music and joy! Families come to paint, clean and decorate the graves a few days prior so that everything is perfectly ready for November 1st! As for myself, I decided to go to Sumpango for the day to attend the famous kite festival -another tradition of El Dia de los Muertos. The festival is also a prestigious kite competition where several groups work for months to build kites ranging from 3 meters to 30 meters high! After they have been judge on their aesthetic, the groups try to fly their kite for as long as they can (some flew for 2 hours, some only 5 seconds!). The atmosphere was surreal during the competition, so much excitement! What a great first Dia de los Muertos!

Only two more weeks left in Xela before I start my travels around this beautiful country! I must say I am very excited to finally pack my bag and explore Guat! Hasta pronto mis amigos! I’m heading to my yoga class now! ✌🏻

Me fui a ser feliz, no se cuando vuelva ✌🏻

Kenya, a country of diversity 

My two months journey in East Africa began and finished in the fascinating country of Kenya. I remember when I first landed in Nairobi; seeing skyscrapers, highways, shopping malls everywhere for the first time in Africa was almost shocking! I felt like I was on another continent! What surprised me the most however was the multiculturalism, especially in metropolis like Nairobi and Mombasa. Through the years, Kenya became a melting pot of traditional tribes, urban families, expats and of course tourists from around the world. I could finally walk in the streets or in the grocery store without being the odd one because of my skin color!

Not only Kenya has a vibrant ethnic culture, but the country also offers a vast palette of landscapes. I started my journey in the mountains by trekking Mount Kenya. Then I experienced my first game drive in the Masai Mara National Park, The Lion King’s inspired savannah. Finally, I wrapped up my Kenyan trip by sunbathing on the sugar-powder beaches of the Swahili Coast. This rich diversity of environments, activities and cultures will please any traveler. It surely worked for me considering I extended my stay for a few weeks! Tanzania, I will have to come back for you another time! Kenya, thanks for all the beautiful memories and friends I have made. You have a dear place in my heart! ❤️

Population: 44 millions

Capital: Nairobi

Languages: Swahili and English

Traditional dish:

-Nyama choma (barbecued meat, often goat)

-Ugali (cornmeal dough)

-Masala chai (very sweet spiced tea)

Visited places during my trip: Nairobi, Mount Kenya, Masai Mara National Park, Eldoret, Mombasa and Diani

Interesting facts:

-The ‘Big fives’ (lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinoceros) are found all around the country. They are considered the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.

-The sceneries of the Waltz Disney movie The Lion King were inspired by the Kenyan national parks.

-The black rhino is the most endangered specie in Kenya. Poachers are hunting them for their horns.

-Coffee is the country’s biggest income generator, followed by tourism. Ironically, most Kenyan don’t consume coffee which is considered an export product. They prefer tea and beer instead.

-The minimum legal wage is 160$/month.

-No matter the religion or gender of a person, polygamy became legal in Kenya last year!

-Kenya is one of the most corrupted country in the world..

My Kenyan highlight moments:

My Mount Kenya trekking is still my highlight of my African trip so far (see Mount Kenya Expedition) but I will also always remember my amazement during my first game drive in the Masai Mara. There is something very unique about seeing elephants, giraffes and buffaloes in the wild for the first time. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see the ‘big five’ (I missed the lions, leopards and rhino) but I’m crossing my fingers to spot them during my travels around South Africa!