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! 😉

Mount Kenya Expedition

I got the idea from my parents. They started trekking a few years ago and since then, they’ve been hiking on almost every continent. Looking at their pictures each time was leaving me speechless. So I picked Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak after Kilimanjaro (and half the price)! January and February, being the beginning of the dry season, are supposedly the best months to climb the mountain. Perfect timing I thought! ….well Mother Nature decided differently this year. After quite some research, I booked a 5 days trek with Equatorial Star. I picked the Chogoria route to go up and down the Simiron route. It was my first multi-day trek, so I was very excited! Two days before my adventure, it started pouring (and I mean, pouring!) in Nairobi. Everyone was confused about this weather. The raining season in Kenya is usually from April to June (long rains) and July to November (short rains) then it’s hot and dry for the rest of the year. Oh well, there’s nothing I could do. I packed my bag with as much warm clothes as I could and hope for the best!

Day 1: 10km (950m ascent)

When the company came to pick me up, they told me I would be the only trekker this week, which means I would have my own personal guide, cook and porter! Wow! I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but hey, three men for myself for 5 days, I’m not complaining! 😝 We drove to Chogoria, a little village on the east side of the mountain, our starting point. The first day of our trek was a 10km gradual hill on a dirt road. We walked through a beautiful dense bamboo forest all the way to the camp…in the fog. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the scenery that day.

Day 2: 13km (700m ascent)

I had my first sight of the mountains that morning, but it didn’t last long before the rain and the fog showed up again! Grrrr. But it didn’t stop me from doing the longer walk via Lake Ellis (where we supposedly have a scenic view of the mountains). Patrick, my guide, and I arrived to our campsite drench and freezing. I spent the rest of the day in my little tent, all wrapped up, drinking tea, trying my best to warm up… How fun!

Day 3: 14km (600m ascent)

The rained stopped just as we woke up… For the moment anyway! Patrick and I made our way up the mountain beside the breathtaking Gorges Valley. The clouds, fog and rain, came and went all day… So I was making sure to take pictures whenever I could see something! It’s crazy how the weather forecasts of a mountain are totally unpredictable! We finished our hike looking like wet dogs… Thanks a million to my cook, Eldady, who always had hot coffee or chocolate ready for me in my tent! 😊It was early dinner and bedtime (7pm!) for me that night, getting ready for tomorrow’s big day! Praying we would finally have a nice day…

Day 4: 24km (785m ascent)

The alarm rang at 1:30am…. Ouff! I chugged a coffee, dressed up like an Eskimo and off we went. Patrick and I hiked for about 4 hours, in pitch black darkness with only our headlight on! The last part of the ascent was pretty steep and technical (we were almost doing rock climbing!). It was a bit scary but exciting at the same time! We finally reached the summit, just in time for the sunrise. As the sun was slowly rising, the scenery appearing in front of me was spectacular. For the first time in 4 days, we had a (semi) clear sky and I could finally see Mount Kenya! The view was simply beautiful! I couldn’t stop smiling. I thanked God for this beautiful moment. After enjoying a nice cup of tea, Patrick and I slowly made our (steep!) descent to the bottom of the mountain where I devoured my breakfast! We then hiked the long 14km to Old Moses Camp. Unfortunately but not surprising, the fog and rain showed up again, erasing the beautiful scenery… When we got to the camp, I ate and went straight to bed. I consider myself a fit person, but my god this day was one hell of a workout!!

Day 5: 9km (descent)

I woke up with sore quads and guess what, a perfect clear blue sky! Urg. Now that I’m leaving the mountain, the sun finally decides to show up! 😐 After breakfast we slowly trekked down to the entrance of the park, in Nyangan, where I could have a perfect view of Mount Kenya. After saying goodbye and thanking my wonderful support crew, I made my way back to Nairobi, reflecting on my beautiful journey in the Kenyan mountains.
Despite the unusual and not so favorable conditions, I still had an amazing time trekking Mount Kenya. The efforts, the rain and the cold were definitely worth the view at the top! I would do it all over again anytime (if my budget would allow me!). I will definitely try to do some shorter treks during my travels on the continent, maybe in South Africa? I really think I caught the trek bug like my parents! 🙂