14th March 2017 Guatemala City
A trek to the lost Mayan city of El Mirador, Part 1
Three years ago, when I first heard I was being posted to Guatemala, I spotted in the guide books a mention of a ruined Mayan city deep in the jungle which was only accessible by walking for five days there and back. I instantly decided I had to go there. And finally, last month, I went! And what a wonderful experience it was.
El Mirador is 130 Km north of Flores, close to Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico, and deep in the forests of the Mayan Biosphere Reserve. For the first 90 Km there is a dirt road. But the final 40 Kms can only be done on foot. Travelling with my brother and a couple of friends from England, we set off from the village of Carmelita to walk the first segment of 17 Kms to El Tintal, where we camped the first night. We had a mule train of five mules to carry the equipment, food and water, and a further two mules which we could take it in turns to ride when we got tired. We had a guide who hacked a path through the jungle with his machete, a cook who created three magnificent meals each day, and an “arriero” to tend the mules. We washed each evening in water, of various shades of green, drawn from nearby ponds. It felt like a 19th century expedition, entirely in the style of the Victorian British archaeologist Alfred Maudslay who visited Tikal and Quirigua in the 1890s. (But he never saw El Mirador.)
The mule train
Me and my brother
The path was predominantly flat, and at this time of year it was dry underfoot and (mercifully) without too many insects. The ruins at El Tintal were impressive, with a couple of huge temples. We climbed one and it had obviously been a very large city. We were well above the forest canopy and the views extended seemingly forever, a sea of green. And in the distance you could just make out a mound: the Temple of La Danta at El Mirador, 23 Kms away.
One of our many paths
View of La Danta from El Tigre
And the next day we walked those 23 Kms, almost the whole way along a Mayan “calzada”, a wide causeway connecting the two cities. Obviously it was now very overgrown but you could easily make it out, and imagine the bustle of people and goods moving back and forth along it, 2,500 years ago. We passed several small Mayan structures on our way (many sadly showing signs of having been attacked by grave-robbers) until we came to La Muerte, a remarkable little Preclassic complex with a fully intact burial chamber underneath. The final couple of kilometres to El Mirador were hard work in the afternoon heat, but we reached the campsite and, refreshed by another (green) shower, eagerly set out to climb El Tigre, one of several big temples at the site. The sunset view from the top was superb: way above the forest canopy, you could see into Mexico one way, back towards El Tintal the other way, and best of all 2 km away was La Danta, the biggest temple of El Mirador, rising 72 metres above the forest floor.
I have more to tell you, so I am going to split this blog in two parts, keep an eye for the second part next week!
Sunset view from El Tigre