Disclaimer: While it is definitely legal and possible to hike to El Mirador in Peten, Guatemala on your own, we strongly want to emphasize that you will be crossing wild and vast jungle territory which has its dangers. The only reason why you should consider attempting to go unguided – or like me solo – is to have a more authentic jungle experience AND if you have the proper experience in multi-day trekking and navigation in dangerous terrain. Don’t do the trekking to Mirador unguided to save money!
The dangers of the jungle and why guides can be important
Needless to say that the jungle is a dangerous and hostile environment. While being bitten by a jaguar or puma is hardly unlikely, poisoneous snake, venomous spiders, mosquitoes that spread diseases are a real threat. Lacking experience in navigation, using compass or gps, may result in you getting lost. And the jungle is not the place to be lost in.
Sunstroke, sunburn, heatstroke and dehydration are all very easy to fall prey to, so always keep your clothes on, especially covering your head and neck.
If you don’t feel 100% confident in going unguided in the jungle, then you probably don’t have the experience to do so. In that case, contact Turismo Cooperativo Carmelita, which is the official guiding agency for trekkings to El Mirador.
If however, the many warnings above did not scare you off and you feel you have what it takes to start planning your own El Mirador trek, read on 🙂
Doing the El Mirador Trek unguided
About El Mirador
After having spent a week in Flores, Guatemala, I felt I needed a new adventure. The trekking to El Mirador, a lost Mayan ruin deep in the jungle of Peten was high on the list before traveling to Guatemala. El Mirador was the largest and most spectacular of all Mayan cities and holds the largest manmade structure in the ancient World, the Danta Pyramid (75m high!).
I wanted a genuine jungle adventure instead of following a guided (noisy) group, so planning my own trek always was the idea. The past few weeks I tried finding companions to do so, but none seemed up for the challenge, so I ended up doing the 5-day trek solo.
What to expect
I think it is fair to say that I am an experienced hiker / adventurer. Though most of my experience lies in the mountains and northern territories, and my jungle experience was limited to a jungle survival course in Belize, I wanted to make the El Mirador as a follow-up for the latter.
Still, the hot and humid climate, the heavy backpack and the muddy trails made it a challenging trek. Expect to carry about 20 kilogram of camping equipment, food and water for at least 5-6 days.
Best time to hike El Mirador
December to April when the weather is drier is your best option. Venturing to the ruins during the rainy season is possible, but the trails become swampy and make it more unpleasant. Think of walking through mud up to your knees and more mosquitoes.
Day 1 Flores – Carmelita
They will try to convince you that it is not allowed to hike to El Mirador without a guide. Or that there is no (direct) bus. Well, none of it is true. The truth is there is only 1 bus a day traveling from Flores to Carmelita. It leaves at 1 pm from the Market Bus Stop in Santa Elena. It is a chicken bus that delivers goods from the market to the many small villages along the way, and I don’t think it makes a stop at the Bus Terminal. So make sure you are at the right place, not to miss it.
The bus back leaves from Carmelita at 4.30 am.
Accommodation in Carmelita
If you are lucky, you will arrive in Carmelita at around 4.30 pm. So you will need accommodation in Carmelita before embarking on your adventure the next day. There is only 1 place to stay: the wooden cabins on the terrain behind the Cooperativa Carmelita office. Chances are high no one will be around, so ask around for the chica that is in charge for the habitacion.
Day 2- 6 Navigating the trail
Finding the trailhead is fairly easy. I recommend using the app Maps.me as a helpful tool to navigate. You can download entire maps in advance, which is useful since you won’t be having internet connection or phone signal during your whole trip. At least I didn’t.
The beginning of the trail is quite large and is mostly made of mud and holes. Depending on the time of the year and the weather in the previous days, the terrain can be wet and muddy, making it very hard at some sections. During the first part towards Tintal (camp 1), there will be various side trails branching off the main route. Some can be used as a detour to avoid real bad (muddy) parts of the trail, others just take you on long detours into more vast and wild jungle. So keep your head on the track while navigating and don’t only rely on your gps.
From Tintal the trail gets easier.
About the gps
Anyone with trekking experience will confirm: don’t only rely on your gps for navigation. In my case, it was sometimes really hard for my phone to track my location. And as mentioned before, you don’t want to get lost in the jungle. Still the route itself is pretty straight forward. From Carmelita to El Mirador you are heading north pretty much all the time. I used the sun as navigation tool to save phone battery (I had compass as extra).
It could be useful to study the terrain map of the whole area in advance so you know where which camps and ruins are located. Tintal is located on your way to El Mirador, but if you opt to make a detour on your way back, there is also Nakbe, etc.
Quick note: The map gives a trail from Nakbe to Florida via Wakna Ruins. Some guides said the trail is no longer used and it is very swampy, making it quite challenging. Instead you can use the trail from Nakbe to Jabali Camp and use the same way back to Carmelita. One hour south of Tintal, there is a deviation that signs Florida, but I haven’t used it so don’t know the condition of it.
El Mirador Highlights
The obvious reason to hike El Mirador is for La Danta and the surrounding ruins. 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. La Danta is the largest temple in the world, and buried deep within the jungle of Peten.
La Danta offers a tremendous 360 degree view on the jungle.
Wildlife is rare during the dry season, but becomes more active in the wet season. Although you may see jaguar paw prints, don’t expect to see them directly. Animals you may encounter are howler and spider monkeys, ocillated turkey and several bird species. I had the luck of spotting an agouti, coati and th misfortune of two (small) snakes. Always keep an eye out for them!
Equipment to bring
The best thing to use is a hammock, so you sleep above the ground instead of on it (to avoid snakes, spiders, etc), but the guided tours use tents as well.
- Tent that can be fully closed
- Sleeping pad
- Sleeping bag (allthough I never used mine since it was hot)
- Cooking equipment (stove + gas)
- Solar panel + power bank (for giving your gps extra battery life)
- Swiss knife
- Gps / compass
- Mosquito repellent / sunscreen!
- Long hiking pants and long-sleeved shirt
- Head torch
You will need to bring and carry all food for your whole expedition from Flores. Make a list of what you are going to eat when. Bring emergency food for at least 1 extra day and don’t forget the snacks.
This will be the heaviest item in your backpack. Fortunately, all camps have (filtered) water available. They even let me refill my bottles free of charge. Still, bringing a Lifestraw water Bottle is highly recommended!
There are several camps in the jungle. The once you will be using are Tintal, Jabali (optional) and the one at El Mirador. They are owned by La Cooperativa Carmelita, but they will let you use them if you travel independently as well. Always pitch your tent under a sail. This is to avoid you getting hit by falling branches, monkey poop (it happens) and rain.
Safety in the jungle
This is an important section for your adventure. When thinking of safety, you will probably fear jaguars, puma’s or similar. However chances are very unlikely you will encounter them. Fear the smaller animals. Snakes, spiders, scorpions and mosquitoes. Bring insect repellant and make sure your body is always covered.
Dehydration / sunstroke
One of the real threats of jungle adventures. You will be crossing hot terrain and sweating a lot. Make sure to drink enough water and wear a hat or bandana to avoid sunstroke. Use sunscreen as well.
If you are using the Carmelita – Tintal – El Mirador trail, navigation should not be too hard. Still, if you are lost in the jungle then S-T-O-P: Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.
Stay calm and plan your next decision. you know you are not far from a village or trail try to figure out where you came from and get back to a point you recognize. This could be a stream or a high point or a jungle trail.
Travel during the day and sleep at night. Choose a direction and stick to it.