Introducing El Mirador
El Mirador is truly the lost Mayan city, a huge site (some say the largest Mayan city in existance) in the jungle of northern Guatemala. It is in the Mirador Basin, a vast area of virgin rain forest which also contains dozens of Mayan ruins including several large cities, the largest of which is the one known as El Mirador (which means “The Lookout”). The site is known as the cradle of Mayan civilization and is home to several huge structures and many square miles of unrestored mounds and pyramids in the jungle, covered in vegetation. It has been called the oldest and most extensive Mayan site in the world, covering 38 square miles, larger than the city of Los Angeles. No hotels, restaurants or tourist facilities. There are archeologists working there, however.
El Mirador flourished as a trading center from around 200 BC to 150 AD during what is known as the Maya Pre-Classic Period. Thus, it is a very early Mayan settlement. With a population as high as 100,000, it was one of the first large cities in the Americas, but then lost its population and was perhaps even abandoned. It later regained some population, but finally was abandoned for good in about 900 AD in the great Mayan collapse. There is no permanent population today.
The ruins of El Mirador were discovered in 1926. Since then they have been the object of periodic investigations, mappings, studies and excavations, but they remain largely unexcavated and covered in vegetation.
The Mirador Basin in northeastern Guatemala is home to the largest tract of virgin rainforest in Central America. Within this region lies the remote site of El Mirador, the largest Mayan city that ever existed. The civic center of the site covers some 10 square miles with several thousand structures, including monumental architecture covered in vegetation. Among the ruins at El Mirador are the Danta and Tigre pyramids, the former said to be the largest pyramid in the world in terms of volume.
Largely unexcavated, the complex of El Mirador is not yet developed for tourism. However, the Guatemalan government recently announced plans to create a tourist park in the area, making access to this remote site more accessible. But such a project will take years to develop.
The city’s main group of buildings covers two square kilometers and many were built on a grand scale, such as the “El Tigre” complex and the “La Danta” complex. El Tigre rises to about 180 feet tall, and its base covers 14 acres. The La Danta complex has a base that would cover 35 football fields. On top of this base is a series of plazas, temples, pyramids and other structures reaching to a total height of 230 feet, making it one of the tallest of all Mayan structures.
The view from the top of El Tigre is mostly of jungle and other ruins, such as Calakmul and Nakbé in the distance. However, any mound or group of mounds that you can see as far to the horizon are former cities.
An additional feature of El Mirador is the quantity and size of causeways, connecting important points within the city and also extending out to other major cities within the Mirador Basin. The causeways (known as sacbeob) are raised stone causeways rising 2 to 6 meters above the level of the surrounding landscape and measuring from 20 to 50 meters wide.
How to Get There
Getting to El Mirador is difficult. There are no roads or rivers leading to the site, so you have two choices: hike (a five-day round trip journey usually made with the help of horses or mules), or hire a helicopter to fly you in. Tours of El Mirador are generally arranged with guides and agents based in the northern Guatemalan village of Flores which can be reached by air from Guatemala City. A tour is recommended. Many agencies in Flores and Santa Elena can arrange a tour, including transportation to Carmelita and back.
The village of Carmelita is the nearest point to the site that you can go by car. There you will find guides and rental of needed equipment. A community visitor center is under construction with lodging, tourism center, internet and computer facilities, guiding center and other services.