Carmelita unveiled II.

Of course, no-one in Carmelita could show me the statues of either the logging cooperative or ASTUNAC. On my request a lawyer friend in Guatemala City is currently looking into the legal situation of these organizations. The following press release can be found on the internet:

“In 2006, Global Heritage Fund opens the first Mirador Community Visitors Center and water system in Carmelita, gateway village to the Mirador Basin, with FARES and APANAC.”

Well, it seems like that is the official version, with GHF investing quite a few thousand dollars into this center with no follow-up, no plan of further operation. I have seen the center when it was functioning, probably for about a year. By 2008 the exquisitely designed garden had fallen into disrepair, with the cabins all shut down, the two huge satellite dishes (internet) rusty with their cables all removed. Today the whole place is in shambles, the garden is overgrown, the cabins all gone, the kitchen torn down, it does not receive any visitors any more. Apparently, the original house GHF renovated belonged, and still belongs to the mother of Carlos, from ASTUNAC. But here things get a bit messy. GHF funded the project to benefit the logging cooperative, at that time known as the only legal Carmelita cooperative representing the community, but Patricia and Carlos (legal members of the community and the logging cooperative) were appointed as managers. This probably pissed off the family of the logging cooperative, so they backed out, and started their own little project of undermining the services offered by the GHF-APANAC-FARES visitors’ center. Anyway, the contract between the owner of the building and GHF expired in April, 2010, and Patricia and Carlos are busy moving out of the place and building their own hostel and travel center from private funds on their property, on the left side of the road as you enter Carmelita (right beside the Centro de Salud, another seemingly abandoned building). The logging cooperative in the meantime is constructing a huge complex on the outskirts of town, and judging by the style and quality, with the aid of foreign money and expertise. When I asked a member of the family running the logging cooperative about the situation, they gave me no comprehensible explanation, telling me everything was all right and the community is 100% in agreement of everything happening around tourism services in Carmelita.

Carlos and Patricia, in the meantime, call the logging cooperative and CONAP (?) a family mafia, violating their own statues by excluding anyone from Carmelita who is not their “friend”. What really happened is anyone’s guess, but a fact that I confirmed through several independent sources is that Carlos, Patricia and their friends and family haven’t had a group of tourists since end of October, 2010, and before that only a few per month. While, if you visit Carmelita any day, there will be at least one group of foreigners arriving to make the hike to El Mirador with guides from Carmelita. According to Carlos, all this started when Henry Sanchez, from Onca Travel was killed in 2007. Henry was in a close business relationship with Carlos, they shared all the trips between themselves.


Carmelita unveiled I.

Carmelita, Petén, Guatemala. This small village in the far north of Guatemala is a contradiction in itself. If you are the average traveler then you most probably come here to start your hike to El Mirador. But even if you spend a few days in the area, Carmelita hits you as a peaceful, tranquil little community where everyone greets everyone and locals make an effort to show hospitality to visitors. But behind the scenes, this town is rumbling and boiling with tension. It all comes down to money, of course, and that combined with the basic character of humankind creates a situation most visitors would never think of. We consider it very important for the general public to know about some facts that don’t get mentioned in NGO progress reports or in your travel agents’ office. Here is what I found out by interviewing as many locals as I could during a 2-week period in November. The „Cooperativa de Carmelita” (referred to as the “logging cooperative”) was founded in 1997, in charge of the planned logging and timber extraction commissions and representing community concession logging activities. Then, in 2001 Dr. Richard Hansen came along with ideas of developing tourism, promising wealth and prosperity for Carmelita, the closest town to the famous El Mirador ruins. At this point about 50 tourists visited the site annually, a number that did not cause a stir in the community. Then, in 2004 Patricia and Carlos (surnames omitted deliberately) and some other locals founded ASTUNAC (Asociación para Turismo y Naturaleza de Carmelita), a cooperative-style organization specifically designed to accommodate the growing number of tourists. By then visitors came by the hundreds, and that with the logging concessions still not granted fully, prompted the logging cooperative to form the Comision de Turismo within its own framework. And here is where the fight began in earnest. The logging cooperative was controlled basically by a single family in Carmelita, who from then on decided who and when would get the job of guiding tourists to El Mirador.


Trekforce challenges El Mirador

We just arrived back from El Mirador with the Trekforce Expedition Leader team. It rained a lot, trails were muddy but this hardy group of amazing young people went about it without a word of complaint. Of course, the lot of rain meant wildlife followed us all along the hike. They will be evaluating the trip to include it in future programs, so watch them carefully, these guys are capable of almost anything when it comes to adventure...


El Mirador Centre map

Structures at El Mirador

We are continuously collecting data on El Mirador, here is a list of sites and other digs we know and marked on our GPS... hope to double the amount of names by the end of the year.

El Mirador: Tigre Pyramid & Structure 34 (Jaguar Paw), The Great Central Acropolis & Structure 313, Danta Pyramid & Pava Group, Monos Complex, Leon Pyramid (E group), Tres Micos, Guacamaya Complex. Sanjol, Cascabel, Faisan, Chicharras, East, Central West, Las Cruces, Venado, Loro Real, Tucan, Barba Amarilla, Puma, Gavilan, and Tortuga Groups.
Other nearby sites: (decreasing order): El Tintal, Nakbe, La Florida, Wakna, Xulnal, La Muerta, La Muralla, Zacatal, La Sarteneja, La Tortuga, El Camotillo, El Guiro, El Porvenir, La Ceibita, la Florecita, La Iglesia, Naba, Bejucal, La Muñeca, Al Che, El Cedro, La Unión, La Pailona, La Reforma, Los Torres, La Mazacuata, El Pesquero, Waknab, La Manteca, Wikna and Chan Kan

All corrections are welcome!

The Small Print

Whatever anyone tells you, you do NOT need a local guide, local cook and mules to make it to El Mirador and back, this point is proven by more than 50 people who have done it independently in the last few years. According to legislation in progress, you need a licensed guide inside the Park. The truth is, most local guides do not have this license, just try asking anyone to show you one. You will be probably showed several types...

Be aware that the RAINY SEASON is still here, so on all Mirador hikes you will be wading in water up to your thighs (in some places). If you want to use sandals, consider doing it in April...

Finally, we reserve the right to deny participation. Since it is non-profit work, we want to enjoy it too, for us a group with common goals and a relaxed, fun attitude is a basic requirement.

Ron and John
expedition guides


El Mirador Hike new dates!

After a bit of thinking, we realised all relevant info we can supply is already published in this blog, so we do not need to be online all the time to answer questions. That means we will have plenty of time to do our beloved jungle hikes. So if you don´t get a reply to your email or our phone is off, just check these dates below, select one, and call us from Flores the night before the departure day. We can confirm if there is any free space, and you can be on the 5 am bus to Carmelita, arriving at around 10, and leaving at once for the hike. If this is too quick, arrive a day early.

The dates of our planned 5-day El Mirador hikes are:

2010: December 5-9, 12-17, 20-25,
2011: January 3-8, 11-16, 19-24, 27-31

Longer and different trips will have to be organised through email...

Things not included

The price below does not include mules (those you can hire separately from locals), and we usually do not take mules with us. If you want to take mules, you will still have to carry your own gear and walk all the way. We carry all our food and 2 days' worth of water. In the rainy season finding water poses no problem, in the dry season (Feb. - May) we have to buy it from local guards. We have done this dozens of times with other hikers, food and water was always enough, though be prepared for rice, beans and tortillas.
The 5-day trek includes La Florida, Tintal, La Muerta and one whole day at El Mirador (El Tigre, La Danta and a handful of smaller sites). If you want to visit other sites (Naachtuun, Porvenir, Xulnal, Nakbe, Wakna, Paixban, Rio Azul etc.) we need more days or be prepared to walk 12-16 hours a day. Everyone helps prepare a hot dinner, cold breakfast and lunch. If you do not have this either buy it or you can rent design jungle hammocks (Henessy) from someone here in Carmelita. Way more comfortable.


Final price for El Mirador Hike!

Our price is 100 US$ per person for a group of at least 5 persons for the 5 day hike. This includes our travel and living expenses before, during and after the trip, all food and water during the hike, water purification equipment, cooking gear, camping gear, map and general info in weather-proof case, first-aid kit, permits and real, informative guiding (in English) and transportation from and to Flores. Every extra day will cost 20 US$ per person, for less days we subtract the amount (a 3-day trek would cost 60 USD per person for a group of 5). We do not have the energy to organize groups, so all depends on what networking skills the first applicants have. The trip starts and ends in Carmelita, you will probably have to get here on your own if we have another trip prior.
Call us if you are already in Carmelita: 4615-4894



The question is: why are we doing this? As with most likeminded travelers, we are all enthusiastic volunteers, couchsurfers, woofers and old-school backpackers. Some of us have been living here in Guatemala for over 3 years, working at volunteer projects. With the influx of rich backpacker-like kids, most volunteer options have become expensive. That is, you have to pay to be able to work. This is donation, a very respectful action, but that will not help those who believe in work-exchange volunteering. So we came up with an idea: why not volunteer as a tour guide totally privately? As long as our travel expenses are met, why not continue traveling, while helping others to high-quality travel experiences?
Our first such project is El Mirador in Peten, Guatemala. This will be loud...


A bit of history...

After my first visit to El Mirador in 1997, I have returned at least a dozen times. Inspiration was plenty: guiding some friends, looking at recent excavations or just enjoying the lush rainforests of Peten. In the past few years I guided some hardy backpackers to the ruins, in exchange for reimbursing my costs. During all these trips I met scores of hikers who complained about the lack of info, inflated prices and difficulties with locals or such. This year, after witnessing a Carmelita guide charging Q1800 (250 US$) for an emergency trip to Flores for an injured tourist, me and a few friends decided to donate some time and inform the 3-4000 annual visitors to El Mirador about facts that are not readily available, not even on the Internet.


What is this?

This blog is dedicated entirely to supply up-to-date information on visiting the archeological site of El Mirador in Guatemala. Since I spend most of my time trekking in Petén, I don´t have the time or energy to construct a proper homepage. The little tidbits of info I collected over the years will all be posted here eventually. Available information in English is abundant about El Mirador, but scarce about how to exactly get there. This means that travel agencies and local guides can sell you just about anything, cashing in on the fact that most people are a bit afraid of jungles. This blog will hopefully lift the veil, and help future independent hikers in visiting these magnificent ruins without the usual Central American hassle and over-inflated prices.