2012-01-04

Visiting El Mirador in 2012

In spite of all the tension and insecurity involving travel to El Mirador, here are some options for those who still want to give it a try. Presently there are only three travel agencies in Flores who organize El Mirador tours directly (that is they are not resellers of existing offers) and who operate with the approval of the Cooperativa Carmelita (meaning their clients will not be turned back before the ruins by machete-waving people). These are:

Mayan Lands Travel Agency
T.: (+502) 5340 2506 and (+502) 5821 5384
Email: landsmayan@hotmail.com

Reino K'an Mirador Travel Agency
Address: Calle 30 de Junio, Flores (across from Hotel Petén and 5B ATM)
T.: (+502) 5818 3273 and (+502) 5761 9883.
Email: racsosalas@hotmail.com

Mayan Princess Travel Agency
Address: Calle Centro America
T.: (+502) 7867 5045
Email: bbbetoremate@hotmail.com

The (+502) prefix is the international code for Guatemala should you be calling from overseas, and no, none of the above agencies have web pages.

The Mayan Princess received very negative reviews by some of it’s clients, something we could not verify.

If you choose to go to Carmelita directly and try your luck with the locals (something we still recommend), here are your options:

Cooperativa Carmelita: the official cooperative controlling all tourism in the area. President: Antonio Centeno Garcia.
T.:  (+502) 5857 7310, 7861 2639, 7861 2640 and 7861 2641
Email: tono.centeno@gmail.com

ASTUNAC: the alternative cooperative, 100% Carmelitan. President: Patricia Pinelo. (Please note that their phone is switched on only for a few hours in the morning and the afternoon, so please try at different times per day to reach them). (Rumor has it that they have been banned from offering tours to anyone. 02-01-2013)
T.: (+502) 7783 3811, 7783 3812 and 7783 3813

Umberto: an independent guide with cooperative permission to lead tours, very much recommended by one of our readers. (He is not a Cooperativa Carmelita - approved guide and reports from our readers say he cannot lead tours either. See newer posts. 02-01-2013)
T.: (+502) 5382-1337, 51522707 and 51975365.

Final advice: there is probably no living person on Earth who understands exactly the situation in Carmelita and the Mirador Basin. Rules, agreements, permits and persons change on a daily basis. It basically comes down to two options:

  1. If you don’t have the time, do not believe in supporting local communities, don’t care much about prices and like to book your trip months ahead, contact one of the agencies in Flores (listed above).
  2. If you have some extra days to organize your trip, believe in responsible travel, don’t mind a pinch of adventure and can speak Spanish, then go to Carmelita, talk to the cooperatives listed above and the locals in town, choose someone you feel you can trust, negotiate and go for it! Just remember, after the trip please give the amount you negotiated to your helpers: the guide, the muleteers and the cooks! These people often receive minimal pay even when booked through the cooperatives. The only way to ensure that those who work hard get paid fair is to give them back at least the amount you saved by not going through a travel agency in Flores.

5 comments:

  1. I just got back from the Mirador and am happy to see that someone has posted this information. We ran into a lot of trouble because we had booked a tour through Humberto (listed above) because a friend recommended him. On the morning we were to leave DIPRONA (the protected areas police) and representatives from the cooperativa were blocking our entrance onto the trail.

    They have passed a rule and are being supported by CONAP (council for protected areas) to only allow licensed guides from INGUAT lead trips. The only people who are licensed work for the coop. This means that only people from the coop can take you.

    I agree with these comments that if you have the time, speak spanish, and want to support an example of community led conservation and tourism that you go to Carmelita and try to find a way to work with the cooperative to negotiate something cheaper. Otherwise just book with the travel agency and you will not have a headache from seeing a community being torn apart by regulations to protect the land around them.

    What we ended up doing was spending 3 extra days in Carmelita staying in Humerto's house while we worked out a compromise. I don't think the coop wants to work with other people in the community. They have a list of members and have a rotation for who gets work next. Humberto wanted to be our mule driver out of his cycle. We ended up paying 1,000Q for the guide and going through Humberto for everything else. I don't think that the coop was happy about this compromise but we had already paid him through bank transfer and did not feel it was fair to take the money from him just to give it to his neighbor.

    The people who do work for the coop are paid a fair wage and are ensured dividends twice a year but what the coop earns. We paid Q1,000 for the guide. He got Q700 of that and Q300 went to the costs of administration of the coop. This is why it creates friction in the community because people don't understand why money should pay for a secretary to sit in front of a computer. Also only people who have done a 7 month course can be a registered guide so it is not easy for illiterate people who have been working as guides for years to become legal.

    Don't let this stop you from going. It is beautiful. However as most beautiful ecosystems left in the world there are a lot of external pressures that are making the regulations even more important. Unfortunately it is causing struggles in the community of Carmelita.

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