Feedback from a reader

A very interesting comment arrived to our previous post that we thought should be posted. Thank you Laura for the effort!

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.



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.

Carmelita - Gateway to the largest Maya Center of the Known World

We support the community of Carmelita. If you want to see El Mirador, go to Carmelita and speak with the people of Carmelita about how to get to El Mirador.

There are many options to work directly with the community to secure treks, outfitting services and jungle adventures throughout the El Mirador Basin.


New bloggers

Well into the new dry season at El Mirador, we have been concentrating our efforts mainly on fundraising and research. Our volunteer and hiking programs are still on a standby, but we received a lot of help from independent travelers and NGO’s from around the world to provide up to date information about traveling to the site.

Bett and Kevin, two anthropology students from Switzerland residing in Guatemala will be doing a bit of research in the future weeks about happenings at El Mirador, and will be managing this blog for 2012. Welcome, folks, and good luck with the project!


Additional Mayan and El Mirador Resources

More than 160 artifacts from the Maya world are on exhibit at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris until October 2. Apparently there is also a large portion of the exhibition dedicated to Pre-classic art, including findings at El Mirador. The official site of the exhibit features a short video showing some pottery, while a pretty good press release on the GHF site gives a summary of it all.

And then, the homepage of FARES has some exciting updates in the form of a short summary of the 2010 field season, as well as a good-looking interactive map presenting the major excavations of the central area. FARES reports on major work being done at El Mirador, Tintal and Nakbe, while 20 new ancient cities and sites have been mapped and researched in the southern Mirador Basin. Good work!


New information: 2011

Holidays end, and El Mirador Hike is back on the job. After months of no internet, we were curious to read about the 2011 field season at the site, the progress and even new discoveries.

Seems like we will have to find out personally again, but until then here are our recommendations, two articles written in a similar style as their predecessors: an enthusiastic author, vary of snakes and spiders ventures into the jungle to report on the work done at El Mirador, focusing exquisitely on the 1978-2009 period. Great introduction for all who hear about the subject for the first time, but a bit repetitive for those in search of new information.

A massive early Maya center and a race against time (Popular Archeology)

El Mirador - The Lost City of the Maya (Smithsonian Magazine)


Hikes in the rainy season

 All our English-guided hikes (and volunteering) will be suspended in the rainy season (June - October, 2011). This period will be spent researching new information, fundraising and preparing for the next season. Also, the new NGO managing the planned museum in Carmelita is ready to roll, updates will be posted soon.

If you are planning a hike during this period, before you write an email please read the links posted on the right navigation bar of this blog titled "Important info". All data to set up your own, cheap, Spanish-guided hike is listed there. We will be lost in the jungle most of the time, so answers to any emails might take a few weeks...


April 26 hike in Spanish

Sorry folks, our volunteers bailed out, so we will have to cancel the English guiding part of our 26th hike. Spanish speaking local guides can be arranged at will from Carmelita (link to contacts on the right side) and you can still download our online guide book for free - it contains more info than is usually told by our guides on the hikes.


Our guides on the hikes

Please note that our hikes are guided by a different member of our team each time. Ron and Jack, who have done the most guiding so far are obviously better known, and hikers might be disappointed to hear it will not be them leading the hike, but any of the 5 volunteer guides working with us at the moment. Be assured, all of us have the same amount of information on the site and can provide the same data on plant, animals and ruins at El Mirador. As of April this year, we automatically employ at least one local guide from Carmelita on each hike, if there is a big group then more. That can mean up to 4-5 locals being offered a job per week, making hikes extra safe no matter who is the English guide, and giving us more time to work on the museum and other projects.


The El Mirador Field Guides

The new flagship of our efforts to raise funds for the museum and nature exhibit in Carmelita: The El Mirador Guide. Three volumes of pure hiking information and field guides are available for download in PDF format.

Working as volunteers we tend to believe in mankind, so these guides are free to download, print and distribute as long as they are not altered. In exchange, if you feel that they helped you during your hike, we expect you to make a donation of your choice to support our goals listed in the header of the blog.

Maps, photos and new information will be added continuously and the general information collected from the internet will be rewritten eventually depending on how much time we have between guiding hikes. The three volumes of the guidebook:

El Mirador Guide: THE HIKE

El Mirador Guide: PLANTS

El Mirador Guide: ANIMALS

 Any recommendations or corrections are thankfully accepted!


April hikes

We will be leading a film crew to Rio Azul this week, so the April 5th El Mirador Hike is canceled, no meeting the day before.

Our next scheduled hike (four hikers so far) starts on Tuesday (12th April), with registration at Cafe El Zotz, Flores on Monday (11th April) at 5 pm.

And then we have two interested hikers for the 19th April hike, more needed...


Photos and information package to download

A new feature is finally presented, a slideshow of the best photos our guides made during the hikes of 2010/2011. You will need a Google account to visit the gallery itself (elmiradorhike@gmail.com) on Picasa, but you can also enjoy it on this page, on the right side.

If you do not have the time to read all the posts, a pretty little PDF file can be downloaded in our downloads section containing all the relevant and important information about the hike. To read it, click here.


Hikes from April 4 and on... and volunteers needed!

New system: less posts, more time in the jungle!
April 4 is Monday, and the first day of our regular weekly hikes to El Mirador. From this date on, all hikes start with a registration and briefing on Monday at 5 pm at Cafe El Zotz in Flores. Next day, on every Tuesday, the group goes to Santa Elena, helps with packing the supplies and leaves for Carmelita. Arrival back to Santa Elena every Sunday. Hikes either US 100, no mules used or US 150, using mules and community workers (preferred construction).

Also, we are looking for some real volunteer spirits, who like to hike, organize, live outdoors and learn about the ancient Maya culture of El Mirador. Help also needed with accounting, fund raising, or maybe just teaching English in Carmelita... Accommodation and food provided.


March 22-28 hike

A new option for those out there waiting for their El Mirador hike guided in English: we meet in Galeria del Zotz in Flores, beside Café Yaxhá, for a personal discussion of hike details on the 21st of March, 2011 at 17:00.

Leaving Santa Elena around noon the next day (22nd), we arrive to Carmelita in the evening, and hike out the following day, on the 23rd. Return to Carmelita and Flores on the 27th. Price is 100 US, no mules or helpers, doing the classic route excluding Nakbé. Minimum amount of persons: 8. To secure your place, please send an email to elmiradorhike@gmail.com with full names.


February 24-28 and March 2-6 hikes

We will not be available to read email or answer calls between 15-28 February. Here is the final layout:

February 24-28: 5-day hike, 3 places free. Using mules (possibly volunteers) and not carrying any packs. Price 100 US, food and gear included. Mules cost extra, see posts below. Meeting in Galeria el Zotz, Flores on the 22nd February at 5 pm and again on the 24th 7 am.

March 2-6: 5-day well-planned hike including Nakbé and Wakná, using mules and community guides. Meeting in Flores on the 28th February, 8 pm at Galeria del Zotz, Flores (beside Cafe Yaxha). Trip to Carmelita starts next day early, we stay there a night and hike out on the 2nd of March. Return to Carmelita and Flores on the 6th. Minimum donation is 150 USD, which gets you good food by local cook, a jungle guide, helpers, travel to and from Flores and all accommodation in Carmelita. Plus some secret places to visit...
Profits from this hike will be used to help Carmelita locals establish a private collection and museum of Maya artifacts in their community. Donations above the minimum are gratefully accepted.

All hikes guided in native English by experts.


Feb 15 - 20 hike: few places left

The next hike, leaving on the 14th from Flores by private truck to Carmelita, has a few more places waiting for some adventurous spirits. We preferably carry all our food and gear, purify our water and usually sleep in our own jungle camp than together with dozens of other tourists at the base camps. Cost is US$ 100 per person and includes basically everything (click here for detailed info)

If you would rather do the hike with mules, tents, mattresses, sheltered camps, then consider joining our March 1-7 upcoming hike, featuring Nakbé, La Muralla and the whole 5-day hike as well! This is the first time we will test our GPS map&guide for Nakbé, and will have full guiding in English.


The Sherpas of Mirador

"No one who is a bit concerned about the environment and the future of El Mirador would consider using mule caravans inside the Park."
(Oscar Vesquez, chiclero, near El Florida, leading his 4 mules home)

Those who have been to El Mirador surely remember the ankle-breaking imprints of mule hoofs in the
rock-hard mud of the trail. Only in the dry season, of course, in the rainy months these trails are kneaded into a slimy, knee-deep cereal-like paste by the poor animals. On the other hand, the average tourist will not carry all gear, food, water and extras on a humid, hot, multi-day jungle trek, no matter what the environmental concerns.

And then comes the issue of the Ramon trees (the only species that horses and mules can eat in the jungle, resulting in muleteers fiercely chopping all of them around the camps) and the critters (the pack animals carry domestic pests/diseases into the core of the Biosphere Reserve and vica versa), and that of watering holes being infected by domestic animal droppings, etc...

All these and more were the topics of many late-night arguments beside campfires, until an idea stuck that we thought might be worth a try. Why not use humans instead of mules? If it is possible in the Himalayas, why not here? Conserving the environment always costs more than not caring, so obviously it will be more expensive to pay local workers to carry your backpack than rent a mule. Also, they need their own food, water and gear too, so you still have to pack tight. But then instead of having mules snort beside your tent the whole night, you will have plenty of friendly locals sitting with you around the campfire sharing stories of their lives.

After a few trials it seems to work fine, now all we need is some time and enthusiastic hikers to work out the details. A human train without the swarms of mosquitoes, horse-flies and friends, darting silently through the jungle on moss-covered, narrow trails... it is worth the effort, believe us!


Next public hike: February 15-20

As you can see, we are back in civilization, after a 2-month long stroll in the rainforests of Petén, Lacandón, Chiapas and Belize. All we can say folks: it will blow your mind away! Soon we will post photos as soon as we can convert and select our 10k+ pictures from RAW.

But more interesting is our new venture with Atitlan Adventures, a small outfitter based at San Pedro La Laguna on the shores of Lake Atitlan. Thy offer highly specialized overland adventures by truck, and are busy setting up their activities in Petén as well. Their first major venture will be driving from San Pedro to Flores, and bumping around Petén, mostly the Rio Azul, El Mirador, Petén Itza and Laguna del Tigre areas. This trip is still available with limited places, featuring a free El Mirador Hike, whose hikers will join us on the next public hike. This hopefully means lesser costs and more fun.


Detailed pricing

There seems to be a little confusion about what exactly is included in the featured tour (the next one leaving on February 15).
So, lets see:

Price includes:

·         transportation from/to Santa Elena
·         3 meals a day during hike plus accommodation and food in Carmelita before and after tour
·         all entry fees, permits and taxes; information on current excavations
·         native English guide certified in wilderness first-aid, first-aid kit, GPS and detailed site maps
·         a requirement of minimum eight participants

Not included in price:

·         local guides, mules/horses to carry gear or ride on
·         hammock, net, blanket
·         emergency evac due to blisters, fatigue, health or other issues
·         helpers to set up your tent, cook your food, wash dishes, carry water, tidy up and pack your bag: meaning your personal help is needed all along with common chores
·         tips/snacks/donations

Extras can be rented per day (based on 1 US$ = 7,8 Q):

·         mule                                    US$9
·         muleteer (arriero)            US$14
·         extra hiking days               US$20
·         local cook                             US$14
·         local guide                           US$21
·         hammock+net+cover     US$3
·         Hennessy hammocks      US$20

Please note that one mule is needed to carry all the luggage of two persons, and one muleteer plus his mule has to be rented per four mules. The Hennessy hammocks are professionally designed jungle expedition hammocks with an asymmetrical design for comfortable sleeping, rapid assembly and a built-in rain tarp and mosquito net. Also, they weigh a lot less than the traditional hammock-tarp-net trio.

Our price is 150 US$ per person for a group of at least 8 persons for the 5-day hike. 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 8). For groups less than five, the per person price will also be proportionally higher.


New El Mirador Hike in February!

Limited places available for the next El Mirador Hike: 2011 February 15-20. See details below... or call quick: 46154894


Dining in Carmelita

Hint: if you are in Flores probably the cheapest option to eat out is called Cafe El Zotz, right beside Cafe Yaxha (this latter has a great photo exhibition on Maya ruins but their prices are steep), with big and delicious main courses for Q25, soda included. Also, beer here costs Q5 per bottle if you buy three(!).

Another cheapie is down by the shore facing Santa Elena, below the Travel Agency San Juan, where open-grill chicken barbecue costs Q25, drinks extra. If you leave for Carmelita with the 1 pm bus from Santa Elena, right beside where the bus stands a local comedor will sell you a huge meal with beans, rice and chicken for Q15.

In Carmelita, two local comedores sell beans, tortillas, platanos and eggs for Q15. With a little advance notice, and for a few more Q, they'll can probably get you a excellent wild-crafted venison stew or some excellent blanco caught from an ancient Maya lake.


Travel from Flores (Santa Elena) to Carmelita

Local buses (camioneta) to Carmelita leave Santa Elena twice every day, at 5 am and 1 pm. From Carmelita, buses leave to Santa Elena at the same times, 5 am and 1 pm. This means that the 5 am bus from Santa Elena will arrive to Carmelita around 9 am, and the same bus will start back from Carmelita at 1 pm. Similarly, the 1 pm bus from Santa Elena will arrive to Carmelita at around 5 pm, stay there overnight and start back towards Santa Elena the next day at 5 am. The bus stop in Santa Elena is in the middle of the market, a bit difficult to find since tuk-tuks will drop you off outside the market, and at the market almost nobody knows about Carmelita buses, they will probably tell you to go to the main terminal.

To find it, walk from Flores towards Santa Elena over the bridge, then turn right at the second traffic light (there will actually be a big blue sign before the crossroads with "Carmelita" and "El Mirador" on them and a small INGUAT sticker making sure everyone knows who put up those signs), walk about 2 minutes and turn left on the second small street that leads into the market. That street will bend left and right and then open up into a busy square with microbuses and buses parked in the middle. The bus on the other side of the square goes to Carmelita. It probably won't have a sign saying so, but ask any of the other bus drivers (many buses leave from here to Sayaxché, Poptún, etc.) and they will tell you exactly. Don't get confused: many locals refer to Carmelita as "Carmela". Who knows which name was first...:)

Another way to catch the bus from Flores is to take a collectivo lancha (boat) from the north part of the island to San Andres (should be about 100Q per trip, if you look very gringo the locals might tell you there is no such thing as collectivo boats), walk up to the village and catch the Carmelita bus on the main square. With this you can miss the bustle of Santa Elena and get a scenic trip on the lake too. The bus makes it in about half an hour from Santa Elena to San Andres. The fare to Carmelita is 30Q per person, and you can keep your bags in the back of the bus, practical if it is raining, but watch out, passengers later are likely to pack boxes of fruit and animals on top of it.

The road goes around the lake from the left side, after San Andres it slowly becomes gravel, then dirt. Dos Aguadas, La Colorada, La Gloria are all stops on the way, Dos Aguadas is the place to get off if you are planning on hiking to El Zotz and Tikal. The bus will stop halfway for 10 minutes where drivers eat there little fried chicken legs at a street vendor. The road, especially after rains, is frequently too muddy for anything except serious 4x4 vehicles to pass. That means the bus might get stuck too... or it might just break down any time of the year. If the drivers can fix it then they carry on, if not they will wait for the next bus, next day or some solution to show up. Definitely not good if you are on a tight schedule, but then, taking a "shuttle" might not help either, agencies in Flores use private microbuses to take groups to Carmelita, and many times passengers have to get out and dig and push the van if they want to make it to Carmelita. All that for about 5x the price of the local bus.

Now, the other option is advertised as safe and fail proof, but in fact it is not. It involves paying a microbus driver 600Q for the roundtrip to Carmelita. Even if you are not going back with the same bus, you will have to pay that amount. And if you already paid the roundtrip, and the driver finds people wanting to leave Carmelita TO Santa Elena, he will also make them pay 600Q for the roundtrip. Or at the very least 300Q. I personally was there when the driver from Ecomaya wanted to charge 1500Q for some people who had to leave Carmelita in an emergency. Of course, everybody has the right to ask as much as they think fair, but still, be smart and do your math. If you book your trip with an agency in Flores for 200USD, the price includes private transport to and from Carmelita. From Carmelita you can also arrange emergency transport to Flores any time for 600Q.


Sleeping before and after El Mirador

This post won't be too long, since all accommodation options can be found on the internet. I

Consider staying at Youth Hostel Los Amigos, Flores. Hammock places Q25, 15-bed dorm Q35, private room Q45 per person. Main courses around Q60, travel agency in-house, computers and Wi-Fi. If you do a Google search, you will come across loads of opinions, experiences and traveler info on the hostel, good and bad. The good things mentioned are: great food, lots of English-speaking travelers, the jungle atmosphere, the location, helpful travel-agency, the free Wi-Fi and the great library. The negative opinions include: selling pirated movies and e-books, keeping endangered wild species (parrot) captive, dog shit smeared on walkways, unfriendly staff short-changing you on food and internet, dirty bathrooms, lots of noise, treating you like a potential cheater when you don't pay up front for everything, expensive prices, staff smoking dope.

If the only thing you are interested is the price, go to the Santa Elena market, find a place called "Hospedaje", and get a room (cell) for Q10 per person double, Q15 single. All other options in Flores start at Q40 per person. If you prefer private rooms and quiet, these rooms are way better value than those at Los Amigos.
In Carmelita you can stay at the house of Carlos and Patricia (hammocks or a mattress on the ground) for free if you book a tour with them, or pay Q15 if you just hire mules from them or go with another outfitter.


Other websites on El Mirador

Other important (and independent!) websites:

Mostly Maya is in fact All Maya. A site written by an enthusiastic traveler who keeps returning to El Mirador, it has been recently the most relevant and informative site on travel to El Mirador and other Maya sites in CA. A big thumbs up for being really independent.

Authentic Maya is a huge site on the history, culture of the ancient Maya with some really detailed and hard-to-find information on recent excavations and archeology. The owners don't answer emails, but never mind, they probably spend that time uploading more stuff to their (bit chaotic) website.

Lonely Planet Thorntree is probably well known to any real traveler, with huge discussion forums on El Mirador. To get there try typing "El Mirador 2010" in their search box, since it is a bit difficult to find the latest opinions on El Mirador from a history of about 6 years.

Mirador Basin Project is the official site of the archeological work being done at El Mirador. Boasting the best design of all the other sites, it has some interesting news topics about recent finds among the general PR and self-advertisement of Hansen, FARES and financial supporters of El Mirador. Oh, and here is where you can donate to the project... unfortunately money is the only option offered.

Global Heritage Fund has a flashy site of the foundation financing the work at El Mirador with the largest amount. Their small state-of-the-art GIS application uses a Google Earth plugin to present the digital archeological site plans of El Mirador and Nakbé, not very practical if you don't have internet. The solution is to extract the .kmz file, convert it to .gpx and upload it on your Garmin GPS, and behold, there is the whole ancient city at your fingertips.

Buenas Cosas - serving community and nature. Not-for-Profit development and volunteer opportunities.

New website for El Mirador

Previously I wrote about insufficient information on El Mirador. This seems to be changing right at these moments. The company called Ecotourism & Adventure Specialists created the website www.miradorpark.com, where detailed info is being published about El Mirador in English and Spanish. Although still very incomplete, visitors will find a wealth of information on archeological complexes within the central area, also about Maya myths and culture. Even though presently what they offer is mostly helitours to El Mirador, the pages have a great potential and judging by the work it will become the topmost source of information about the site.

El Mirador Library

Here is a list of publications our volunteer guides at elmiradorhike.blogspot.com are required to read or learn before accompanying local guides from Carmelita on the El Mirador Hike. We spent months collecting the data, even going to the extremes of paying for some of the papers that were only available through online payment schemes. I sometimes wonder when will GHF, APANAC, El Mirador Basin Project or other big names in the trade make such data available freely and easily to the general public.

We are planning on printing the Spanish translations for local guides in Carmelita who are interested in further training themselves, and English copies for tourists who will be able to read them in Carmelita. Of course, financial support for this is pretty hopeless...

elmiradorhike.blogspot.com Library:











64 THE MONUMENTS AT NAACHTUN, PETÉN (Peter Mathews et.al.)




Surfaces and beyond: the political, ideological, and economic significance of ancient maya iron-ore mirrors (Marc Gordon Blainey)

The Search for Site Q (Angela M.H. Schuster)

A geographic analysis of ancient Maya settlement and polity (Clifford T. Brown et.al.)

Building a GIS System of Ancient Lowland Maya Settlement (Walter R. T. Witschey et.al.)

Popol Vuh: Literal translation (Allen J. Christenson)

The Electronic Atlas of Ancient Maya Sites (Walter R. T. Witschey et.al.)

Some thoughts on the composition of Murals 1 and 3 of Structure 1, La Sufricaya, El Petén, Guatemala (Elisabeth Wagner)

Analysis of Samples and Artifacts from the Mirador Group, El Perú-Waka' (Michelle Rich, FAMSI)

Function and Meaning in Classic Maya Architecture (Stephen D. Houston)

Maya hieroglyphs Study Guide (Inga E. Calvin)

The mammals of Guatemala

Tropical Deforestation, Community Forests, and Protected Areas in the Maya Forest (David Barton Bray et. al.)

Conservation assessment report and recommendations, Mirador Basin, Guatemala (John Hurd, GHF)

Mirador Basin 2008-9 Progress Report Summary (GHF)

Surviving in the Rainforest: The Realities of Looting in the Rural Villages of El Petén, Guatemala (Sofia Paredes Maury)

Publications we are still searching for (any help is most welcome):

Excavaciones y Rescate de la Estructura 1 de La Florida, Peten (Balcarcel et.al.)

El Protoclásico en las Tierras Bajas Mayas: Algunos Apuntes sobre los Resultados del Taller de Cerámica (Brady et.al.)

Desarrollo de Vegetacion y Cambio Cultural en la Cuenca Mirador, Guatemala (Castañeda et.al.)

Estudios Botánicos en la Cuenca Mirador: Desarrollo de Vegetación y su Significado Cultural (Castañeda et.al.)

Monumento 18 de El Mirador: El Contexto Arqueológico y la Iconografía (J.P. Laporte et.al.)

Tiempo Mesoamericano IV: Preclasico Tardío (400 a.C.-200 d.C) (Clark et.al.)

Maya Water Management in the Mirador Basin (Fairley)

La Arquitectura Preclásica en Nakbe: Un Estudio Comparativo de Dos Períodos (J.P. Laporte et.al.)

La Estructura 27 de Nakbe, Peten (Forsyth)

La Estela Hauberg y el Reinado Preclásico de Kan (Guenter et.al.)

Discovering the Snake Kingdom: The Epigraphy of the Mirador Basin.

Initial Explorations at Nakbe, Peten, Guatemala (Hansen, Richard D.)

Excavations in the Tigre Complex, El Mirador, Petén, Guatemala (Hansen, Richard D.)

The Maya Rediscovered: The Road to Nakbe (Hansen, Richard D.)

Early Polity Formation, Adaptive Settlement Response, and the Epistemology of Apocalypse: Final Research and Lab Analyses at Nakbe, Guatemala (Hansen, Richard D.)

El Mirador, Guatemala: El Apogeo del Preclásico en el Área Maya (Hansen, Richard D.)

Exploraciones Preliminares en el Sitio La Muralla, Peten (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Investigaciones arqueológicas en el sitio Tintal, Peten (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Climatic and Environmental Variability in the Rise of Maya Civilization: A Perspective from Northern Peten (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Developmental Dynamics, Energetics, and Complex Interactions of the Early Maya of the Mirador Basin, Guatemala (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Early Social Complexity and Kingship in the Mirador Basin. In Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Excavaciones Arqueológicas y Ecológicas en la Cuenca Mirador: Rescate y Excavaciones en el sitio La Florida (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Forgotten Structures, Haunted Houses, and Occupied Hearts: Ancient and Contemporary Perspectives of Abandoned Sites and Buildings in the Mirador Basin, Guatemala (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

Operación 402Q y 402N, Escalinata de acceso de la Primera Plataforma hacia la Segunda Plataforma del Complejo Arquitectónico “La Danta” en El Mirador (Ordoñez-Fajardo)

Acrópolis Central: Excavaciones en la Estructura 313, El Mirador, Peten, Guatemala (Balcarcel)

Excavaciones en la Estructura 204 del Grupo Cascabel, El Mirador, Peten (Hansen, Richard D. et.al.)

The Tintal-Mirador Causeway: A Monumental Prehispanic Sacbe in the Mirador Basin, Guatemala (Hernandez et.al.)

Los Faisanes: Exploraciones y Mapeo Preliminar de un Asentamiento Preclásico al Noroeste de El Mirador, Peten (Morales-Aguilar et.al.)

The homepage of the cooperative

I found a relevantly new homepage about the Carmelita Cooperativa, under the umbrella (they call themselves a "trademark") of Mayan Land.
The site is a perfect example of professional design and PR language. It gives the impression that all the problems of local villages are solved through community involvement, forest certification and enthusiasm.
Reality, as always, might be a bit different. About certification (they boast the FSC logo): one can see personally the clear cut areas in the La Gloria and Carmelita concessions on the Flores-Carmelita road, a practice definitely not certification-compatible. Well, that is not unusual anywhere else in the world.
But, they also make a great deal of advertising beneficial xate collection practices. It is probably all true, but let me post an opinion of a local "xatero" from Carmelita (Walter Mendoza):
"When we could sell the xate directly to the international buyers, we made a fair amount of money. But now, since the cooparative manages all sales, we receive much less for our work. Of course, we would be happy to sell it again directly, but we are afraid. My friends have been threatened by gunpoint, and one pick-up has been smashed up when we tried going around the local cooperative. I don't want any trouble, better to give it all to our organization" (smirks).
I don't know if this is true or if it is just a local guy complaining about nothing, but it might be important to listen to the "other side".
He also mentioned a figure for chicle, another local product, explaining that the Japanese company buying all the chicle from Carmelita pays 10Q for a "brick" (probably 1 pound), but the cooperative pays him only 6Q.

An investigative, independent, professional reporter would be needed to get all the facts straight, we just channel local voices to the internet.


Carmelita unveiled III.

All this of course would not be possible without the active support of travel agencies in Flores, who, naturally, are all about the profit. It seems they don’t care if it is just one person benefiting from the tourism revenues of El Mirador, as long as the price of guides and mules is the lowest possible. Recently the Association of Travel Agencies in Flores (not sure if this is a legally existing organization) agreed on a fixed price for the 5-day hike to El Mirador, namely US$200. And they will send their groups to whoever offers the lowest price. According to Patricia, she will not reduce her prices that have been in effect for ever two years now just to start a pricing competition (she offers the same trip from Carmelita for about US$150). Apparently he logging cooperative will accept any group for any price as long as they get the job. My experiences support what Patricia told me, during my 10+ trips to El Mirador I often met with guides from the logging cooperative who often tried to persuade me not to employ Carlos as a guide, since he is not a member of the cooperative, even going to extremes in accusing him of being irresponsible, leaving people behind and stealing. Of course, none of this is true, nothing even close has ever happened on any of my trips guided by Carlos or his family members. Marina (or Maria) and Umberto, guides famous from El Mirador blogs were the worst, the former actually going up personally to anyone wanting to strike a deal with Carlos, and telling them that they should employ “cooperative guides” if they want to have a safe hike.

Carlos (who is also busy organizing and certifying a private collection of Maya artifacts with CONAP, similar to that in Uaxactún) in them meantime just shrugs, and tells me at the end the people who want him out of the business will lose to justice. I am not so sure.
It is not the purpose of this blog to provide justice, take sides or make business with anyone on either side (our guides work on a volunteer basis), all we can do is try to provide some extra information that might persuade future hikers to take a more responsible look at the situation in Carmelita, as opposed to foreign NGO’s using funds and a western approach, based on a few reports and day visits, to solve problems of community interrelations they claim to know all about.


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...