Apocolypto for Real: Trekking the Mayan Backcountry


A few options for possible side trips on next month’s adventure to the Mayan Trail in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and beyond have come to my attention: One is the great mystery of El Mirador, a ruin accessible only by a two day hike or pricey helicopter ride in the backcountry of Guatemala. A short paragraph mention of the site caught my eye in a recent Conde Nast Traveler, and I had to know more.

Apparently what’s interesting about the site is that, unlike the Mayan atmosphere of Mel Gibson’s blunder Apocolypto, El Mirador appears to actually pre-date nearby Mayan ruins like those at Tikal, suggesting a different civilization altogether, or an earlier generation of Maya? Apparently it’s a bit of a contentious spot for those who study these things. While it’s not rumored to be as impressive as Tikal, it’s the mystery, the story and the adventure that are the draw. Will we have the energy for the trek or the cash for the chopper ride? A little too early in the game to say, but it’s on the radar. Here’s what an LA Times writer had to say about a recent trip to the site:

“In August, when I arrived in Flores, the Petén region’s travel hub, it became clear that I was in for an epic of my own. Around the small tourist town, there were two basic opinions about the best time to do the trek to El Mirador: “never” and “not now.” The warnings came from expatriates, guides and tour operators, and they focused on the rainy season’s bloodthirsty mosquitoes, vicious horseflies and sucking mud – calf-deep or worse, everyone said. It would be best to wait until the place dried out, maybe in January.

Those were the warnings. This was the lure: a giant Maya city hidden deep in the jungle, possessing the largest pyramid in the Maya world. The ruins are accessible only by foot, horse or helicopter, which made them more alluring.

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And that was before I even knew its history. I soon learned that El Mirador’s civilization peaked between 300 BC and AD 150, making it a whale when the most famous Maya cities were minnows.”

Certainly intriguing. We’ll see if the winds carry us there. Meantime, here’s some valuable links and such:

The Mirador Basin

How to get there

Adventure Planning: The Cancun To Guate Challenge