How to Hike El Mirador, Guatemala Without a Tour

In Guatemala, Hiking by Erik10 Comments

El Mirador, Guatemala is a lost Mayan city in the jungles of Peten – from prices to transport find out everything you need to know about how to hike El Mirador without a tour.

When to Hike El Mirador, Guatemala

We found that the best months to hike El Mirador are December to April when the weather is drier.

Venturing to the ruins during the rainy season is possible, but the trails become swampy.

Combine wet soil with groups of people and mules for an unpleasant walking experience.

You may have to walk through mud up to your knees. There are also more mosquitoes since you are in a wet jungle environment.

Hike to El Mirador, Guatemala Wet Season Trail

Pick your poison: dry and pot-holed, or wet and muddy. (Image courtesy of CazBag)

5 Day Itinerary

Here is the itinerary for the 5 day hike to El Mirador.

  • Day 1: Santa Elena to Carmelita via bus at 5 am (Q50 / $6.85, 4 hours), and then onward to Tintal (17 km, 5 hours) by foot.
  • Day 2: Tintal to El Mirador (23 km, 6 hours); Watching sunset from El Tigre Pyramid
  • Day 3: El Mirador
  • Day 4: El Mirador to Tintal return
  • Day 5: Tintal to Carmelita, and then bus to Santa Elena at 1 pm
5 Day Hike to El Mirador, Guatemala Route Map

Just like the Hobbit, you will be going there and back again on a 5 day hike to El Mirador. (Photo courtesy of Around the World with Justin)

6 Day Itinerary

Here is the itinerary for the 6 day hike to El Mirador and Nakbe ruins.

This is a great option for those that don’t want to return the same way.

  • Day 1: Santa Elena to Carmelita via bus at 5 am (Q50 / $6.85, 4 hours), and then onward to Tintal (17 km, 5 hours) by foot.
  • Day 2: Tintal to El Mirador (23 km, 6 hours); Watching sunset from El Tigre Pyramid
  • Day 3: El Mirador
  • Day 4: El Mirador to Nakbe (14 km, 4.5 hours)
  • Day 5: Nakbe to La Florida (32 km, 8 hours)
  • Day 6: La Florida to Carmelita (11 km, 3 hours), and then bus to Santa Elena at 1 pm
6 Day Hike to El Mirador, Guatemala Route Map

Consider doing the 6 day hike so you don’t have to retrace your steps. (Photo courtesy of SeeUnseen)

El Mirador Highlights

The obvious reason to hike El Mirador is for La Danta and the surrounding ruins.

La Danta is the largest temple in the world, and buried deep within the jungle of Peten.

The highlight for most people is climbing up this remote pyramid, and also the hike to get there.

Along the way you visit the Tintal ruins, and Nakbe and La Florida ruins as well if you do the 6 day hike.

La Danta Pyramid at El Mirador, Guatemala

La Danta is the largest pyramid in the world by volume. (Photo courtesy of Ancient Wisdom)

Wildlife is rare during the dry season, but becomes more active in the wet season.

Although you may see jaguar paw prints, don’t expect to see them directly.

More common animals seen along the trail are howler and spider monkeys.

Meet Howler Monkeys at Community Baboon Sanctuary

Keep an eye, or ear, out for the appropriately named Howler Monkey.

How to Hike El Mirador

There are three options to consider when choosing whether or not to hike to El Mirador:

  • Book a tour in Flores (Q1750 / $240.55 and up)
  • Arrange a guide and equipment in Carmelita (Q1500 / $206.15 and up) 
  • Hike independently

The easiest and quickest way is to purchase a tour in Flores but it is cheaper to arrange it in Carmelita.

The downside is it takes at least a day for your guide in Carmelita to prepare for the hike.

You can find information about this online and in the TripAdvisor reviews.

We recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala, especially if you’re thinking of hiking to El Mirador. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

 

Get a quote for travel insurance now

 

San Miguel Lookout View of Flores

You can book a tour in Flores, but you might be better off arranging it in Carmelita

Hike El Mirador Without a Tour

This article is about how you can hike to El Mirado without a tour, and the possible problems that may arise.

***Disclaimer – We did not hike El Mirador, but only planned how we would hike there without a tour. Everyone must make their own decision, and be responsible for their own actions.***

Tikal Trails Between Temples

What could possibly go wrong on a jungle hike through an isolated section of Guatemala?

  • Planning

Most backpackers traveling Central America do not travel with camping gear since accommodation is cheap, and there aren’t many safe opportunities.

We happened to have a 2-person tent that we bought for our 1 week stay on Glover’s Atoll Resort in Belize.

Having, or renting, a tent is a minimum.

Peten is hot so sleeping bags are not required. Sleeping mats are nice, but not essential if you want to cut down on space or weight.

Camping on Glovers Atoll

Make sure your tent is waterproof for the wet season, but otherwise more vents make it bearable.

  • Water

Water may be the heaviest item that you bring, but also the most important in the hot jungle climate.

Recommended water intake is 3 liters/day per person.

You can cut that in half for a short period of time, and try to make sure you are well hydrated before you leave.

That means no binge drinking the night before! 🙂

Mount Rinjani Hiking for Free Without Tour Filter Water

Depending on the water you find, a DIY filtration device is ideal before using LifeStraw or tablets.

Your best bet is to have water purification tablets, or a water filtration bottle like LifeStraw.

You can get water at El Mirador (Q10 / $1.35 per bucket) at the very least.

There should be a source of water near all the camping spots and ruins as the Mayans wouldn’t build a city without it.

LifeStraw at Mount Bromo

We never leave home without LifeStraw, and neither should you.

  • Food

Traditionally, we have a portable cooking set when we go for extended hikes. We no longer travel with that so pasta dishes aren’t an option.

Instead, we planned on making sandwiches the entire way.

Our staples would have been PB&J, tuna sandwiches (make sure the can has an easy peel top), and biscuits or crackers.

Figure on ½ a loaf of bread per day. Canned tuna usually makes two solid sandwiches.

Mount Rinjani Hiking for Free Without Tour Lunch

Mmm jam sandwiches save you money and provide a sugar boost.

Sandwiches aren’t the most appealing, but they do cut down on weight.

Try to avoid any canned food with a lot of water inside.

Try salami or nuts for a protein boost.

Bananas are a great first day fruit to get you going.

Bananas at the Market

Bananas are high in energy, and help prevent diarrhea too!

  • Clothing

This should be a given, but you must wear shoes.

Waterproof hiking shoes would be ideal during the wet season.

Besides stubbing a toe, or spraining an ankle, there are snakes that you need to watch out for.

It is better they bite your shoe than you.

Reattaching the Sole of my Hiking Shoe

Make sure your hiking shoes are in good shape before starting the hike to El Mirador.

Try to minimize your clothes to keep your backpack light.

Fresh socks and underwear are the two most important items.

Otherwise, I would bring a hiking set of clothes, and another for sleeping.

That’s it. It’s also a good idea to have a waterproof jacket, or emergency poncho. Check out our hiker’s gear guide for more suggestions here.

Mount Rinjani Hiking for Free Without Tour Entrance

Less is more when you are carrying everything on your back.

  • Other Essentials

Other things you will need for the hike to El Mirador, Guatemala are:

  • Toilet paper
  • Head torch with spare batteries
  • Bug spray
Cooking in kitchen on Glovers Atoll

You don’t want to eat or go to the bathroom in the dark.

  • Personal Belongings and Money

It goes without saying, leave everything in Flores that you do not need for the hike.

Negotiate this with the hotel you are staying at.

Bring as few valuables as possible on the hike just in case.

Flores Hotel Mirador del Lago

Your valuables are safer in Flores than in the remote, wet jungle of Peten.

The minimum amount you will need is Q100, but plan on bringing Q400 to cover any unknowns.

The breakdown would be:

  • Q50 / $6.85 x 2 for transportation = Q100 / $13.75
  • Q5 / $0.70 x 2 for Flores to Santa Elena tuk-tuk, or you can walk
  • Q100 / $13.75 for possible El Mirador entrance fee. This is usually included in tour prices so little information is available online. The only price we found was Q60 / $8.25 but no one may ask for it either.
  • Q100 / $13.75 for emergency accommodation in Carmelita if you miss the bus. Old prices we found were Q35 / $4.80 for a dorm and Q45 / $6.20 per person for a room.
  • Q90 / $12.35 for unfiltered water at El Mirador, food in Carmelita upon return, or other unforeseen expenses.
20 Quetzales

Although you don’t want to lose money, it is always nice to have a buffer.

Getting to/from Carmelita

Transportation runs from either the main bus station or market in Santa Elena at 5 am, and 1 pm.

Verify the location the day before as staff at the bus station said there, but online says at the market.

Return times are the same in the opposite direction.

The cost is Q50 / $6.85 each way.

Santa Elena to Carmelita Chicken Bus

Grab the 5 am ‘chicken’ bus from Santa Elena to Carmelita. (Photo courtesy of Around the World with Justin)

Finding the Trail

All you need to hike to El Mirador without a tour is the app Maps.me on your smartphone, and battery power.

The app shows all the trails for the 5 day or 6 day hikes.

The main trails from Carmelita to El Mirador will be easy to follow once you find them.

Turn your phone off to save battery for any unseen issues.

Map of El Mirador

The entire trail for a 6 day hike to El Mirador is on Maps.me.

El Mirador FAQ

Without having hiked to El Mirador ourselves, it is impossible to know for sure all the issues that may arise.

Here were our concerns:

Trail to El Mirador, Guatemala

The trail to El Mirador is well worn, and flat. (Photo courtesy of Travel & Escape)

  • Will we be able to hike without a Cooperative guide?

This is the big question mark if you want to hike El Mirador without a tour.

We have read reviews that some people were turned back with a local guide.

We aren’t sure if they would also refuse entrance to hikers without any guide.

We figure it is better not to find out, and try a different approach from the start.

Preparing to Hike El Mirador, Guatemala

Carmelita Cooperativa preparing for the hike to El Mirador. (Photo courtesy of Senda Maya)

Our plan was to do the 6 day hike in reverse, and start with La Florida and Nakbe ruins.

We would ask to be let off the bus before we arrived in Carmelita, and start the hike there.

The less people know you are in town, the better.

They wouldn’t have time to form a picket line to stop you.

La Florida Ruins on El Mirador Hike

La Florida ruins are a small bonus on the hike. Think of them as a warm-up, or dessert. (Photo courtesy of Ancient Origins)

  • How will we find the trail to El Mirador?

By starting the hike in reverse you are tackling the less worn trail first.

This is when you still have battery power left for sure to check progress against Maps.me.

Once you get to El Mirador the wide path with mule footing potholes will be easy enough to follow.

Carmelita Entrance to El Mirador Hike

Who knew the entrance would be so easy to find? (Photo courtesy of Mirador Guatemala)

  • Is it safe to hike El Mirador without a tour?

We have not read any stories regarding personal attacks on the trail.

Bring as little with you as possible just in case.

Since the border with Mexico is nearby, there may be drug or people trafficking.

Our thoughts were that the bandits associated with this profitable line of work will not want attention drawn to this region of Guatemala, and leave you alone.

Hiking Boot Prints in Mud

Take caution, but you shouldn’t experience any issues on the hike to El Mirador. (Photo courtesy of Cepolina)

  • Are there any dangerous animals we need to worry about?

Yes.

There are jaguars, and snakes.

In reality, you will probably not see either.

If you do spot a snake, keep your distance.

Hike to San Juan Atitan Snake on Trail

Odds are small that you encounter a snake, but keep you sense if you do.

Why we Chose NOT to Hike El Mirador

Before finalizing our plans for El Mirador we visited Tikal.

Despite high reviews we found it to be underwhelming after spending 4 months visiting very impressive ruins in Mexico .

Tikal is massive, but it isn’t as restored as we were expecting.We also know that El Mirador is even rawer.

Therefore, we decided the investment of time and work wasn’t worth it for us – there were many other places to visit in Guatemala.

We plan to follow through with our plan in the future when more of the site is restored.

Tikal Twin Pyramid Complex R Unexcavated

Few ruins are completely excavated and restored at Tikal.

When we were researching hiking to El Mirador, we didn’t come across any information regarding hiking it without a tour.

Despite not visiting ourselves, we felt this would be a useful guide to get started for anyone attempting to do so in the future.

Please let us know how it goes, and any information that may not be correct.

Hike to El Mirador Sign

Welcome to the tourist route – Carmelita to El Mirador. (Photo courtesy of Volunteering Latin America)

Know Before You Go

Things to Bring:

  • tent
  • at least 3 liters of water assuming you have purification tablets or water filtration bottle
  • prepared food for 5 or 6 days, and knife for spreads
  • change of socks, underwear, shoes, and a set of clothes
  • Q400 / $55.00
  • toilet paper
  • head torch with spare batteries

Transportation:

Bus from Santa Elena to Carmelita (Q50 / $0.70 at 5 am and 1 pm). Same return times.

Trail:

Locate the trail on Maps.me, and research the attractions ahead of time to save phone battery.

Hike to El Mirador Camp Site

Even though some camp sites have a roof, don’t plan on having space once the tours arrive. (Photo courtesy of Volunteering in Latin America)

Did you enjoy reading our guide to El Mirador?!

Pin it and help others find it too!

How to hike El Mirador without a tour

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*** The Final Word – We weren’t sure the reward justified the work so we decided to hike El Mirador on our next trip ***

Did you visit El Mirador and what were your thoughts of the hike?

3 Shovels

Accessible DIY travel to more distant locations via multiple connections or longer forms of local transport

* This post contains affiliate links, which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link & purchase something that we have recommended – at no extra cost to you.

 

Comments

  1. Hey there! We found your blog about visiting El Mirador without a tour group. I was wondering if anyone has contacted you who did it by themselves already? We are planing to do it in February. Would be good to get more info.

    1. Sorry, Justina. I haven’t heard the results of anyone attempting it yet. The only big question mark is if anyone would stop you from Carmelita. Other than that I think the path should be easy to follow from mule footsteps & Maps.me worst case. When I was doing research I did come across people stating they saw others hiking without a tour. Either way it would still be much cheaper to try yourself, & maybe settle on a local guide from Carmelita as a 2nd option.

      Please let us know how it goes & thoughts even if you do go with a tour. Thanks & Happy New Year!

  2. Hi, i am doing this trek in a few weeks! But I cant find the map on maps.me. is there any way you could send me whatever maps/links to maps of the hike you have? I’m thinking to do it backwards like you describe, sounds safer. Thanks!

    1. Adam,

      Try the coordinates 17°45’21.92″N, 89°55’15.79″W to get started. The map of El Mirador should pop up then. Let us know how it goes, and if you think it is worth visiting.

    2. Hi Adam, have you already been to El Mirador yet? Could you manage doing it on your own? Thanks!

  3. Hi Sheena & Erik!
    First of all, a HUGE thank you for this blog post. Because of you, we were able to successfully hike the Mirador without a guide! 🙂 With did not have any trouble at all during the whole trip. With the help of Maps.me and because we were able to buy water at all the camping sites, we completed the hike with no hassle at all (I mean, it wasn’t easy, but very doable!). During our journey, we were told by the local guides that it is normally required to hike El Mirador with a guide. We simply (and honestly) answered that we couldn’t find anywhere on the web that we needed to hire someone or pay an entrance fee (although this might change soon if more people attempt the hike solo). Regardless, we had such an amazing time. We were very respectful of the environment, the other hikers as well as the local people. We even made good friends with the workers at the Jabali camp (they offered us a warm pasta dinner and a shower!). If you pay respect to others, they will do the same to you. Overall, it was an unforgettable experience. Therefore, I did write myself a blog entry about it (and of course I mentioned you guys at the end 😉): https://jujuenroute.com/2019/04/15/my-trek-to-the-lost-mayan-capital/ I hope you will have the chance to complete it yourselves one day. Until then, continue to keep us updated about your travels. You guys are amazing. 😊
    Juliane

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Juliane. It’s great to see you had a good experience on your hike to El Mirador, and someone got to use the research I didn’t get a chance to. Your experience and tips will make it helpful for anyone else looking to do the hike themselves. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

    1. That must have been a great experience! How did you learn about it since I’m sure it wasn’t on many tourists’ radar in 1990? I don’t believe any real excavation efforts started until this century so it must have been an even more wild place.

  4. Thanks guys! My girlfriend and I did the trek without a guide last month.

    A few additions:
    – The 5 am bus from Santa Elena is not running anymore (at least that’s what people told us), but there is one going at 1 pm from the main bus station in Santa Elena (80gtq) and leaves from Carmelita at 4am. So you have to stay overnight in Carmelita (We stayed at a local family with our tent (bring some candy’s for the kids!). The only hotel offered to us was owned by Carmelita cooperative and 150gtq pppn! We started the trail at 4:30am the next morning to avoid any trouble.
    – If you really want to be sure about catching the bus to Carmelita, first go to San Andres for 8gtq pp and there take the bus to Carmelita between 1:30 and 2:00. In San Andres the bus to Carmelita (60gtq) does not leave from the bus station but from the junction (16.971062, -89.911787). Just ask around.
    – There is a checkpoint with soldiers just before Carmelita. No worries, just fill in your name and ‘Carmelita’ as travel agency (or just quote the previous entry like we did). You also have to fill in your name at the camps.
    – There are 2 comedors in Carmelita where you can have local food.
    – If you use maps.me follow the most northern trail to El Tintal (so take the left at the first split, 17.465377, -90.055157). The more southern one was not maintained and will slow you down for a couple of hours. We lost track multiple times (lots of fallen trees, no clear path), so if you are not sure about your GPS-skills and you don’t want to get bitten by al sort of things please stay on the other trail. If you still want to do this trail, bring a compass and a machete.
    – There was no entrance fee for us. Not sure if this is always the case.
    – People at the camps were very nice, we got our water for free and even got offered food at El Tintal (bucket shower was 10gtq at El Mirador). Off course, don’t expect the water to be free. The water was purified with an eco-filter, so we didn’t use any purification tablets.
    – We brought our own food (powder food, chocolate, muesli bars).
    – We could place our tent under a ‘tarp’ (no costs for us). So you can save weight by only bringing the inner tent. Again, no guarantee that you can use the self-made tarp, but during our trip there was plenty of space.
    – We don’t really speak Spanish, so it might be that we didn’t understand the local people correctly about bus times and overnight stays in Carmelita:)
    – Bring more mosquito repellent

    Wilmar and Sophie

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