Worth the effort for adventurous travelers and history buffs, El Mirador is a truly ancient urban center that flourished almost a thousand years before Tikal had constructed its first pyramid. With an estimated population of close to 100,000 in 600 BCE, it was one of the first megacities in the Americas.
Archaeologists who began excavating El Mirador (“The Viewpoint”) thirty years ago have basically rewritten early Mayan history based on their findings. The Mayans were organized and technologically advanced centuries before previously thought, their accomplishments preserved here in a city they now believe was the capital of the region’s first true political city-state.
The site is centered on three huge temple pyramid sites, “El Tigre,” “Los Monos,” and “La Danta,” the last of which is one of the largest pyramids in the world. Set atop natural summits, they offer outstanding views to other ruined cities rising above the rainforest, only a few of which have been studied by experts.
Getting to El Mirador is difficult. In 2002, the Guatemalan government established the Mirador Basin National Monument a Special Archaeological Zone, which means that there are no legal roads for regular vehicles. Instead, visitors must take five-day hike; it’s worth hiring a couple of mules to carry supplies.
You can add a sixth day and also visit the ruins of Nakbé, a pre-Mayan city that may be even older than El Mirador. You should be in good physical condition and prepared for a serious jungle trek before attempting this tour.