In November 2019 I visited Central America with trips to Guatemala, México, and Belize. The trip concentrated on Ancient Civilizations. This is the description of the Guatemala part of the trip.
The Guatemala part of the trip was organized by Maya Travel. Everything worked out well. They were very responsive when I wanted to modify the itinerary.
In Guatemala I visited three Maya sites, Yaxhá, Tikal, and El Mirador. See the pre-Columbian Timeline.
I flew into Guatemala City. During the flight there was a medical emergency, so the plane diverted to Merida in México. We spent more than two hours in Merida, waiting for fuel and clearance to continue the flight. We ended up being three hours late in Guatemala. But my guide for the trip had waited and brought me to the hotel.
The next morning we started our drive to Cobán. Traffic leaving the city was bad. At some point traffic had stopped. We waited for about an hour before we continued. A landslide had blocked the road. There was only one lane for traffic.
On the way to Coban is the Orquigonia, a private nature reserve, dedicated to rescue and preserve orchids. It was an interesting visit.
I stayed overnight in Cobán. The next morning we left early to go to the Reserva Natural Ranchitos Del Quetzal to look for the Quetzal. I saw several Quetzals, they are magnificent birds. They were the sacred birds of the Aztecs and Mayas.
After looking for Quetzals we drove to the Cueva Mucbilhá, a cave with nice speleothems. It is a 20 minute drive on a dirt road from the main highway. It then takes about 20 minutes to walk to the cave. The walk through the cave was about 45 minutes. It was hot and the humidity was close to 100% (it rained most of the time). With all the walking I was soaking wet from sweating.
From the cave we drove back through Cobán and on to Lanquín. It ended with a bad two-hour drive on a bad dirt road. From Lanquín I continued in a 4WD vehicle that the lodge in Semuc Champey had sent. It took another 45 minutes to get to Semuc Champey, where I stayed for one night.
There is not much to see or do in Semuc Champey, it was not worth the long drive over bad roads.
The next day we drove back to Cobán over the same bad road. I cannot recommend visiting Semuc Champey.
After another night in Cobán we continued north to Flores. Flores is a nice little town on an island in Lake Petén Itzá.
After checking into the hotel in Flores, we drove to my first Maya site in Guatemala, Yaxhá, a 1.5 hour drive. The Yaxhá tour culminated in watching the sunset from the top of one of the Maya pyramids. We just got back to the car when it started to rain heavily for the 1.5 hour drive back to Flores.
The next morning we started at 3:30 to make the 1.5 hour drive to the second Maya site, Tikal, to watch the sunrise from one of the pyramids. Unfortunately, it was foggy so there was no sunrise to see. But the tour through Tikal was great, it is a very nice Maya site. After lunch in Tikal we returned to Flores for another night.
The next day the big adventure in Guatemala started: A jungle trek to El Mirador!
There is no road going to El Mirador, you either hike or ride. There are also short helicopter tours available. The claim to fame of El Mirador is La Danta, the largest Maya structure in the world.
I was picked up at the hotel for a two-hour drive to Carmelita. I was originally scheduled to hike, but the person that picked me up said that I can instead ride for an extra $60. I took advantage of that and I am glad that I did. I would have never been able to make the hike. I ended up riding a mule for altogether 20 hours, 5 hours each day of trekking. Our group consisted of my guide, a cook, and me. We had three mules, one for me, one for the cook and one for the supplies. My guide walked all the way. On the first day, my guide was guiding my mule, on the other three days my mule was tied to either the mule with the cook or the pack mule.
It takes two days to get to El Mirador. It was about 16 km (10 miles) on the first day and 27 km (17 miles) on the second day. On the first day the forest was knee-deep under water with ankle deep mud everywhere. We stayed at a camp at La Tintal. It has a fairly large Maya pyramid that is not excavated. It is just a big hill overgrown with trees. We did the obligatory sunset hike to the top of the pyramid.
The second day's trek started early, wake-up at 5:00. After arriving in El Mirador after the second day's ride, I walked around the site for a bit. In evening we did a sunset trip to El Tigre, the second largest pyramid in El Mirador. I cut this excursion short and went back to camp before the sun set in order to negotiate the steep climb down from the pyramid during daylight. That was lucky, just when we got back to camp it started to rain heavily.
The next morning we toured the site. The main attraction was of course La Danta, the largest Maya structure in the world. It is quite impressive. There are a few other pyramids that are partially excavated, but most of the site is covered with forest.
In the afternoon my guide suggested another sunset trip, but I refused, which was good, because just like the day before, it started to rain in the afternoon.
The next day we started early again, wake-up at 5:00 for the ride back to civilization. We stayed another night at the half-way camp, and arrived back in Carmelita around noon. After the two-hour drive back to Flores I stayed there for another night. The next day I took a small commuter plane to Belize for the continuation of my trip in Belize.
November is the tail end of the rainy season, so it rained a lot. But I was incredibly lucky, it never rained during my excursions. On the trek to El Mirador, it rained every afternoon, but never while I was on the mule. It also never rained while I was walking through the Maya sites. Several times it started to rain just as I was finishing the excursion.
I did not meet local people, the whole trip was concentrated on seeing Maya ruins.
Food was generally fairly good. I especially enjoyed the restaurant in Cobán where I had dinner twice. The cook during the trek to El Mirador was pretty good, The camp sites at La Tintal and El Mirador had wood-fired stoves for cooking.
Traffic around Guatemala City was very bad. On most roads that we drove on there was lots of truck traffic.
The speed in settled areas is everywhere controlled by speed bumps. They are ubiquitous and severe, you really have to slow down.
The main objective was to see Maya sites, which I accomplished. Yaxhá and especially Tikal are very interesting to visit as far as pyramids are concerned. What you don't see as much as in Copán, Honduras are carved stone monuments.
The visit to El Mirador was an adventure, I am glad that I did it, but I wouldn't do it again.
Following are links to various pages with pictures.
All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.
The total number of pictures online on my website from Guatemala is 228, the total number of video clips is 2
Page last updated on Tue May 25 11:46:59 2021 (Mountain Standard Time)
Guatemala - Maya Remnants and the Quetzal on geichhorn.com