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Beneath the green and gray

Date: October 12, 2017 | By: bigfive | Category: Travel Blog

Guatemala & Panama Tours

You have to take a helicopter to get there – unless of course you’d rather hike a few days along a rugged path through thick jungle. At first, you see nothing but lush rainforest treetops. As you fly closer, an island of trees seems to stand a bit taller than the rest. Then, you see it – the jagged top of a temple with a wooden staircase – the first hint of what’s coming.

“I have never felt more like Indiana Jones,” said Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five, “than when I trekked the ruins this summer. The contrast with a site like Tikal is truly amazing.  A thousand tourists swarmed over that site, while only ten people, including my group of six, were here to witness this ancient Mayan city. The hardest places to get to have the most to offer and this is a pure example of that!”

Well, he has a point. Even after landing you still have to hike a bit to get there. This remote archeological site deep in the Guatemalan jungle flourished as a trade center from about 300 BCE to 150 CE, with a peak population of perhaps between 100,000 and 250,000 people. It is fascinating for its two large pyramid complexes, El Tigre and La Danta. The La Danta temple rises 236 feet above the forest floor with a total volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters. Add to that the large manmade platform beneath the temple, another 18,000 square meters, and that makes this one of the largest pyramids found anywhere; possibly one of the most massive ancient structures in the world, according to some archeologists.

It is remarkable to think that a site this massive was not discovered by the outside world until 1926, even then, the remote site gained little attention until Ian Graham made the first map of the area in 1962.

Then, in 2003, Richard D. Hansen, an archeologist from Idaho State University, initiated major investigation, stabilization, and conservation programs here with a multi-disciplinary team gathered from 52 universities and research institutions from throughout the world.

As you maneuver around trees that grow from nearly every crevice and crack in the rocky landscape, you come upon gray tarps strung above sections of stones where the archeologists are actively working.

According to Hansen, director of the Mirador Basin Project, the more than 45 mapped sites in the Mirador Basin may have formed the earliest well-defined political state in Mesoamerica. And, it appears that a large amount of construction predates other Mayan sites including Tikal.

El Mirador Basin in the far northern Petén region of Guatemala is known for its abundance of sites, many of which are among the largest and earliest in the Maya world. Of 26 known sites, only 14 have been studied, with an estimated 30 more on the list to be explored, which we hope can be protected from looters until the researchers can explore them.

You can now discover this incredible archeological wonder on our 18-day President’s Pick: Adventure Guatemala & Panama.

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