El Mirador, once equal in size and splendor to Tikal, may eventually equal Tikal as a must-see Mayan ruin. It's just now being explored, but elaborate plans are being laid to establish a huge park four times the size of Tikal. Dr. Richard D. Hansen of the University of Idaho is director for the Mirador Basin Project, sponsored by the Foundation for Anthropological Research and Environmental Studies (FARES). The Mirador Basin contains the El Mirador site itself, four other known Mayan cities that probably were as large as Tikal (Nakbé, El Tintal, Xulnal, and Wakná), and many smaller but important sites—perhaps as many as 80 to 100 cities. The Mirador Basin is home to an incredible diversity of plant and animal life, including 200 species of birds, 40 kinds of animals (including several endangered ones, such as jaguars), 300 kinds of trees, and 2,000 different species of flora. It has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently, fewer than 2,500 visitors get to El Mirador
annually, as it's a difficult trek requiring four to six days of hiking (round-trip). The jumping-off point for the trek is Carmelita Village, about 50 mi (84 km) north of Flores. There are no hotels in the Mirador Basin, and no roads except for dirt paths. Local tour companies in Flores and elsewhere can arrange treks. Expect to pay US$300 or more if in a group. For those with the budget, like actor Mel Gibson, you can visit by helicopter.