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Laguna Miramar

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Laguna Miramar

Laguna Miramar Banner.jpg

Laguna Miramar is in the state of Chiapas in Mexico.

Understand[edit]

Laguna Miramar in November

Laguna Miramar is a freshwater lake surrounded by tropical rainforest located in the Lacandon Jungle on the border with Guatemala. It is one of the most ecologically diverse areas of Mexico, containing around 20% of all species. The lake itself is a pure blue color and quite warm, making for great swimming and canoeing. Additionally, there are Maya ruins around the lake, though unrestored and covered by jungle. The trip to the lake is not a quick or easy journey and requires several days to allow for transport and visiting the sites. Tourism at Laguna Miramar is handled through the local community of Emiliano Zapata.

History[edit]

In ancient times, Laguna Miramar was not a lake at all, instead a lowland valley housing a thriving Mayan city. The area has not been extensively studied by modern archaeologists, but divers have uncovered evidence of several large pre-Columbian structures at the bottom of the lake. Some ruins are still visible above the waterline, including Mayan carvings, statues, and the so-called "watchtower" structures located on nearby hilltops.

Historically, the area around Laguna Miramar was inhabited by the indigenous Lancandon people, although few, if any, remain in the area today. Current towns surrounding the lake, including Emiliano Zapata, were founded in the 1970s and 1980s by settlers and farmers from other parts of Mexico. Many came with the encouragement of the Mexican government in an effort to stake a tighter claim on territory near the Guatemalan border.

While at one time one of the most untouched natural areas of Mexico, the land surrounding Laguna Miramar shows significant evidence of ecological degradation, the result of clear-cutting for logging, cattle ranching, and subsistence agriculture. However, the forest immediately adjacent to the lake remains preserved as a part of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

Flora and fauna[edit]

The Lacondon Jungle surrounds Laguna Miramar, with steep mountains ringing the lake. During a visit expect to hear (and possibly see) howler monkeys, crocodiles, tarantulas, scorpions, and a number of wild birds including parrots.

Climate[edit]

Laguna Miramar is warm year round, although the rainy season runs from late-May until around October. Although more adventurous visitors do brave the unpaved roads into the reserve during rainy season, peak visiting months are January-May when the site is more accessible.

Get in, Get out[edit]

The road to Laguna Miramar

Getting to Laguna Miramar is a multi-step process, the lake itself is a 2 hour walk from the site's visitors center located in the village of Emiliano Zapata. Public transport into and out of Emiliano Zapata departs from the nearby town of San Quentin (1 km). Collectivo vans and unmarked pickup trucks depart San Quentin from under a large tree near the school at the end of the dirt landing strip in front of the military base. These vehicles often leave before their reported departure times to circle through town in search of additional passengers so be sure to ask if the trucks are still in the area.

It is important to note that many people in Emiliano Zapata use a different time system than the rest of Mexico, not changing their clocks with daylight savings time. Asking about departure times can get very confusing depending on which town you are in, the season, and which time zone your driver chooses to use. Your best bet is to arrive an hour early.

Getting to Laguna Miramar via San Quentin will involve at least a day of travel from any of the major cities in Chiapas. In most cases it will involve riding in a "colectivo," a van or pickup truck with an open air cage in the back. Traveling by collectivo through the jungle is an experience in and of itself.

  • Ocosingo to San Quentin (70 pesos) - There are several "colectivos" that leave from around the corner from Ocosingo's main market early in the morning. If arriving in Ocosingo on the major bus lines it is best to take a taxi (25 pesos) directly to the colectivo garage. Pickups leave as they fill up, the first departing around 9:00AM, with others leaving periodically after that for a few hours. The schedule is variable, so arrive early. The ride takes around 6 hours and drivers may stop along the way for a snack and bathroom break. Upon arriving in San Quentin it is a 1km walk to Emiliano Zapata, although most drivers will drop you off directly at the visitor's center for an extra fee. The ride is very beautiful, ranging from alpine forests, towering mountains with high cliffs, jungle rivers, Maya villages, Zapatista strong holds and Mexican military outposts.
  • Ocosingo to San Quentin by Airplane - There is an airport located on the way to the Maya ruins of Toniná that offers flights to San Quentin for an unknown price.
  • Comitan to Las Margaritas to San Quentin - Las Margaritas is located a short distance from Comitan (under 10km). It is possible to take a local Comitan collectivo to Las Margaritas where a colectivo departs several times early in the morning. The trip from Las Margaritas to San Quentin should be about 6 hours.
  • Las Nubes - Supposedly, it is possible to go to the Jungle waterfall of Las Nubes located near the Lagos de Montebello and take a river boat 2 hours into the Lacondon jungle from where it is possible to catch a colectivo to Emiliano Zapata. It may be best to have the staff at Emiliano Zapata arrange this. The cost is not fixed, ranging from 800-2000 pesos for the boat (split between all passengers).
  • Tours - It is possible to arrange a tour to Laguna Miramar in San Cristobal de Las Casas for around $400 USD usually requiring a minimum of 4 persons. If you ask in San Cristobal de Las Casas about getting to Laguna Miramar you will be told (incorrectly) this is the only way to reach the lake.

Fees/Permits[edit]

Lakeside Shelter "Palapa"

All fees and services are negotiated and paid in cash in pesos in advance at the visitor's center in Emiliano Zapata. Once you arrive you should be greeted by "El Presidente de Tourismo," be sure that you are negotiating directly with him. You will be given receipts upon payment which must be presented to the guard at the lake. Should you decide to add additional services once at the lakeside, you will have to pay the guard upfront.

Fee/Service 2014 Price (pesos) Detail
Reserve Fee 50/person/day
Cabin Rental 130/person/night visitor's center only
Hammock Rental 40/person/night visitors center & lakeside
Small Tent Rental 200/night lakeside only
Large Tent Rental 400/night lakeside only
Horse Rental 200/horse/direction can carry people or baggage
Guided Boat Tour 400/boat two 3-hour tours available
Canoe/Kayak Rental 100/boat/hour discounts for multiple hours

If you want to see the Mayan ruins at the lake, be sure to talk to El Presidente about this while you are in Emiliano Zapata. The ruins are located in the village of Benito Juarez's section of the lake. Benito Juarez is a pro-Zapatista village and as such is not interested in cooperating with Emiliano Zapata's ecotourism project, but it is possible for arrangements to be made, but "El Presidente" will have to make the arrangements before the guide leaves for the lake.

Activities[edit]

The jungle around Laguna Miramar

Single travellers and groups will both find a lot to do and see at Laguna Miramar, more than enough to fill a several day visit.

  • River Swimming at the Visitors Center: The center lies at the intersection of two rivers that feed the lake. In certain seasons, there is a rock-beach.
  • Boat Tour 1, "El Mirador, Dios de Agua, y Las Tres Islas": A three hour guided canoe trip around the right side of the lake. Highlights include wildlife sightseeing, climbing up to a scenic overlook, visiting ancient carvings, and a chance to swim near the lake's small islands.
  • Boat Tour 2, "Ceuva de Tortugas, La Cascada, Mano Pintado": A three hour guided canoe trip around the left side of the lake. Highlights include visiting a tortoise cave, hiking into the jungle to a small waterfall, and seeing Mayan wall paintings.
  • Boat Rental: Available lakeside, charged at hourly rates. Only certain portions of the lake are within the reserve, be sure to ask before venturing to outside communities.
  • Horseback Riding: Guided trip between the visitors center and the lakeside. After passing through village fields and pastures, you enter the reserve passing through creekbeds, hills, and a lightly forested area. A good way to avoid the 2 hour walk to the lakeside, especially in the heat of the day.
  • Swimming at the Lake: There is a sand beach that rings the lake. Lifejackets are available lakeside.
  • Additional Guided Activities: The local guides seem willing to accomodate special requests for village visits or wildlife tours.
  • The remote village of Nuevo Galilea: Not included in the standard guided visit options, a visit here may be possible. Would require a guide, canoe and 2 days.
  • Other Mayan ruins around the lake

Buy[edit]

  • Not much to buy out there. They do produce several different variations of Emiliano Zapata organic coffee.

Eat[edit]

Food and supplies are limited in Emiliano Zapata and San Quentin. It is best and more cost effective to purchase all supplies in your city of departure before getting in a colectivo for Laguna Miramar.

  • San Quentin: One small fruit and vegetable shop with limited produce, several typical dry goods stores, and some meat grilling shacks.
  • Emiliano Zapata: There are several houses that have been converted into "restaurants", i.e. a woman cooking over an open flame with a selection of eggs or carne asada.
  • Lakeside: No food or drink available for purchase. BRING ENOUGH WATER!

There is some dispute as to whether alcohol is allowed in Emiliano Zapata. To put this to rest, you can purchase beer at the local shops in Emiliano Zapata, so if you want to travel with some Tequila to Emiliano Zapata it is not a problem.

Sleep[edit]

Visitors Center[edit]

There is a large main shelter building with tables and chairs to accomodate large groups, public bathrooms and showers with running water, and a number of furnished cabins with electricity available for rent. Additionally, hammocks may be rented and hung in the main shelter building.

Lakeside[edit]

There are 2 outdoor shelter buildings equipped with a fire pit, basic cookware (upon request), and spots to hang hammocks. Camping spots are available beachside and under the shelters. It is warm enough to sleep right on the beach if you don't mind bugs. There are two pit-toilets and two outdoor showers with running water. Drinking water is not available. A guard is present at all times.

Fire - you can create a camp fire out at the lake. The wood is a bit damp but does eventually light.

Backcountry[edit]

There is a very remote Maya village called Nuevo Galilea located across the lake and a 2 hours hike into the jungle. The Maya paddle with their whole families in canoes across the lake to the trail head for Emiliano Zapata in order to purchase supplies. A trip to Nueva Galilea with a guide might be spectacular.

Stay safe[edit]

  • Don't take pictures of the military
  • The locals don't like their picture taken, so ask first. You may seriously upset them by taking their picture without asking permission.
  • There is some minor hostility from the Zapatista villages, so if going to one, do so during daylight hours.
  • Torrential rains during the rainy season may make road conditions dangerous.



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