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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.