This massive city, rediscovered in 1926 and photographed from the air in 1930, but only recently the focus of ongoing excavations, holds great promise both as a tourism destination rivaling the magnitude of Tikal  and as an important piece in the puzzle concerning the advancements of Preclassic Maya society.
El Mirador flourished between 200 B.C. and A.D. 150, (about 1,000 years before Tikal), and has revealed a greater level of sophistication than once thought concerning early Mayan society. It is thought to have been home to 80,000 people at the height of its occupation. Its sheer size and the earliness of its development have earned it accolades, such as the “Cradle of Mayan Civilization.”
The site sits on a series of limestone hills at an altitude of just over 240 meters (800 feet) and occupies about 16 square kilometers. El Mirador’s dominating feature is the presence of two large pyramid complexes, El Tigre and La Danta, running east to west and facing each other. The architecture is characterized by triadic structures composed of one large temple pyramid flanked on either side by two smaller pyramids, a pattern that is repeated elsewhere in the Preclassic sites of the Mirador basin.
The base of the El Tigre Complex is as large as three football fields, while the large temple dominating the structure reaches 55 meters (180 feet) in height. The lower flanking pyramids contain gigantic stucco jaguar masks.
The city’s Central Acropolis takes the form of a narrow plaza bordered on one side by a series of small buildings. Moving south from the El Tigre Complex, you come to the Monos Complex, another triadic structure named after the howler monkeys tending to congregate in this area.
The colossal La Danta Complex lies to the east of the main plaza and Central Acropolis. Although technically lower than El Tigre, it rises to a height of 70 meters (230 feet) thanks to its elevated location on a hillside, making it the tallest structure in the Mayan world.
Its base is equally impressive. There are jaguar and vulture heads built into the sides of the smaller temples here and the spectacular views from the top of the pyramid afford views of nearby Mayan sites, including Nakbé and Calakmul .
Other interesting site features include the León Pyramid, at the northern edge of the city, and Structure 34—a Preclassic building with the oldest known Mayan standing wall.
Excavations are being done under the direction of UCLA’s Dr. Richard Hansen, who has led the Mirador Basin Project  aiming to protect the entire Mirador basin as an ecoarchaeological preserve. The preservation of its delicate monuments is being aided by technological advances, including housing structures under polycarbonate roofs designed by Hansen and his associates, so as to protect them from rain and ultraviolet light.
In 2009, Hansen and Guatemalan authorities unveiled the discovery of a frieze at El Mirador depicting a scene from a Mayan sacred book, the Popol Vuh, in which the mythical ‘Hero Twins’ visit the underworld. According to Hansen, the frieze lends further credence to the Popol Vuh,’s creation myth and its authenticity as a Mayan document, despite its first translation well into the Christian era in the 1700s. The frieze took three months to excavate and was found while archaeologists were looking for water reservoirs at the site.