Copan Ruinas, or Copán as its more commonly known, is a small, pretty town in Honduras close to the Guatemala border. It is on the tourist map due to the Mayan archaeological site 1km from the centre of town. As a first impression, it made me want to explore more of Honduras, one of the countries in Central America where few people seem to visit. Read on to find out more about Honduras, and Copan Ruinas.
Things to do in Copan
Copan Ruinas Maya Ruins
The main attraction in Copan is the Maya ruins. They are unique amongst other Maya sites for their spectacular stelae, carved statues which have been remarkably well preserved. Entry to the park is quite expensive compared to the rest of town. I paid $15 USD for 1-day entrance to the main archaeological park, which also includes access to the Sepulturas.
Inside the park there are two tunnels that you can enter, but only if you pay an extra $15 USD. Additional items like the museum in town means that to see everything it would set you back $50 USD. On a budget as ever, I skipped the extras and just paid the $15 USD standard entry fee. I was satisfied with my choice, but later saw photos of the shrine inside one of the tunnels and wished I had seen it. Is it worth paying the extra fee for the Copan tunnels? If you are remotely claustrophobic I would say no, as one of the tunnels is 120 metres long. There is more than enough to keep you occupied with the standard entry fee, but real history buffs might want to splash out. You can also pay for a tour guide in the park for reasonable rates if you pair up with other travellers.
As you enter Copan Ruins park, there are feeding stations for the resident scarlet macaws. These endangered birds were released here at the ruins as part of the Guaras en Libertad (Macaws in Freedom) program to rescue, breed and release rare birds like the macaws back to the Copan Valley. You can see the birds flying free around the park, a welcome site in an ancient place where the birds were clearly revered. There is macaw imagery all around the Copan Ruins, from the macaw heads carved into ‘goals’ on the ball court, to feathers in the headdresses of the gods in the stelae.
Copan’s grounds are similar to other Maya sites, but they lack the focal point of Tikal and Chichen Itza for example. The intricate stelae though are more than enough to make up for this, as is the beautifully carved staircase on which every stone is shaped with a glyph, with statues of the Mayan kings in the centre, leading up to the top.
I spent a morning exploring the ruins, resting in the shade where I could and enjoying watching the birds. During the afternoon, or the next morning you should visit Macaw Mountain Bird Park, the reserve which breeds and releases the macaws at Copan.
Macaw Mountain Bird Park
This wonderful project and preservation centre is a 20 Lempira tuk tuk ride out of town. You can walk if you prefer, but with the heat & chance of rain later I cheated & hopped in a tuk tuk at the main square. The entry price is $10 USD for foreigners, and you enter (and exit) through the expensive gift shop. There is a free guide service provided, although in places I felt a little rushed, so after the tour I walked around the park again by myself to see anything I’d missed and to simply enjoy the birds.
Macaw Mountain is made up of aviaries for different types of birds which have been rescued and are in the process of rehabilitation, recovery and, in some cases like the macaws, are in a large aviary where the birds can mix together and hopefully find a mate to breed with. The park hopes that every bird will eventually be able to cope in the wild, although some simply wouldn’t survive out of captivity. These birds are used to educate the public and to breed more of the endangered species such as the scarlet macaw. At the end of the tour we also had a photo opportunity where some of the macaws were plonked on our arms & head for a photograph. I had mixed feelings about this, and would prefer to just see the birds hanging out doing their own thing, but other people loved it. Overall the park is definitely worth a visit, and the entry fee will go towards the upkeep of the birds, and the breeding & release programme.
Other things to do in Copan
The Tea & Chocolate Place
Museum & research centre first, café second, The Tea & Chocolate Place offers information about re-forestation projects they have initiated, and the unique products they make only from what they have grown in Copan. Have a chat with one of the family members who will explain more about the plants they are returning to the area, and the new strains they have introduced to help with soil erosion, and the products they make, including cosmetics, soaps and teas. Try one of their teas, or hot chocolate and take a piece of cheesecake while you’re at it!
This museum in an old jail has a little museum inside, Casa K’inich and you can climb up the towers for a nice view of the town. It’s ok to pass the time for an hour, and kids will enjoy the interactive exhibits although it feels a little dated.
Museo de Arqueologia Maya & Museo Digital
In the Central Park, you can visit these museums separately or as part of the extended Copan Ruins tickets.
How to Get to Copan Ruinas
From Antigua, there are shuttles that take around 6-7 hours direct to Copan. Unfortunately, they leave Antigua at the unearthly hour of 4am, and it is practically impossible to sleep on the shuttle buses as you are crammed in together without headrests, and the drivers usually fling around corners at break-neck speed. That said, it is still the easiest & most convenient option, and with the shuttle from Antigua to Copan costing just 150Q (around $20US) it isn’t going to break the bank either.
From elsewhere in Honduras, the nearest large transport hub is San Pedro Sula, around 3 hours away from Copan. There you will find connecting buses from La Ceiba, Tegucigalpa and Nicaragua among others.
How Long to Spend in Copan?
Many travellers just pass through on their way elsewhere, but if you have enough time I highly recommend at least two nights here. This is particularly true in rainy season when most afternoons suffer tropical downpours.
I arrived in Copan at lunchtime, after taking the shuttle from Antigua. I had some lunch in the main square then slept for a while. Some hardcore travellers were planning to go straight to the ruins when they got off the bus, and heading off again the next morning. I, however, like to sleep, so planned to spend three nights here.
Where to stay in Copan
There are several hostels and hotels in Copan Ruinas to choose from, but I highly recommend the Cuna Maya Hotel. I stayed there for four nights and loved it. Run by a friendly family, the room was small but clean with a private bathroom and included breakfast for not much more than the price of a dorm bed. Contact them through their facebook page.
Have you been to Copan? Anything I missed?
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