When travelling through Guatemala there’s hardly anyone talking about visiting the Mayan ruins of Copán in Honduras. Which is strange because with close proximity to the Guatemalan border they are easy to add to the itinerary. Maybe it’s because most people think they’re not worth visiting after having already seen the more majestic temples of Tikal. We ignored everything we heard and read about it and went anyway. And we’re glad we did!
Because Copán Ruinas, as the town next to the archeological site is named, has so much more to offer. To begin with the town itself. It’s a jewel. With its colorful buildings, cobblestone streets and cosy plaza it’s a kind of miniature version of Antigua. Without the crowds and the high prices.
Of course, Copán is the one of the top sights of Honduras and, sure, there are tourist shops, travel agencies and the like. But at least a lot less than uber-touristy Antigua. It’s small, friendly and pleasant. And surrounded by beautiful cloud forests.
The main attraction is obviously the archeological park. But Copán Ruinas also offers a beautiful bird park, natural hot springs and horseback riding, to name a few. We decided to cram as much into our two-day visit as possible and had a great time. Here’s what we went to see…
Mayan Ruins of Copán
Now this one probably doesn’t really come as a surprise. On the first morning we join the guided tour organised from our hostel. Together with Julio, our guide, and four other guests we walk to the archeological site which is just outside the town. On the way we already see some of the sculptures that Copán is famous for.
Copán was one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilization and served as the political and cultural center of the southeast part of the Mayan area. Next to its temples, plazas and altars it specially interesting because of the many hieroglyphs and sculptural monuments. In short, this is where you find ancient Mayan art. Or, as Julio describes it, if Tikal was New York then Copán was Paris. Nice comparison.
When we enter the park we are welcomed by a large group of macaws, a nice surprise and a real bonus. We walk through the park and by means of the sculptures Julio explains about the many kings that ruled here. As always I immediately forget about most of them. The one that bears in mind though is Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil or, easier, Eighteen Rabbit, the 13th king who ruled during the most successful period. He was the great patron of the arts and as a result we see many representations of him in the hieroglyphs.
With archeological sites I always find it difficult to imagine what life was like at that time. But because of Julio’s vivid explanations, the sculptures and the painted illustrations throughout the park Copán comes more alive than any of the other sites I visited before. The Copán ruins surprise me and I find them more interesting than I thought I would.
Macaw Mountain Bird Park
In the morning of day two we visit Macaw Mountain bird park which is a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride out of town. The setting is beautiful in a garden full of exotic plants where you can walk on stone footpaths along a small rushing river.
There are macaws, parrots, toucans and owls flying around in huge, humanely constructed cages. A couple of those are walk-through enclosures to see the birds up close.
If the fact that these birds are held in captivity bother you, then remind that most of them are rescued animals or former pets and the park is there to rehabilitate and release them back in the wild. If possible. They also have a breeding program to reintroduce the macaws back in their natural habitat. So it’s not just a zoo but they are actually doing a great job.
We arrived at around 9 and had the whole park to ourselves. You need about 2 hours to complete the round. In the end a caretaker gives you the opportunity to hold some of the macaws (they’re heavy!) and take pictures. Be careful with any necklaces, bracelets or buttons. These birds are of the demolishing kind 🙂
Luna Jaguar Aguas Termales
In the afternoon we leave for the natural hot spring spa about 24 km north of town. That seems not so far but once again this is on a rough dirt road so it still takes about 90 minutes to get there. Bouncing in the minivan it reminds me a bit of our trip to Semuc Champey. Which makes you wonder whether it’s worth the effort.
But wow! It sure is!
The hot springs consist of man-made cascading pools and waterfalls which are scattered on a hillside in the midst of the jungle and connected by stone footpaths. These pools are fed by 90 degree celsius hot water that emerges from a volcanic spring. The jungle is left as natural as possible and Mayan statues dot the area which adds to the atmosphere.
The water from the spring is mixed with colder water (from the river I assume) to create pools with temperatures ranging from 25 to 42 degrees celsius. We alternate hot and cold baths, do the seven rounds of “foot massage”, take a natural steam bath and scrub off one-and-a-half year of travel dust with rejuvenating mud.
But most of all we enjoy the natural beauty of this place. It’s truly an amazing spot.
Getting There: We took the bus from Flores to Chiquimula (90 GTQ/9,80 EUR), then a minibus to the border (20 GTQ/2,20 EUR) and another minibus to Copán Ruinas (20 HNL/0,90 EUR). There are also shuttles to/from Antigua (15 to 20 EUR one way).
Sleeping: We stayed at Hostal Berakah run by the friendly Fernando. A double room with private bathroom is 500 HNL / 21 EUR. Later we found out that ViaVia has double rooms for 10 USD. But next to a disco club so bring earplugs.
Tours & Entrance Fees:
- Entrance fee Copán Ruinas Archeological Park: 15 USD. Extra for the tunnels (15 USD) and museum (7 USD)
- Guided tour for the ruins: 10 USD (booked at Hostal Berakah)
- Macaw Mountain bird park: 10 USD (including one way transport, booked at ViaVia)
- Luna Jaguar Aguas Termales: 22 USD (including transport, booked at ViaVia)
When travelling to Honduras, Copán Ruinas will almost certain be on your itinerary since it’s one of the highlights of the country. If you’re travelling to Guatemala I can strongly recommend putting it on your list.
I would even dare to say that’s Copán Ruinas is equally good as Semuc Champey…