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krisek Copan - A travel report by Krys
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Copan,  Honduras - flag Honduras -  Copán
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krisek's travel reports

Paris of the Maya people.

  14 votes
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Dubbed the Paris of the Maya, Copán is a magnificent and extremely picturesque site. It is like a great, and wild in places, green park complete with pyramids, temples, plazas, sports pitches, and little but richly decorated obelisks.

Copan travelogue picture
From the south of the country, there were two ways up to the Mayan ruins in Copán. One went right to the city of San Pedro Sula - the main road, the other went via Santa Bárbara, which was a lot better. It was shorter (about 30 kms), less used and in perfect condition. It was also in the mountains so the views were great. Then the road went in the valley of the river Río Grande de Otoro, right after Santa Bárbara so it made this route even more attractive.

Everything in Copán Ruinas, the quaint town, closest to the Mayan ruins, closed down around 10 pm, hotels, restaurants, bars, tourist offices. Hotels, yes, them too. So arrival at 11 pm didn’t help. There was however, an Indian boy wandering about the town, maybe even the Maya, totally inebriated, no – absolutely incommunicado, who helped. He was waving his hands in so many different directions that I didn’t realise a human being was actually able to do that! He was also completely stoned, bloody good job he spoke some English because I wouldn’t be able to understand any of his dialectic Spanish. It was again an interesting situation. Square of a small town with narrow cobble stoned streets, tidy, spotless, quiet, in the middle of the night – almost midnight. No-one in the streets, not even a smallest noise from anywhere. Street lanterns adding ambience to the tranquillity. It was kind of cool, in the jungle, so close to the Maya temples, but surprisingly civilised, and the perspective of spending the night in the poor Mitsubishi didn’t actually bother me at all.

Nevertheless, the assistance from the boy came in handy. For about a half an hour, he had been repeatedly stating that the Hotellito Turista was still open and that they had rooms available. Well, it wasn’t actually open, but he woke up the owners. The place was actually quite nice; TV set, hot water (at least until 8 am there was some water), hammocks in a small patio in the middle of the hotel. Secure parking inside. Wicked!

Favourite spots:
Copan travelogue picture
The ruins of Copán ($15) have been described as the Maya’s Paris. Situated in a deep valley, hidden among the mountains, close to the Guatemalan border, they were an extraordinary link in the chain of ancient Maya centres that swept south from the Yucatan peninsula. While some other Maya ruins were larger like those in Guatemalan Tikal or Mexican Chichén Itzá, no site could match the Copán’s magnificent carvings and decorations left by the rulers. The temples were richly decorated with statues, some scary, some funny, some... hmm... intriguing. Some were colourful, some were grey. Even pyramid steps were complete with intricate carvings and writings. And there were the stelae richly decorated to tell certain stories.

The area was still astoundingly large. There was temple after temple, and when you thought this was the end of the ancient town, there was still more behind this small hill, that bunch of bushes.

My favourite spot among the ruins was the Pyramid 16 - more details below.

What's really great:
Copan travelogue picture
Copán made a great impression. The main path from the entrance led directly to the Plaza Mayor in the middle of which there was a small pyramid surrounded by stelae – Maya sculptures, carved from all sides. They represented Mayan kings and gods.

It was awesome that it was possible to climb the temples, pyramids and tombs. Some people even brought their own picnics, climbed on top of a temple or pyramid and contemplated the view, soaking in the secrecy of the place.

The Maya were very particular about their temples. Every new king or ruler would completely destroy all the temples of the previous one and build new ones in their place. The life expectancy then was around 30-40 years, but few kings were known to had lived longer than 60 years, so the temples were never getting old. The style however was changing throughout the centuries. Now, it is quite difficult to see that because the constructions that stand today were all built around the same time and date from AD 600 – AD 900.

Under the Pyramid 16, however, the archaeologists found another temple that must have been so important and universal to the Maya that they spared it. They named it Rosalila and it was a wonderful monument, very colourful, but the most astonishing fact was that it was different than all the other monuments. A humongous contrast! Well, there it was. Two different temples of the same culture, the colourful one was the Rosalila, or rather a replica of it that had been moved into the onsite museum. The other one was rather barren stone pyramid. Sure, it should not be this strange at all that they were so different. In Europe, there are great examples of differences in architecture. For Copán we are talking about a period spanning three thousand years. It was quite long enough to develop different styles, have many different ideas, etc. Right? And yet, I was still getting excited about the different styles that the Maya had or perhaps that it was possible to appreciate them there.

Copan travelogue picture
The closest place to stay around the Maya site was the charming little town of Copán Ruinas. It had a few good, cheap and cheerful hosteles and posadas (for example: Posada Honduras; Iguana Azul; Los Gemelos - all about $8-$15; or Hotel California $10-$18) but there were many people who rented rooms or ran petite hotels. The one I was lucky to stay at, Hotellito Tourista (actually I am not sure it was its real name and I forgot to check) was quite decent and good value at $10 for an ensuite twin, although the owners were a little shy, for some reason. But it was safe. The family kept the venue locked behind a solid iron gate. For security reasons, all hotels closed their gates and doors at 10 pm. When I visited, it wasn’t entirely safe in the area.

Copan travelogue picture
For the same reason, there was no nightlife either. The entire town was going to bed. It was spooky. For nightlife, one would have to go to the much larger San Pedro Sula, 2 hours drive away. Yes, it was busy and there were many people around in the streets but I didn’t like Pedro, anyway. I only went there to drop the rental car and to take a flight to El Salvador. I arrived late after sunset and got up before sunrise.

Copan Ruinas Church
Copan Ruinas Church
A cafe/restaurant called Carnitas Nia Lola was the closest place to a hangout in Copán Ruinas, frequented by the locals, who would stop there for a chat, fried chicken ($5), margaritas or beers($0.75). People told me that the place often invited bands to play live. But I didn’t experience this myself, so cannot confirm.

The central park in the town was a good place for a meeting point. A few macaw parrots invaded the palm trees there making noise and dropping their bombs on people’s heads. But there was not much to do there apart from people watching and bargaining with the locals for accommodation and escapades to the jungle and hot springs.

Copan travelogue picture
Tunkun Restaurante serving a few varieties of fajitas ($6) complemented Carnitas Nia Lola as one of the better places to eat. However, I stepped into the Vamos a Ver an eatery, which was more of a bakery than a restaurant, which tended to specialise in Italian dishes. Although I didn’t risk any of those lasagnes, though. Anyway, the place was clean and the food was good.

When I browsed through some other restaurants, cafe and bars, it seemed to me that all had similar dishes on offer (apart from Vamos a Ver) and at similar prices from $5-$6 for a main dish. Some of the simpler venues did cheap but interesting sandwiches for about $1.

Other recommendations:
Copan travelogue picture
Aguas Calientes, closer to the Guatemalan border, was a popular spot with hot springs, hence the name. It was attractive, I’ve heard, but an escapade there was extremely dangerous. There were several horror stories in a few languages hung on the wall in the post office in Copán Ruinas telling how tourists were attacked by bandits in the jungle, how people’s hands were cut off with a machete. Spooky but apparently true. Keep off or organise a strong squad, that was the suggestion. I didn’t go but if I did, I would have complied.

Published on Thursday March 13th, 2008

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Wed, Nov 19 2008 - 01:12 PM rating by frenchfrog

Great report, I shall print it and take it with on my trip to Guatemala. Very inspiring! You provided a lot of deatils and facts. I wish I could give you 6* but I can't! You pictures are also amazing! (I love the parot!). This is a text book report it can not be more perfect. Well done!

Sun, Jun 08 2008 - 12:32 PM rating by eirekay

Krys, this is my next Mayan destination! Beautiful report and your photos really sell it!

Wed, Mar 19 2008 - 03:59 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Glad you got there. Tikal, Copan and Palenque were my favourite Maya places in Central America.

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:28 PM rating by alfonsovasco

amazing excellent report written like a master

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 05:23 AM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 04:57 AM rating by akhila


Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 02:42 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

nice report and interesting to know the pyramid part ,great pictures too.

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