Copán archaeological site

Photographs of the excavation work and a maquette of the site are located in a small exhibition room at the visitor centre. There is a cafetería by the entrance to the ruins, and also a handicrafts shop, in the Parque Arqueológico, next to the bookshop, with local and country maps, and a Spanish/English guide book for the ruins, which is rather generalized.

The magnificent ruins of Copán are one of Central America's major Maya sites, certainly the most significant in Honduras, and they mark the southeastern limit of Maya dominance. Just 1 km from the village, there is a path beside the road from Copán to the ruins which passes two stelae en route. Get to the ruins as early as possible, or stay late in the day so you have a chance to be there without hordes of people.

Museo de Escultura Maya

The impressive and huge two-storey Museo of Maya Sculpture and sculpture park houses the newly excavated carvings. In the middle of the museum is an open-air courtyard with a full-size reproduction of the Rosalila temple, found intact buried under Temple 16 with its original paint and carvings . A reproduction of the doorway to Temple 16 is on the upper floor. The new museum houses the original stelae to prevent weather damage, while copies will be placed on site. More than 2000 other objects found at Copán are also in the museum. It is essential to visit the museum before the ruins. Good explanations in Spanish and English. The exit leads to the ruins via the nature trail.

Archaeological site

When John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood examined the ruins in 1839, they were engulfed in jungle. Stephens, a lawyer, and Catherwood, an architect, were the first English-speaking travellers to explore the regions originally settled by the Maya. They are credited with recording the existence of many of the ruins in the Maya area. Some of the finest examples of sculpture from Copán are now in London and Boston.

In the 1930s, the Carnegie Institute cleared the ground and rebuilt the Hieroglyphic Stairway, and since then the ruins have been maintained by the government. Some of the most complex carvings are found on the 21
, or 3-m columns of stones on which the passage of time was originally believed to have been recorded. Under many of the stelae was a vault; some have been excavated. The stelae are deeply incised and carved with faces, figures and animals. There are royal portraits with inscriptions recording deeds and the lineage of those portrayed as well as dates of birth, marriage and death. Ball courts were revealed during excavation, and one of them has been fully restored. The
Hieroglyphic Stairway
leads up a pyramid; its upper level supported a temple. Its other sides are still under excavation. The stairway is covered for protection, but a good view can be gained from the foot and there is access to the top via the adjacent plaza. After Hurricane Mitch, the
Rosalila Temple
, in Temple 16, was opened to the public, as were other previously restricted excavations, in an effort to attract more visitors. The Rosalila and Jaguar tunnels below the site are now open to visitors at additional cost. Much fascinating excavation work is now in progress, stacks of labelled carved stones have been placed under shelters, and the site looks like it is becoming even more interesting as new buildings are revealed. The most atmospheric buildings are those still half-buried under roots and soil. The last stela was set up in Copán between AD 800 and 820, after less than five centuries of civilized existence. The nearby river has been diverted to prevent it encroaching on the site when in flood.

Also near the ruins is a
sendero natural
(nature trail) through the jungle to the minor ball court; take mosquito repellent. The trail takes 30 minutes and has a few signposts explaining the plants, animals and spirituality of the forest to the Maya. About 4 km from the main centre is the ceremonial site known as
Los Sapos
 (The Toads), a pre-Classic site with early stone carvings. The toad was a Maya symbol of fertility. East of the main ruins near Los Sapos is a stone,
Estela 12
, which lines up with another,
Estela 10
, on the other side of the valley at sunrise and sunset on 12 April every year. Horse rides to Los Sapos can be arranged through
Yaragua Tours

One kilometre beyond the main ruins, along the road to San Pedro Sula, or connected by a new stone path from the main site, is an area called
Las Sepulturas
, a residential area where ceramics dating back to 1000 BC have been found. Exhibits from the site are on display in the Copán Museum. It is a delightful site, beautifully excavated and well maintained, peaceful and in lovely surroundings.

Around Copán Ruinas

There are many caves around Copán to visit - some of which have unearthed Maya artefacts. Ask locally or check with Yaragua Tours . Also here, and in the neighbouring part of Guatemala, are a few remaining Chorti indigenous villages, interesting to visit, particularly on 1 November, Día de Los Muertos, when there are family and communal ceremonies for the dead.

After all the trekking has exhausted you, a trip to the thermal springs
Agua Caliente
, will be just what you need.

Also try the
Macaw Mountain
, a unique ecotourism project incorporating Honduras' largest bird park with parrots, toucans and macaws. Tour of the coffee
, riverside restaurant serving good, hearty food, visitor centre, river swimming, highly recommended. Ten minutes from the town centre.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
Products in this Region

Honduras Handbook

Sliced, spliced and spread across a mountainous interior, Honduras is a collection of chaotic Latin...

Central America Handbook

The Central America isthmus is home to exuberant swathes of rainforest and a tapestry of cultures....
PDF Downloads

  No PDFs currently available

Digital Products

Available NOW!