23/04/2024

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Mayan Ruins Travel Guide • The World Travel Guy

12 min read
Mayan Ruins Travel Guide • The World Travel Guy

The ancient city of Copan was one of the most important cities for the Maya civilization in Central America, and today ‘Copan Ruinas’ is one of the best Mayan ruins you can see in Honduras!

On a visit to Copan, you can see the intricate carvings, temples, and ruins surrounded by jungle, and there are even colorful parrots flying around in the trees! This place was home to the Mayans for more than a thousand years, and it was only rediscovered in the 16th century.

The archaeological site of Copan Ruinas sits next to a quaint but modern town of the same name, and you can go there on a day trip (or longer) from San Pedro Sula in Honduras, as well as from other places in Central America, including Guatemala or El Salvador.

This travel guide will explain how to get to Copan Ruinas by bus or tour, what to expect when visiting the Mayan ruins, how to see the parrots, and everything else you need to know before you go!

 

Where Is Copan Located?

Copan Ruinas is a town located in western Honduras, near the border of Guatemala. The Mayan ruins of the same name are located just outside of town.

The distance to Copan Ruinas town from San Pedro Sula is only about 180 kilometers (110 mi) as the crow flies, but the drive takes at least 4 hours because of the winding, bumpy roads.
 

How To Get To Copan Ruinas Honduras

The best way to get to the town of Copan Ruinas is by bus, car, or tour.

Unfortunately, there’s no airport to fly directly to Copan Ruinas. The Honduran government built an airport there in 2015, but it was never opened.

The closest place you can fly in Honduras is San Pedro Sula (code: SAP), otherwise it’s also possible to visit Copan Ruinas overland from Guatemala or El Salvador. You can shop for flights in Central America on Skyscanner.

From Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula, you can take the Hedman Alas bus to Copan Ruinas. It’s non-stop and air-conditioned. Reviews are mixed about their service quality, so don’t expect luxury, but it’s the cheapest way to get to Copan Ruinas, and at least it seems to be safe.

You can buy bus tickets on the Hedman Alas website.

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Copan Ruinas Honduras — Mayan ruins

The other option for getting to Copan Ruinas is to rent a car and drive yourself, or hire a private driver to take you there.

I wouldn’t recommend self driving unless you’re already familiar with driving in Central America. The roads to Copan Ruinas are rough, with lots of potholes and less than stellar drivers.

Trifinio Tours can provide one way transfers to the town of Copan Ruinas from San Pedro Sula, as well as from places in Guatemala or El Salvador, although this only makes sense if you plan to stay in the town for more than a day or two.

Otherwise, a day tour package can be one of the easiest and most efficient ways to visit Copan Ruinas, because it includes all of the transport and everything else you need to go see the ruins and then get on your way. I’ll list some good tour options below.

No matter how you choose to get to Copan Ruinas, it’s also a good idea to hire a local guide to show you around the Mayan ruins and explain everything you’re looking at. The whole experience is more valuable that way!

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Copan Ruinas is famous for its intricate carvings

 

Best Copan Ruinas Tours

Here are some good options if you want to visit Copan Ruinas with a tour package:

We’ve used Viator and GetYourGuide for lots of tours and activities around the world, and they’re great. Highly recommended!

 

How To Get To The Mayan Ruins At Copan

Once you arrive in the town of Copan Ruinas, it’s easy to get to the Mayan ruins. They’re just a short distance outside of town, approximately one kilometer from the Copan Ruinas town center.

You can walk to the ruins from town in about 15 minutes, or you can hire a tuk-tuk taxi to drop you off there for a couple US Dollars. I think the tuk-tuk is the best way to go because it’s so cheap and easy.

Alternatively, if you booked a tour for Copan Ruinas, they’ll take you straight to the ruins so you can get started sightseeing right away.
 

Copan Mayan Ruins: What To Expect

The ruins of Copan are spread over a fairly large area in the archaeological park, with temples, statues, staircases, tunnels, residential areas, a ball court, and even a cemetery and museum.

You can see the main highlights of the park in about 2 hours or so, although if you really enjoy Mayan history and take the time to see the museum and tunnels at Copan, then I’m sure you could spend much longer.

The whole area is easily walkable. Most of the time, you’ll be walking on grass or flat rock. Just watch your step if you climb the stairs, because some of them are rough and uneven.

While other Mayan ruins like Tikal and Chichen Itza are mainly known for their impressive buildings, the Copan ruins are full of wonderful carvings and ancient hieroglyphics!

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Lizard face in the Mayan ruins

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

The ball court at Copan

 

• Best Things To See At Copan Ruinas

  • Monument Plaza. This grassy open plaza is one of the first things you’ll see when you enter the archaeological park. It has a bunch of amazing Mayan statues spread out around the area, and there’s a pyramid shaped platform you can climb for better views of Copan.
  • Ball Court. Mesoamericans loved their ball games, so naturally there’s a ball court at Copan. This is one of the biggest ball courts ever built by the Mayans. Later on, don’t forget to look down at the ball court from above at the acropolis. It’s one of the most iconic photos of Copan Ruinas!
  • Hieroglyphic Stairway. This stone staircase has 63 steps and 1,800 glyphs, making it the longest known hieroglyphic text of the Mayan civilization. The text is still being reconstructed today.
  • Acropolis. The acropolis was the heart of Copan. It’s divided into an east and west court with lots of stone carvings, statues, and severed heads from statues that have fallen. Some of these figures are not very obvious at first, so take your time or you might miss them!
Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Statue of an ancient Maya ruler at Copan Ruinas

 

• Parrots At Copan Ruinas

You can see lots of amazing red parrots at Copan Ruinas! These are scarlet macaws, the national bird of Honduras, and they like to hang out in the trees near the entrance of the archaeological park.

The birds are wild, so please remember not to touch or feed them. They have sharp beaks and I’m sure they could do some damage if they wanted. They also need a special diet to stay healthy like in the wild.

As long as you don’t bother them, the parrots at Copan Ruinas are very relaxed, and it’s easy to get up close to them and take some great pictures. They can be seen anywhere in the ruins, but near the entrance is generally the best place to spot them.

If you want to see even more parrots in Honduras, you can check out the Macaw Mountain Bird Park, which is just a short distance north of Copan Ruinas town.

Copan Ruinas Honduras Red Parrot Macaw

You can see lots of parrots at Copan Ruinas

Copan Ruinas Honduras Red Parrot Macaw

Scarlet macaw in the treetops

 

• Entrance Fees

  • Archaeological Site: $15 USD (370 Honduran lempira)
  • Tunnels (Optional): $15 USD
  • Museum (Optional): $7 USD
  • Guide (Optional): $30 – $40 USD per group

Nowadays, you can pay the Copan Ruinas entrance fee with cash or credit card. I used a foreign Visa credit card with no issues.
 

• Opening Hours

The Mayan ruins are open seven days a week, every day of the year, from 8 AM to 5 PM. This includes the museum and tunnels.

Jungle

Jungle covered ruins

 

Best Time To Visit Copan Ruinas Honduras

Morning is the best time of day to visit Copan Ruinas because you can avoid some of the heat and crowds.

During the daytime, temperatures can reach 32° Celcius (90° Fahrenheit), so it’s much more pleasant to tour the ruins in the morning when it’s still relatively cool. When I started touring the ruins at about 9 AM, there were not too many tourists at all, but leaving later in the day was a very different story!

Any month is okay for visiting Copan Ruinas. The wet season in this part of Honduras runs from May to October, so you’re more likely to encounter rain in those months. However, it gives the ruins a nice green background of jungle foliage, so that’s a plus, especially if you plan to take pictures.

The dry season in Copan Ruinas runs from November to April, so these months have the best chance of nice, sunny weather. The temperatures are also a bit cooler and more manageable from November to January, with daytime highs of less than 26° Celcius (80° Fahrenheit).

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Wall detail near the ball court

 

History Of Copan Ruinas Honduras

Ancient Copán was inhabited by Central American people for more than 2,000 years, and it was a powerful capital city of the Mayans from the 5th to 9th centuries AD.

During this time, Copan thrived and became a cultural hotspot with advances in math, astronomy, and hieroglyphic writing. At its peak, more than 20,000 people lived in the Copan area, and their kingdom covered an area of over 250 square kilometers (100 sq mi).

For unknown reasons, Copan’s population declined majorly in the 8th and 9th centuries, and the kingdom gradually weakened and collapsed. Earthquakes and nature also took a toll on what was left of the buildings.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, Copan had already been long abandoned. The ruins were re-discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio, but Copan wasn’t excavated until the 19th century.

Since 1980, Copan is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding art, architecture, and historical significance. Today, it’s one of the best places to visit if you’re traveling in Honduras!

Carved Statue Face       Carved Statue

Carved Statue       Carved Statue
 
 

Is Copan Ruinas Safe?

Honduras doesn’t have a great reputation for safety, but the Copan Ruinas area is known as one of the safest parts of the mainland. That goes for the quaint little town of Copan Ruinas, as well as the actual Mayan ruins just outside of town.

People who go to Copan will tell you it’s a pretty safe place to visit, and I would have to agree based on my own experience as a solo traveler. I carried my Fuji camera and took lots of pictures at the Mayan ruins, but I kept it hidden discreetly in my bag when I was walking around town or at the ruins.

It’s true that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world, but apparently the bulk of this is from drug gangs fighting each other, and other violence in the big cities. Tourists are generally not the target. That doesn’t mean we’re immune to it, but the main place to be careful is in big cities like Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Lots of international tourists come to Copan Ruinas every year, and I haven’t heard of any recent reports of crime, robberies, or violence toward tourists. I will update this travel guide if anything changes. Overall, I think it’s pretty safe.

If you want some extra peace of mind, you could also bring a hidden travel belt (like this one on Amazon) and put some of your valuables in it. That’s what I did with my phone, cash, and credit cards on my first visit to Honduras.

Red Parrot Macaw

A friendly macaw walking the grounds at Copan

 

Other Tips For Copan Ruinas Honduras

  • Where To Stay: There are plenty of safe and comfortable hotels in Copan Ruinas town. I stayed at Hotel La Escalinata, which has a friendly owner, free breakfast, and jungle views from the terrace. Two other good options are Hostel Iguana Azul or Terramaya Boutique Hotel.
  • Where To Eat: There are lots of good restaurants to choose from in Copan town. My favorite was Los Asados near the town center, which has great food and huge portions! I got mixed meat with chicken, beef, and sausages, plus a side of plantains and refried beans. Some other good places to eat are Sol de Copán, Cafe Via Via, and Mayan Harvest cafe.
  • What To Wear: Dress for the tropics! Temperatures can be hot and humid here in the daytime, so you’ll want to have lightweight summer clothing. I wore shorts and flip flops. Just remember to dress modestly since Copan is an important place for the locals.
  • Currency: Some places accept credit cards, including the Mayan ruins, where you can use your card to pay the entrance fee. However, a lot of places in town are cash only, including many of the hotels and restaurants. Bring some cash in case you need it. You can pay in Honduran lempira or US dollars.
  • ATMs: If you run out of cash, there are banks with working ATMs in Copan Ruinas town.
Carved Statue

More carvings in the Copan acropolis

  • Tour Guides: There are always local guides for hire standing around at the entrance to the Copan archaeological park. Expect to pay around $30 – $40 USD per group, but the prices may vary depending on the size of your group.
  • Bathrooms: There are public toilets at the entrance to the park, but no bathrooms once you get to the ruins, so you’ll want to take care of business before you start touring the ruins.
  • Snacks & Drinks: There are little shops at the entrance to the park where you can buy snacks and drinks. I got some bottled water here after a long day of touring the ruins.
  • Cell Service: There is cell service at the Copan park if you need to make a phone call or send a text message. This is handy if you’re expecting a driver to pick you up after touring the ruins.
  • Drones: They don’t allow drones at the Mayan ruins. They’re pretty strict about this, so I wouldn’t recommend bringing a drone at all.
  • Bug Spray: I didn’t notice any bugs or mosquitoes at Copan during the dry season, but it’s still a good idea to apply bug spray just in case. This is especially true if you visit in the wet season, when there are likely to be more bugs. Malaria is not an issue at Copan. I would not take anti-malarials.
  • Wildlife: Obviously there are the parrots (scarlet macaws) at Copan Ruinas, and you can see many other kinds of colorful birds in the treetops as well. If you’re lucky, you might also see monkeys or other animals in the area.
Hieroglyphic Stairway Staircase

Hieroglyphic stairway

 

Is Copan Ruinas Worth It?

I enjoyed Copan Ruinas even though the drive was a bit long and tedious. I probably wouldn’t rank these Mayan ruins up there with something really epic like Tikal Guatemala, but I’ve already seen Tikal before, and this was something new.

One of the good things about the somewhat remote location of Copan is that it’s kept it from getting too touristy or crowded. I mean sure, there are plenty of comfortable hotels and restaurants, and you’ll probably see other international travelers when you visit, but the whole area is still quaint and it feels like you’re off the beaten path, which I liked.

Overall, if you enjoy archaeological sites, culture, history, and wildlife, then I think Copan Ruinas is definitely worth a visit!

Copan Ruinas Honduras Mayan Ruins

Monument plaza

 

More Things To Do In Copan Ruinas

If you’re looking for more things to do in the Copan Ruinas area, here are some ideas:

  • Macaw Mountain Bird Park. A nice conservation park where you can be close to some colorful birds! They have parrots, toucans, and other exotic birds.
  • Lunar Jaguar Hot Spring. Relaxing hot springs designed with a fun Mayan theme, and a scenic jungle setting.
  • The Tea & Chocolate Place. An educational place on the edge of town where you can sample and buy tea, chocolate, and hot sauce made in Honduras.
  • Museo de Arqueología Maya. An archaeological museum in the center of town with lots of Mayan items, including statues, skeletons, pots and plates, and other art pieces.

 

More Central America Travel Tips

Thanks for looking! I hope you enjoyed this travel guide for the Mayan ruins of Copan Ruinas in Honduras.

Don’t forget to check out my other travel blog posts for Central America and South America before you go!

Happy travels!

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