Copan Ruinas is one of the nicest places to visit in Honduras.
Surely Honduras is not on most travelers bucket list. Considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world (although it feels surprisingly safe for travelers), it doesn’t really know mass tourism. Yet, Honduras is packed with great places to visit – although not as famous as those of other places in Central America. This translates into very good deals, which makes it a great place to visit for just about anybody – including backpackers on a budget.
While most who visit Honduras head straight to the Caribbean coast and to islands to enjoy some of the best diving in the world, the small town of Copan Ruinas is definitely one of the places you should include in your trip, a perfect destination if you enjoy ancient history and archeology. It is a pleasant, small and tranquil little town and possibly the most traveler-oriented in Honduras.
In this post, I share the best things to see and do in Copan Ruinas and a few tips to help you plan your trip.
What To See And Do In Copan Ruinas
Copan Ruinas Archeological Site
The perfectly preserved ruins of Copan Ruinas, where one of the most prosperous Maya civilizations lived, are a must-see when in town. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980, the site was most likely built between 400 and 800 AD, and was the capital of the reign for a long time. At its peak, around 25000 people lived there – which for the time was an enormous amount of people.
The city fell in ruins when in AD 738 king Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil was killed by the king of Quiriguá. Following that, and also due to the lack of vital resources, the city was pretty much abandoned around 800 AD. It was only in 1975 that the ruins began to be properly excavated – and the excavations are indeed ongoing!
The Mayan Ruins of Copan now comprise more than 4500 structures spread across 24 square km. The main part of the site is known as the Principal Group and was meant to be the residence of the highest class. Another must see is Las Sepulturas, which is at about 1 km from the Principal Group and was meant to be a residential area of the Lenca indigenous groups, another prominent group. When discovered, researchers thought it was a cemetery (hence the name).
The main sights in Copan Ruinas Archeological Site are:
PRINCIPAL GROUP – This is the one you should visit first. You will see plazas, temples and the hyeroglyphs and stelaes Copan is famous for.
TEMPLE 16 – Built on top pf another temple known as Rosalila, or Temple of the Sun, is the only one you can climb, and from there the views of the site are stunning.
GREAT PLAZA – This is where you will see the famous stelae of 18 Rabbit – the 13th ruler of the reign of Copan.
HYEROGLYPHIC STAIRWAY – Located on Temple 26, it’s made of 26 steps whose carvings portray the history of Copan’s dynasty. The full meaning of the text is still being researched.
THE TUNNELS – The 4 km tunnels under the Acropolis will shed light into the earliest days of the city. Only the Rosa Lila (located under Temple 16) and Los Jaguares (which is more than 700 meters long and is where Galindo’s Tomb is located) tunnels are open to the public.
You also should make sure not to miss Copan Sculpture Museum, located at the entrance of the site and which will give you precious insights into what you are going to see.
OPENING HOURS – Copan Ruinas is open every day from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.
TICKETS AND GUIDED TOURS – Tickets to Copan Ruinas cost $15 USD and they include a visit of Las Sepulturas. There is an additional $15 USD fee to visit the Tunnels, for which a guide is required, and another $8 USD for the Museo de las Esculturas (Sculpture Museum).
HOW TO GET TO THE SITE – The site is at just 1 km east of town and you can walk there following sights. You can also get there by tuk tuk (it shouldn’t cost you more than $2 USD)
FURTHER TIPS – Keep your eyes open as the site is packed with wildlife and you can spot monkeys, macaws, sloths and guacamayas (large parrots). Make sure to bring water and wear a hat and sunblock.
Copan Ruinas town
Copan Ruinas town is beautiful. Picture cobblestone streets, white adobe buildings colonial churches; a lovely street market with lots and lots of good street food and some small souvenir shops, and you get the idea. One place you should not miss in town is the Museum of Archeology, aka the Museo Regional de Arqueologia Maya, for insightful information on the Mayan civilization.
Zip lining is one of the most fun things to do in Copan. With a 1 km line, it’s a perfect place if you are in search of a bit of adrenaline. It costs $35 USD.
Not far from the center of Copan, the Macaw Mountain is a great bird sanctuary, a safe shelter for rescued or donated Macaws. It will take you about one hour to explore it, and you can also visit the nearby coffee plantation and swimming hole.
PRACTICAL INFORMATION: Tickets cost $10 USD and are valid for 3 days.
GOOD TO KNOW: Just outside of town, you can also visit the Centro de Mariposas, a butterfly sanctuary.
At about an hour drive from Copan Ruinas, Agua Caliente is a nice hot spring easy to access by minibus and a good place to relax. There are two sides: the less developed and much cheaper springs are on the side of the river; across from it, there is a spa which is more pricey – $10 USD.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you like horseback riding, Copan Ruinas is an excellent place to do that!
Other Useful Information To Plan Your Trip To Copan Ruinas
How to get to Copan Ruinas
Copan Ruinas is close to the border with Guatemala and you can easily get there by bus from Antigua. There are direct (luxury) buses that leave from Antigua with Hedman Alas, the trip lasts around 5 hours. Alternatively, can take a series of chicken buses all the way to El Florido, the border town, and cross from there.
Make sure to read my posts:
Where to stay and eat
Hotel Don Moises – In Calle La Plaza, this is a family run hostel that has very good rooms at a reasonable price (and gives a discount for a booking of several nights – try to bargain the price). The family is really lovely and helpful.
Hotel Plaza Copan – A nice colonial-style hotel and one of the few in town with a pool. Some rooms have a view of the plaza.
For food, Café ViaVia is a good option with lots of choices which are very good deals, it serves a HUGE breakfast and is overall a nice place to hang out, as it has a nice courtyard and bar and a good terrace to look at passers-by. They also organize movie nights, concerts and dance nights.
The most budget option may be one the many barbecues that at around 6 pm start serving food in the street.
For the best beer in town, head to Sol de Copan, run by a very friendly German lad. They also serve very good German food.