Honduras South-West

COPAN

Global Mark : 14.27    Top Five : No3

Ratings by criteria : 

Charm Scenery Culture Tradition Market Relax Fiesta 

Cost

AVER.
 5 4 5 3 2 4 3 2 14.00

Ratings by backpackers :

Surveyed Liked  Comeback  Recommend  Range AVER.
22 100% 77%(17) 100% 10 to 20 14.55


Description :
A charming relaxed town by the famous Maya ruins

Comments : This is a surprisingly nice, quiet and small place considering the tourism traffic

What to do ? Walk the cobbled streets / Relax by the plaza / Get up to an old charming military barrack for a nice panorama (5mn walk to the north) / Bath in the river / Walk nature trails / Watch birds (over 230 species in the area, best from Sept to April) / Get up temples / Get down tunnels / Up or down, you will find great carvings / See the longest known Maya hieroglyphic text / Admire the nicest ball court in Meso-America and imagine how it must have felt like to play the game, knowing that you may be put to death if loosing / Horse ride the countryside / Visit coffee plantations / Crawl a cave / Relax in hot thermal springs (L20, 8am to 8pm, 45mn by car to Agua Calliente Village, avoid busy WE) / Shop for souvenirs / Smoke cigars (with moderation, of course !) 

What you may not like ? The low exchange rate for TC at the only bank changing them / The high cost for the ruins' sights / The many 'no pasar' signs at the ruins / The few replicas of stelaes on the site while the original are safe in the museum / The impossibility to read the Maya text (the stones had fallen out and made a very tricky puzzle for archaeologists to solve) and the ugly tarp protecting the stairway (being studied and off access until 2002) / The too hot springs : actually you bath in the river / The crowd there on Sunday / The firecrackers' noises at 5am ! / The safety issues around

How long ? At least two days

Where to stay ? Plenty of places to stay but not too many options in the cheapest category. You will probably be met at the pick-up's terminal by friendly touts. Negotiate the rates before following any. All the rooms should have a fan and common or private HW shower.  

- In the North-West of the Plaza :

  • La Posada (6514070), opp. luxurious Hotel Marina Copan ($82 for Dbl) / 150(1) or 200(2) / Correct but rather small rooms for the price.
  • ® Hospedaje San Jose, by a tienda / L60(1) or 80(2) / HW shower / Go there for the correct clean rooms, the good view from the terrace and the cheap prices / What you may not like : there is no real garden and the kids can be noisy.
  • Hotel Rosalila (6514235), orange house, north of the above / 60 p.p, w. shower 150(1) or 200 (2 or 3) / Nice spotless rooms w. shower, tiny garden, hammock on the terrace and cheap Sgl rate but the cheapest rooms are basic. 
  • Hotel Bella Vista (6514502, hbellavista@hotmail.com), walk up for 5mn / 200(1) or 250(2) / Go there for the great view over town. A bit expensive however as the rooms are nothing special.

- South-West of the Plaza : 

  • Hotel Camino Maya (6514314) / $28(1) or $36(2) / A luxurious place with the nicest rooms spotted. If you have money, and do not mind the lack of swimming pool, this is the place to head to. And if you do not have money, the paintings on the walls are still worth a look.
  • ® Hotelito Yun Cach Na, 5mn walk / 60(1) or 80(2), w. shower 100 (1 or 2) / Go there for the good prices, the correct rooms and the open space w. a hammock / What you may not like : the lack of greenery in the garden 
  • Casa de Cafe (5527274), edge of town, 10mn walk / $30(1) or 38(2) incl. breakfast and free coffee all day long / Go there for the superb panorama from your hammock. The garden & rooms are however not that big so it is a bit expensive. 
  • ® Iguana Azul (6514070), by the above (same owner) / Dorm (4 in bunk bed) 50, 65(1) or 120(2) / Go there for the big & high-ceiling rooms and the nice living room w. books & magazines / What you may not like : there is no real garden and only common shower

- South-East of the plaza :

  • Hotel Popolnah, green house, S-W plaza / 150(1) or 250(2) / Rather small & basic rooms
  • Hotel Yaragua / 150(1) or 200(2), w. small cable TV 200 or 250 / Rather dark and smelly rooms
  • Plaza Copan, opp the above / $29(1) or 38(2) / Go there for the lovely rooms and the view toward the plaza from your terrace.

- East of the Plaza, lowest street, from South to North :

  • ® Hotel Clasico Copan (6514040) / w. shower 100(1) or 120(2), upstairs 150(1) or 200(2), a bit more in HS / Go there for the cheapest rooms w. shower and the nice flowered garden 
  • ® Hotel Los Gemelos (6514070) / 70(1) or 100(2) / Go there for the correct rather big rooms around a flowered garden and to meet other backpackers / What you may not like : it is not that cheap (discount possible ?)
  • ® Hotel California (6514314) / 100(1) or 120(2) / Go there for the lovely flowered garden and the free drinking water / What you may not like : the rooms are correct but rather basic.
  • ® Hotel Posada Honduras / 50(1) or 70(2), w. cold shower 100(1) or 120(2) / Small and basic cheapest, correct rooms w. shower. Small garden. Cheapest prices. 

- North-East of the Plaza :

  • ® Hotelito Yaxpac, small house / w. shower 120(1) or 150(2) / Nice small comfortable rooms upstairs, more basic downstairs. Talking parrot. 
  • Hotel Acropolis Maya, north of the above / $25(1) 40(2) / The biggest luxury rooms spotted, around a garden.
  • Hotel Brisas de Copan (6514118), north of the above / 250(1) or 280(2) w. big cable TV/ Nice big rooms but a bit dark

Where to eat ? There are plenty of good restaurants in town. Prices can be high however. Llama de Bosque (West of plaza) is one of those, except for the great Baleadas filled w. eggs, beans & cream for a surprising L20 only. The 'tipico' meal cost L40. Water is nicely offered and you may even get some veggies... Opp Cafe Via Via was recommended and looked nice enough w. plenty of magazines. Restaurant Las Tejitas (South of plaza, after the internet place) is one of the cheapest restaurant w. correct meat dinner for L35 and huge salads for L30. There are a few comedores as well but they are nearly as expensive (L30-40 for the meat dinner, L20-30 for the eggs) and lack the setting, hygiene & quality of the above. 

Internet ? The cheapest place was by Hotel Los Gemelos, N-E of the plaza : L0.70 per mn with a minimum of 10mn. Even cheaper from 7am to 1pm : L0.50 per mn but a minimum of 30mn (L15).

Change ? For quetzales, the best rates are given by the street money changers. There is usually one near the bus for La Entrada. For US$ cash, the two banks South of the plaza are the best. For TC, the only choice is unfortunately Banco de Occidente, east of the plaza : one of the worst rates in Honduras (L15 for 1$ when the other banks were at 15.31). There is however some very fresh and free water... Cash advances on Visa or MasterCard are possible.

Learning Spanish ? Three schools in town. It cost about $160-175 for 20 hours lessons and full family board for a week, plus excursions around. Ixbalanque (ixbalan@gbm.hn) is the pioneer with over 10 years experience.


The ruins of Copan ?
As this is basically why you came here, it should be high on your agenda. The costs are however a cold shower : $10 for the ruins, $5 for the museum and $12 for the tunnels ! Few backpackers therefore visit everything... 
The ruins themselves, part of the UNESCO Heritage list since 1980, are the logical first choice. Ask for a map at the ticket office. The setting and size may not be as impressive as in Tikal, the carving may not be as delicate as on some of Quirigua's stelaes but it was for me the best archeological experience of my trip : you get a lovely setting (w. haras at the entrance), some big structures and plenty of carvings ! Allow about 2-3 hours for the site.
Las Sepultras, 2km away, is free (yes, free !) with your ticket. Most people forget about it and so did I : leaving the ruins at 4pm, it was too late to go. It is small but apparently provide an answer to the following question :where did the population live ? It is also a peaceful area with some wildlife and trails. 
Once you have walked the ruins, you can decide to extend and enrich your experience by visiting the Museum of the Mayan Sculpture. The most important feature there is the colorful (mostly red) real size replica of the Rosalita Temple : see it like it was 1000 years ago ! The original facade of the Ball Court is there as well, together with other masterpieces. 
The tunnels (not a Maya construction) are however a bit of a rip-off as they take only 20mn to visit : you see only 90 meters or so of the more than 4km of tunnels excavated more or less recently under the acropolis ! If lucky, you may manage to sneak into Rosa Lila tunnel for a free look to the best preserved stucco building in the Maya world (replica in the Museum). The other tunnel will let you spot Galindo's Tomb.
The visitor center is free (yes, again !) and offers some interesting photos and a model of the site. Also free is the short (20mn) nature trail that takes you behind the ruins into the jungle. 
The site is open daily from 8am to 4pm (last entrance but you can wander around until 4:45). 
In town, the Copan Museum (daily 8am to 4pm, $2) is rather small but contains some good artifacts from the site. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Edward Campbell, New Zealand (March 06)
« The village with modern day Mayans near the Copan Ruins town is not to be missed. On the school they have an awesome mural of the four Mayan gods. Ask for a guide though. In the town of Copan Ruinas you might be approached by people selling dolls. If you choose to buy one or more, make sure you do it at the village to avoid middlemen...»

 

 << Discover the ruins


A walk to Los Sapos ? This is one of the best, easiest and safest walk out of town, toward Hacienda San Lucas (6514106, sanlucas@honduras.com) and its archeological site. Head South of the plaza and turn left after the bridge (there are signs). Follow the river and, 10mn later, take the path going up on the right. It takes about 30mn to reach the Hacienda. The setting and views are great, w. Copan ruins & town below. There are only two rooms available so prices are rather high at $40(1) or $45(2) incl. breakfast. (camping w. equipment provided should be cheaper). It uses solar energy so candles are used at night. It is isolated so you have limited choices for dinner (L80). But this remains one of the loveliest and most charming place to stay and they have books full of praises from their happy guests. The ruins are actually inside the property. To walk the two trails (a nice 1 hour or so natural walk) cost L30 but you may manage not to pay. If the trails are lovely, the ruins, referred to as the "birthing place" as this may be where Maya women came to give birth, are a clear disappointment : a few rocks only ! Horse riding is also an option at L55 per hour. 

A trip to El Rubi Waterfalls ? I would have loved to walk from the charming village of Santa Rita (9km away) to those double falls on the Rio Copan (45mn away) but I spotted a paper advising tourists not to go : a gang was apparently assaulting and robbing people and the last attack had taken place recently... Check the latest safety issues. Joining a tour ($15) maybe a safer bet...

A clear warning (Dec 2001) from a local : "El Rubi Waterfalls is a high risk EXTREMELY dangerous place to visit. The latest attack was November 30, 2001. This attack makes about the 17th attack since March, 2001. There is NO SECURITY !! Travelers are stalked, robbed, raped, and assaulted. This couple was attacked while coming out, their hands were cut up by a machete wielding bandit who jumped them. These warnings are strictly for your safety. Don't ruin your trip to Copan Ruinas!!!! Stay safe, stay away from El Rubi !!!"

Other tours ? El Cisne Coffee Tour ($40, 5-8 hours), Boqueron Cave ($80 per group up to 8, 3 hours inside), Hot springs ($10) or horse riding ($10-15, 3 hours) are the options offered by numerous agencies or individuals. As you can see however, prices are steep...

Other ruins ? A few other stelaes can be spotted throughout the valley. They are however tricky to find without a guide. The Archaeological site of El Puente is more accessible : the access road is located 4km before La Entrada and the site itself is 7km from the main road (hitching possible). Since the scale is much smaller than Copan (and only a few structures have been excavated), few people bother visiting. The setting is said to be lovely however and being off-the-track will certainly add charm to the experience.  There is an entrance fee of around $5 that should include an informative museum (did not visit so you are welcome to participate). 

 << Discover a colonial town

 

Backpacker's Tips : Rodrigo González Mera, Chile (April 03)
« Hospedaje San José, 120 Lempiras for two with bath and towel, with fan, clean, good atmosphere, you can get a discount / Restaurant: Elisa's: not cheap but clean , 50 Lempiras for a big dish of spaghetti and bread, near the Plaza / Bus: Tranfer Copán Ruinas - Antigua: US$18 one ticket (little bus), at 8:00 AM, good schedule to be in Antigua at midday, they go to your Hotel 10 minutes before the start, really comfortable and you don't have to pass in Guatemala City / other: At the Plaza there is a craftsman who made the replication of Rosalila at the museum, I bought him a nice little Estela » 


Leaving ?
Regular pick-up to the border w. Guatemala for L20 (30mn) / Regular buses to La Entrada (L25-30, 1.5 hours). From there, regular buses east to Santa Rosa (L14, 1 hour) or north to San Pedro Sula. For the latest, you may prefer a direct bus : 4:30 & 5:10 for L40 (4 hours), 6am or 7am for L60 (2.5-3 hours).

The trip to Santa Rosa de Copan via La Entrada : SSSSS / Right / L30 + L14 / 1.5 + 1 hrs
The so called 'direct' bus to San Pedro Sula was nicely waiting for passengers to show up. Only a few did but it left on time anyway : 6am. Being 'direct' does not mean that you will go empty however so we collected passengers along the way during the first 20mn. Then it turned really 'direct', leaving the locals wave by the side of the road. A weird sight...
The scenery was missing for the first 30mn : it was foggy ! Then, it cleared up, and revealed beautifully shaped hills on the right side, alongside the river. 
We reached La Entrada within 1h15mn. I was pointed toward the road to Santa Rosa, a 3mn run as I had spotted a bus ready to leave. 
The scenery remained beautiful on the right side, with great panoramas over the Rio Chamelicon valley. The 2nd class bus had changed to a 'chicken bus' but it was surprisingly empty. The driver was one of those kamikaze guys who do not bother too much with the central continuous white line when overtaking. A few minutes later, a terrible accident on the left side remained us that kamikazes usually retire young...

See also the trip from the Guatemala's Border (El Florido)