Copan is a sleepy town in the foothills of Western Honduras. It is known, primarily, for its Mayan ruins, which are some of the oldest and most impressive in the region. However, the town also offers tourists a wide array of outdoor activities in the dazzling, lush rainforest it borders. Does spending a few days in an authentic Honduran hamlet sound like something you would enjoy? If so, here’s the scoop on how to get the most out of your trip to Copan.
Getting There and Getting Around
If you’re heading to Copan from abroad, there are two options. The first, and most convenient, is to fly into San Pedro Sula and take a three-hour bus ride to Copan. The second is to fly into Guatemala City, where you can reach Copan by bus in five hours.
Once you arrive, snag a map from the tourist center located at the main plaza or one of the many hotels and guesthouses. Copan is small and centralized, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around. Most streets are well-labeled and flow outward from the plaza, which is a great landmark in case you get lost. While walking around Copan, it’s advisable to wear sturdy shoes, as the cobblestone streets can be a recipe for a sprained ankle.
Visiting the Ruins
The ruins of Copan are undoubtedly the village’s main tourist attraction. Located approximately 2 km from the town center, the ruins are a collection of tunnels, plazas, temples, stairs and more, all of which were produced during the 7th century by the Mayans. There are over 4,000 structures located at the ruins, so plan for a full day if you want to get the total experience. In addition to the majesty of these ruins, there are also a number of monkeys, sloths, giant parrots and macaws that congregate in the park.
Spending a Day with the Birds
Copan’s Macaw Mountain is a great way to soak in some of the region’s vibrant avian species. Approximately 3 km outside of town, this nature preserve consists of nine gorgeous acres of old growth forest, steeped in mahogany, Indio, Spanish cedar and fig trees. The park provides guided tours with information about its over 100 birds, such as macaws, parrots, parakeets and more. If you’re hungry, snag a bite to eat in the restaurant. The food is delicious and the patio abuts a gurgling freshwater spring.
Another great way to enjoy Copan is by taking a horseback ride through its surrounding hillside. Guided tours are available, which will take you on a jaunt down the Copan River, before ascending into the rainforest. Popular destinations include waterfalls as well as the Chorti Mayan Village—a great spot to buy colorful scarves and other souvenirs while supporting the indigenous population.
Brushing Up on Your Spanish
Copan is also known for its excellent Spanish immersion programs Escuela Ixanblanque offers full-day one-on-one instruction at a reasonable price. Lessons can also be coupled with a home stay, where participants can live with a local family for their stay.
The bottom line on Copan
If you’re looking for an easygoing spot to soak in authentic Honduran culture, few places match the tranquility and character of Copan. With its beautiful natural scenery, compelling Mayan ruins and friendly locals, Copan is a worthy destination if you plan on visiting Central America.
Dan Lawton is a freelance journalist and blogs about the outdoors for Backyard Chirper.