When visiting the Central American region, there is one thing you absolutely must do- visit a site of ancient Mayan ruins. Some popular ones include Tikal in Guatemala, or Chichen Itza, in Mexico. While in Honduras, the Mayan ruins you’ll want to visit are the Copan Ruins.
Copan was once a capital city from the 5th to 9th centuries. It is believed that at its height, Copan was home to around 20,000 people. The city began to decline in the year 738, when the city’s king was captured and executed by a rival city, and by the 16th century it was taken over by Spanish conquerors.
Today, the Copan Ruins have been named at UNESCO World Heritage site, and it is known for its well-preserved Mayan sculptures. When visiting the site, here are some important things to know:
Do Some Reading Before You Go
It will help if you do a bit of research before visiting the Copan Ruins. This way, you’ll have a bit of background about the Mayan people and what life may have been like during the height of Copan’s time. It may also help you identify some of the structures and sculptures that you’ll be seeing as you explore.
I wouldn’t have known this was a ballcourt if I hadn’t read about it…
Get There Early
The site opens at 8:00am, and you’ll want to get there as close to opening as possible. The temperature rises quickly in Honduras, and there’s a good portion of the ruins that are not shaded from the sun. To avoid the heat, it’s best to start early. Also, this will help avoid some of the crowding that occurs later in the day.
Visiting the ruins bright and early means fewer people in your photos
You Can Walk From Town
If you’re staying in the town of Copan (which I highly recommend), it is an easy walk to get to the Copan Ruins. It will take you only 15-20 minutes to get there from Parque Central in the middle of the town. There is also a sidewalk to follow the whole way there.
“Happy Travels” on the way to Copan Ruins
Bring Water, Sunscreen, and Bug Spray
You’re going to be out for a while, so you’re going to want to be prepared. I guzzled down two water bottles before we were done at the ruins, and I wished I would have brought more. Sunscreen is really important to use, since you’ll be exposed to the sun for about half of your time at the ruins. Bug spray is just as important, because the other half of your time will be spent in the thick jungle, where the disease-carrying mosquitoes like to hang out- It’s no fun to bring home diseases…
A water bottle always in my hand while exploring!
There are no bathrooms once you get out onto the site. There are some in the entrance building, where you’ll purchase your entry tickets. Make sure you go before you head out, so you won’t find yourself in the middle of the jungle having to go Mayan style.
Not many walls left in the Mayan bathrooms…
Don’t Be Afraid to Explore
Some of the most fun you’ll have at the ruins will be when you just follow where your feet wander. Something I really loved about the Copan Ruins was that once it seemed like you were done exploring, you’d stumble upon a whole other section of ruins to see.
Not totally sure I was allowed to climb down here…but I did
You Can Climb On The Ruins
Something really unique about visiting the Copan Ruins is that you can climb on a majority of the structures. This is a bit of a controversial thing, because by climbing on them people can wear them down and possibly harm the structure. It is important that if you are going to climb, that you do so in a respectful and gentle manner, so as to minimize your damaging effects.
On top of the [Mayan] woooorld!
There Are Tour Guides Available
The Copan Ruins employs several tour guides that can take you around and give you a better understanding of what you’re seeing. The one that spoke to us sounded like he had a good grasp of English, so that was good. But we opted to explore on our own.. $30 was just a little more than we thought necessary for a guide. But it’s up to you, and what you want to get out of your time at the ruins.
You can figure out the important stuff on your own…
The Sculptures Really Are Amazing
There are so many sculptures and carvings all around the Copan Ruins. They are so well preserved that you can easily make out what they’re supposed to be. Some even look like they could’ve been carved only a year ago, rather than centuries ago! You’ll find everything from skulls, animals, gods, and goofy faces!
This one’s a turtle!
You Can Do More Than Explore
Visiting the Copan Ruins is more than just exploring the archeological site. You can pay $15 more to go into some of the tunnels that lead inside the massive structures. You can also visit the onsite Mayan museum for an extra $7 to see more Mayan art and some sculpture replicas.
Super secret tunnel door
Nature Is Taking Over
One of the things I loved as I walked through the Copan Ruins was seeing how nature was taking over the site. Everywhere you looked you could see plant life growing out of the cracks in the walls. It was incredible to see how over time, nature reclaims its space.
Trees taking over the crumbling wall
There Are Very Few Informational Signs
You will rarely stumble across any informational signs at the ruins. I highly suggest stopping and reading them when they are there. It will help you get a better idea of what you’re seeing and help you learn more about the Mayans.
Oooh…so that’s where I am…
Take A Tuk Tuk Back To Town
Okay, I encouraged you to walk to the Copan Ruins. Now I’m encouraging you to get a ride back. By the time you’re ready to head back to town, you are going to be pretty exhausted. Not to mention, your water will probably be all gone and the heat of the day will be beating down on your head. For only 20-30 lempira (that’s $0.90 – 1.30USD) you can get a refreshing ride back to Copan, and give those legs a rest.
Your legs are going to be tiiiired!
Note: I took an insane amount of photos while exploring the Copan Ruins. If you loved these pictures, head on over to Instagram to see more!