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Copán Ruinas
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-04-29 19:02:43 | Copan Ruinas, Copan, Honduras
Keywords: Mayas, UNESCO
With the site of Copán, in Honduras, I conclude my visits of the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Maya world. I'm currently in Guatemala and I crossed the border for a few hours in order to visit this important site. As I mentioned last week after I visited Quiriguá, Copán is also a very important site to understand the Maya civilization because it is extremely rich in written history left behind. Copán is also sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Maya world because it was a city of arts and architecture. It represents what the Mayas did best in terms of those fields.

There are many pyramids, most of which you can climb on to have a bird-eye view of the surroundings. But the site is very large.... it goes way beyond the initial plaza visitors encounter. There are many well planned modern staircases to lead you all over the site to reach the different levels and plazas or you can often take the Mayan steps. The site has many stalaes decribing the life of the Mayas, a few pyramids and temples, the Acropolis where were the upper class and well as a rather large residential area for the common people.

These structures were all carefully planned, built and oriented to fit their purpose in relation to the Sun's course both during the day and the year. Copán is viewed as the ultimate technology ever created by the Mayas. Part of this perception is the exceptionally rich history left behind that allows us to understand most of it.

Like most sites, not all of Copán has been unearthed even less restored. Even if it was “discovered” by the Spaniards in year 1570, it didn't raise much interest. It was only in early 20th century that serious excavation and studies of the site began!

The most spectacular piece uncovered is the majestic stairway of the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, in which all the steps are made out of hieroglyphs blocks with bigger pieces along the center. It's a very impressive piece. There are over 1800 inscribed blocks, forming what is considered to be the largest and longest piece of writing left by the Maya civilization. Unfortunately, to protect it from the elements, it's covered with a large tarp. Although we can see most of it from the large tent formed, it's rather dark.

The site of Copán is a very nice site to visit and it's not very crowded. As a bonus to the ruins, the site is also a rehabilitation centre for scarlet macaw (parrots)... and these wonderful birds welcome you at your arrival on the site. It's a wonderful occasion to see these beauties in their natural environment. They're used to see tourists and can easily be approached (slowly!).

Some of the scarlet macaws at the entrance of the site.

There are a few tours leaving from Guatemala but not that many, and its location at the other end of the country from the capital (Tegucigalpa) makes it hard to reach from within its own country. If you are a bit adventurous, forget the tours and arrange your own day trip using local transport. You can easily get over there in about 2 hours from Chiquimula. First by taking a collectivo to the Honduras border (El Florido), you will probably have to change vehicule in the town of Jocotan, but you won't have to pay again, you cost will be between 15 and 25 Quetzals (US$2 to US$3) for this journey. Then you go to the Guatemala border post, they'll give you a special paper permission to leave the country for the day to go to Copán Ruinas and return, asking you 10 Quetzales (US$1,25) as exit fee. Another stop is of course required at the Honduras border office a few buildings further. They won't stamp your passport but will attach to it a little form, charging you 30 Quetzales (US$3,75 – they also give you a price in Lempiras but since I had plenty of Quetzales I paid in money from Guatemala). Anywhere in between the two offices you'll encounter plenty of currency changers to get some Lempiras for your journey (buy a bit more, you can easily trade them back on your return). After crossing the border zone, you'll find a collectivo stand with vehicules going to the city of Copán Ruinas, for a cost of 20 Lempiras.

From the city, the ruins are located about 2 kilometres total from the collectivo terminal and most of the distance is done on a dedicated sidewalk passing by a few stelaes which you would miss if you'd take a moto-taxi to reach it.

There are different options to visit the ruins... and you actually need to buy a different option for each of the components, without a combo package with a reduction. The prices are high, but reasonable for the most parts. For the ruins, the cost is 315 lempiras (or US$15), which is about the same price as for Tikal and the ones in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. There's another option for the same price to visit tunnels. Although it's interesting to see underneath the structures, the tunnels are relatively short and are definitely NOT worth that kind of money. The last option is to visit the site museum about the sculptures, its cost is 147 lempiras (US$7). That's a large building in which they moved some of the original art work from the site to protect it from the elements and also reconstituted large elements. That is definitely worth the money. So, count about US$22 to visit both the ruins and the museum, but skip the tunnels.

In the site museum, the centre piece is a reproduction of an important structure, with all the original colours.

Related posts:
What I've seen in Mexico
Chichén Itzá


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