|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
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.