Mesoamerica is chockfull of stunning archaeological sites, but Copan stands out from all the rest. Yes, temples, pyramids, and ball courts, but the spectacular stone monuments, those mesmerizing stelae with the visages of the Maya kings of over 1,500 years ago, seem to possess some strange powers even now. Welcome to the Paris of the Maya world!
Situated in a small valley in the pine and oak-forested highlands of western Honduras, Copan is a 2.5 hour drive from steamy San Pedro Sula over serpentine well-paved roads. Emerald green mountains, coffee, banana and pineapple plantations delight the eye. The climate here is surprisingly cool and green from November until February. The mean annual temperature is 78 F, and even on torrid days, a pine-scented breeze often sweeps down from the hillsides.
Copan, the very heart of the ancient Maya of the Classic Period of A.D. 400 – 800, captures the imagination of all who venture here. This magnificent kingdom of the sun, the Copan Archaeological Park, was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1980. Travelers journey back in time as they marvel at the stelae of past dynastic rulers in all their enigmatic glory, the hieroglyphic staircase with thousands of glyphs, the ball court with its macaw iconography, the beautiful temples and plazas. Many partially excavated structures are encircled by the vast roots of huge ceiba trees, considered to be the sacred tree of life by the Maya. Dedicated archaeologists are painstakingly laboring here as we speak, uncovering yet more puzzles to ponder.
The Museum of Sculpture, situated at the entrance to the Archaeological Park, contains the replica of the famed three-tiered Rosalila Temple, a flamboyantly colored extraordinary structure. Was this the site of hypnotic rituals, perhaps a doorway to mystical revelations entered solely by the ruler and his high priests? Did the gaping jaws of a supernatural monster welcome devotees to insights of deep import? The museum also houses intriguing altars depicting the sixteen rulers of the K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ (Great-Sun First Quetzal Macaw) dynasty.
The hilly town of Copan Ruinas with its cobblestone streets has a hauntingly charming appeal. The Archaeological Park is situated just a short walk or an amusing ride away in a “mototaxi.” Hostelries range from traditional to eclectic. The Hacienda San Lucas, situated on a verdant hillside just minutes from town, wins hands-down for those in search of a truly enchanting experience. The ambiance of extraordinary sensory delights has been created by its warmly-welcoming owner, Flavia Cueva. This much-acclaimed eco-lodge boasts eight romantic rooms, exceptionally inspiring dining with multitudes of candles under the stars, and views of the mountains beyond and even Copan. Here one can hike up to the Los Sapos (“The Toads”), an ancient Maya fertility site, practice yoga in mystical surroundings, and soak up the magical ambiance. www.haciendasanlucas.com
The venerable Hotel Marina Copan, right in front of the central plaza, offers incomparable comfort and convenience. www.hotelmarinacopan.com
The Yat B’alam Boutique is an exquisite new property with four rooms; the ground floor captivates with its colonial street motif. Most of the hotels are within easy walking distance of the central plaza to a variety of pleasant eateries, souvenir shops and museums. Coffee and irresistible sweets can be most pleasantly enjoyed at Café Welchez. www.yatbalam.com
Language schools include the lovely Ixbalanque Spanish School and the Guacamaya. www.ixbalanque.com
MC Tours offers amazing excursions to nearby attractions. Adventurers may opt for the Los Sapos Canopy Tour, considered one of the best canopy tours in Central America, with14 zip-lines weaving through hilltops, a view of Copan, and crossing Copan River. Birding has become a huge draw in this region. Visitors to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park will glimpse and even interact with a number of these gorgeous denizens of the wild. The reserve lovingly cares for rescued and endangered birds. The Copan Coffee Tour features a visit to a vast shade grown coffee plantation, the Finca Santa Isabel, certified by the Rainforest Alliance. The tour begins with trails through rainforest canopy viewing exotic birds and butterflies and ends with a steaming cup of aromatic Honduran coffee! The Luna Jaguar Natural Hot Springs and Spa is an idyllic spot in which bathe and frolic in hot and cold natural streams, a 45-minute drive north of Copan. Horseback riding, hiking, and visiting little Maya Chorti villages are also enticing options!www.mctours-honduras.com
Many travelers choose to combine Copan with the gorgeous lush Bay Islands, Roatan, Guanaja and Utila, to enjoy sybaritic resorts on sun-kissed beaches and the world’s second largest barrier reef. Those who venture to this amazing land are richly rewarded by the mind-boggling cultural jewel of Copan, natural splendors of landscape and seascape, exciting opportunities for life-affirming adventures, and the gracious hospitality of the Hondurans. It is true, todo esta aqui (“everything is here”)!
Honduras Institute of Tourism, www.letsgohonduras.com