Copan Ruinas, Mayan Cultural Center
Copan Ruinas has been accurately known as the place “where nature meets culture” and nothing could be any truer. Situated in the foothills of western Honduras, only seven miles (11 km) from the Guatemalan border, this area is renowned for its magnificent Mayan ruins.
It has been designated a World Heritage Site and is believed to have once served as the cultural center in the Mayan world, much as Paris was in Europe. It is a choice destination for archeologists, historians, anthropologists and eco-tourists from all across the globe. It’s also an ideal place to learn or brush up on your Spanish – there are some great intensive Spanish schools in the city.
The Archeological Park of Copan
It is estimated that the Copan valley has been inhabited since as far back as 1200 B.C., although there was no ruling royal family until after 426 A.D. At its peak, it is believed to have been the home to more than 20,000 citizens! This Mayan land is known for its magnificent, carefully wrought buildings and architecture that leave no shadow of a doubt that the Mayans had established a rich, advanced and intelligent culture at a scale nearly unimaginable! The people of the area showed a remarkable understanding and skill in areas like sculpture, astronomy and the use of hieroglyphics. To experience all of the wonders and beauties of this ancient civilization, the best way to do it is to stop by the Archeological Park of Copan.
Making the Most of Your Visit
The Archeological Park of Copan is about a half a mile (1 km) from Copan Ruinas, and is set in the midst of a quiet forest near the Copan River. It opens each day at 8am and remains in operation until 4pm. Admission for the park will run you about US$10.00/person, but other sites and exhibits within the park may require a little more cash (the Sculpture Museum is an additional $5.00/person and the Mysterious Tunnels – an absolute must for the exploring soul – is an additional $12.00 per person.) This park isn’t something you can ever hope to explore in a single visit. To truly enjoy the park, and sample its many secrets and mysteries, you should set aside at least two days for your exploration. To really get the most from your visit, you’ll probably also want to spend the extra money to hire a local guide. With them, you’ll gain insight into the past, the folklore and the culture of this amazing civilization. They can guide you through the beautiful temples, altars, stellae (large, pillar-like, intricate, high-relief stone carvings) and the underground tunnels and stairways.
The Writing on the Walls
The Mayans were one of only five ancient civilizations that created a written language. And though the number of people who understand the Mayan hieroglyphics has dwindled over the centuries, the evidence of this language remains as strong as ever. Perhaps one of the best examples of Mayan hieroglyphics can be found within the Archeological Park. In 749 A.D., a hieroglyphics stairway was constructed by King Smoky Shell. This massive undertaking was designed to perpetrate the success of the Mayan kingdom. It is the longest inscription found in the Mayan world, and there are 1250 hieroglyph blocks documenting the lives and times of the king and the people of that day. This makes the Hieroglyphic Stairway probably the most famous monument to be found in all of Copan Ruinas.
If exploring archeological sites isn’t exactly up your alley (or you’ve got a lot more time to spend in the area), there are plenty of other adventures to be found in the region. It’s not only the history that attracts visitors here, but the adventure, too! The Copan Ruinas area offers hiking, horseback riding, caving, thermal hot springs, kayaking and tubing, and tours of a local coffee farm. If you’d rather “go native”, you can journey over to an authentic indigenous community and spend time with the locals as you have a chance to watch them use their timeless techniques to create their many local handicrafts. Their unchanging craftsmanship that has persisted over the centuries is a rare gem in the cookie-cutter modern world of manufacturing! If you’ve still got a little time left after your adventuring, you can stop for a little rest and rejuvenation at the Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Reserve. In this small piece of paradise, you can see the native parrots and macaws in their own natural settings, and learn a little more about the local preservation and conservation efforts!
Slipping Through Time
Copan Ruinas is a fantastic Honduras destination – not only because of the ruins and history, but because of the adventure and exhilaration of life in the forest. Calendars and clocks may still hold true while you are there, but somehow it manages to feel as though in the wonderful world of Copan Ruinas, the passage of time has disappeared. If anything, it feels as though the clocks and calendars have been turned back to some distant date in the past. No matter whom you are or what it takes to make you happy, it’s highly likely that you’ll find yourself falling in love with the beauty, romance and mystery of Copan Ruinas.