Copán was one of the great centers of Maya civilization over a thousand years ago. The beautiful ruins have some of the most impressive pre-Columbian art anywhere. Near the ruins is the modern town of nearly the same name - Copán Ruinas, with clean hotels and other facilities for visitors. Due to their proximity, both locations are covered by this article.
Sculpture at Ruinas de Copán
The ruins are quite substantial and a major tourist attraction in western Honduras. While less visited than the better known tourist attraction ruins like Chichen Itza, many people find them even more interesting.
Copán is in a fertile river valley and nestled among rolling hills, at an elevation so it is not so very hot as some of the Central American rainforest sites.
Elsewhere in Honduras: There are regular shuttle buses to Copán Ruinas (L40) from La Entrada, a regional transport hub about 1-2 hours from Copán. Find a bus that passes through La Entrada (San Jose, San Pedro Sula, Nueva Ocotepeque, etc.)
Hedman Alas services Copán Ruinas from San Pedro Sula, with connections to/from Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, and elsewhere. If you just go to the San Pedro Sula bus station, it's likely a bus will be leaving in the near future. Casasola Expresses is a budget (L110) alternative to Hedman Alas.
Guatemala: There are daily shuttles that depart Antigua, Guatemala at 4AM and 9AM and arrive in Copán Ruinas around six hours after departure time. Most travel agents in Antigua sell tickets for this shuttle. Prices vary from $7 to $12.
El Salvador: Cross the border at El Poy. From there you can get a share taxi to Nueva Ocotepeque (L20). Board a San Jose bound bus and get off at La Entrada (L90). There you can find a minibus to Copán Ruinas (L40).
Mini Taxi in the city of Copán Ruinas
Copán is a small community, so don't worry about mapping sights before you get there. If you are a walker and sure-footed, it is safe to walk the cobblestone streets anywhere in town or walk to the ruins on foot. Streets are reportedly safe after dark (however you'll see plenty of white young women who may be vampires on them), but standard precautions apply.
Mototaxis (Honduran rickshaws) will take you anywhere in town for a small fee (L10 around town, L20 to the Ruins/Macaw Mountain).
The Mayan Ruins are a short walk out of town and a further 20 minutes walk will take you to Las Sepulturas, a wonderfully open section of the ruins that many people fail to visit - don't! There is also a short nature walk at the main ruins that meanders around other smaller ruins.
Face at Ruinas de Copán
Las Copán Ruinas (entry $15/person) are the highlight of Copán. Although quite extensive, they are not as huge as Tikal in Guatemala or Teotihuacan in Mexico, but there is more sculpture here than any other Pre-Columbian city. The ruins are prized for the carved stellae of ancient rulers, and the well preserved hieryoglyphics including the hieryoglyphic stairway. Also in the archeological park is a marvelous Mayan museum (entry $7/person) with a reconstructed temple and fabulous artifacts. Fans of Maya art or ancient ruins can easily spend two full days between the two main ruins sites and museu. The tunnels are reportedly not worth the extra fee, and are not authentic, having been dug by archaeologists in the 1980s. In July 2011 it was possible to visit the Sepulturas on the next day without purchasing a second ticket although the main ticket office may not tell you this.
It's recommended to be there when it opens at 8AM, as the site gets very hot by mid-day. Hire a guide at the entrance to the ruins for $25 divided between however many people you can collect. Cesar (30s, good accented English) and Antonio (60s, few teeth, excellent English) are recommended if they're around.
Besides the ruins, the countryside is attractive. Slow paced local life is quite calm, and farming of corn, beans, coffee, and tobacco is the main vocation.
Agua Caliente (entry $10/person) is the name of the natural hot springs about an hour's drive (25km) from Copán proper. A variety of adventure tour companies will take you there for $15/person plus $60/group, which is outrageous considering the alternatives. For cheaper transportation, pickups and minibuses congregate at the soccer field (right before the bridge on the way to the ruins). Gather a group together, and you might negotiate a pickup for $50. They may be willing to wait up to 3 hours for you. even better, be patient, and a (tiny) seat in a minibus is only L35 each way. To get back to town, start walking, and a minibus will pass before long. The drive is very scenic, so enjoy it! One can easily spend the whole day at Agua Caliente, but bring your own food.
Macaw Mountain (entry $10/person) is an excellent bird sanctuary a short (L20/person) mototaxi ride from el Centro. The price may seem steep, but the sanctuary is commendable for its beautiful location, free tours in English, swimming hole, and obviously healthy, well cared-for birds. As of January 2011, the birds that are being rehabilitated are brought out for holding at 3PM. The ticket is valid for 3 days, so come back and swim for free.
Centro de Mariposas (entry L120/person) is a butterfly sanctuary located just outside town.
Other popular activities in and around Copán include horseback riding ($12-15/person for 3 hours), hiking, and canopy zip line ($35/person). Horseback riding or guided hikes can take you to La Pintada, a Maya Chorti village, and to Los Sapos, which is a small ruin not included in the archaeological park. La Pintada is interesting but overrated, while Los Sapos, though very small, is fascinating with a good guide.
It's a 10 minute walk down to the river where you can swim for free.
Canopee / zip line (about $35/person) in Copán is one of the worlds longest zip lines, including one of around 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) long.
There are numerous community-building projects in and around Copán Ruinas. One site to check out is Mayatan Bilingual School, a locally-founded independent, non-profit school that educates local children in Spanish and English. The school relies on foreign volunteers to teach its English language courses (Pre-K through high school), and it always welcomes visitors. Mayatan is located on the path to the Macaw Mountain bird park, about 1.5km from the center of town, or a L15 (75¢) taxi ride. Contact David for more information.
There is an unimpressive market near el Centro. On Sundays, fruit vendors line el Centro with their pickup trucks.
Most places offer a plato tipico de Honduras. This includes beef strips (or sometimes chicken or eggs), beans, fried plantains, tortillas, cabbage and sour cream. Licuados are either water- or milk-based fruit smoothies that for L30 should be enjoyed every day. Local meals run L80-L120.
Cafe Via Via - The restaurant/bar in the ViaVia hostel offers great food and standard drinks.
Picame - This restaurant is small but excellent, offering a great value for your lempira. The proprietor is Jessica who speaks excellent English. Try the double cheeseburger or ENORMOUS breakfast burrito. Caddy-corner from the soccer field, it's an excellent place to get take-out sandwiches for a day at Agua Caliente.
Comedor Mary - The best local restaurant in town for delicious, cheap, clean Honduran food. Great tipicos and pupusas. Unpretentious and authentic.
Carnitas Nia Lola - A restaurant a little ways off the parque central that offers a wide variety of delicious food and has a good happy hour. Service can be either excellent or quite slow.
La Casa de Todo Restaurant - Great food! Homemade bread, yogurt, organic coffee and much more one block down from Banco de Occidente.
Llama del Bosque - Second only to Comedor Mary for dependable local food. Larger and busier, but an excellent value and good service. The chorizo burrito and fajitas de res are huge and delicious.
Twisted Tanya's - Run by an expat (Tanya) with a great balcony. As of June 2009, 2-for-1 on (surprisingly well-made) $4 cocktails 4PM-6PM. Food is overpriced considering the local options, but if you really need carrot cake, you're unlikely to find it anywhere else in Copán!
Don Udo´s, Avenida Mirador (BarrioEl Centro), ☎ 6514533, . 6AM-10PM. An open restaurant with garden patio and full service menu. The steaks are best known, but there is a large a-la-carte menu with special dishes and snacks.
Kymberly, Annapolis. Barcito- beautiful food, fun atmosphere. I got the jalapeño hummus with homemade bread, and the kebbhes (middle eastern meatballs), two margaritas and a pack of cigarettes for L225. A little more than $10.
Espresso Americano - The Honduran chain. Best coffee shop in town, nice strong espresso drinks.
La Casa de todo Cafe - in beautiful tropical garden... serve fresh roasted Organic Coffee
Twisted Tanya's - Surprisingly well-made cocktails for $4 or $5. 2-for-1 from 4PM-6PM as of June 2009. Wonderful balcony location.
Wine BarCito - Great food and staff, movies Sunday evenings
The town of Copán Ruinas has all types of accommodations for all prices ranges. Most places are located within two blocks of Parque Central.
En la manzana verde - Funky hotel run by the Belgian couple that also run the ViaVia cafe. Dormbeds, television, kitchen, 100 Lempiras.
Las Gemelas - A beautiful, clean hotel run by the charming Dona Mafalda. Simple, tidy rooms with shared bath start at L100.
Hotel San Jose - A clean hotel. Simple, private, tidy rooms with shared bathrooms, L100 if you haggle.
'La Iguana Azul' - An excellent hostel a short walk from el Centro. Dorm beds in small rooms $5, private single $11 private double $13. Run by an American couple, free purified water and good information on the area. Very quiet at night. Highly recommended!
Hotel Ch'orti, ☎ (504) 2651-4694, . Funded through CONIMCHH, the indigenous Ch’ortí Maya organization, your stay here will help support Honduras’ indigenous population. The facilities feature clean, private rooms with en suite bathrooms, free high speed wi-fi, hot showers, picturesque mountain views, free cable, and access to purified water. Just a five minute walk from the center of Copán Ruinas, down the block from La Iguana Azul. The rooms could use a fresh coat of paint and are sometimes stuffy, but get the job done.L200 single, L250 double.
Hacienda La Esperanza - . Very nice 4 room B&B with Internet access, cable and great hosts. Run by nonprofit Paramedics for Children; all profits go to programs aiding the indigenous Mayan Indians of the Copan Valley.
Hotel Graditas Mayas - . Located two blocks west from the central park. It offers 15 comfortable rooms.
Hotel Marina Copán - . Located in the center, this hotel is known for its history, nice architecture and good services. It has over 60 rooms, and the ambiance of the town where it is located makes a perfect and relaxing vacation.
Hotel Plaza Copán - (504)651-4070 or -4071 or -4072. Located on the square next to the church, this hotel surrounds a pool/ bar/ atrium area. 20 rooms with private bath, TV and A/C. Single/ Double $50US/ $60US.
La Casa de Café, ☎ (504)651-4620, . 10 room B&B in two wings each with private hot water bath, wood paneled ceiling, ceiling fan, writing desk, night table w/ reading lamp and an oversized picture window which looks out onto a great view of the Copán River Valley, the distant mountains and La Casa de Café's own lovely tropical garden.US$40.00 single / night (Plus Tax)US$50.00 double / night (Plus Tax).
ViaVia Hostel - run by Belgians that offers great sleeping accommodations. They have very good food but can be quite noisy due to the karaoke bar next door.
Hotel los Jaguares - . Small family run hotel on the main plaza with about 10 rooms. Large rooms with TV, AC and private bath with hot water. Fast wifi. Parking. Free purified water. Very pleasant, helpful and friendly staff. Single / Double US$35/40. (504) 2651 - 4451 or 2651 4075. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
La Casa Rosada -Bed & Breakfast - (504)651-4324 . Conveniently located two blocks from central park and one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the Mayan archeological site. The hotel has 5 rooms. All rooms have private baths with steam showers, dual head showers, bidets, and a selection of natural hand-made soaps and shampoos. Each room has a DVD/CD player, flat screen LCD TVs with cable, a small refrigerator, A/C and ceiling fan, and 100% cotton linens. The place is beautifully decorated and creates a very relaxing atmosphere. Guests are offered a selection of cigars and fine wine.
Posada Real de Copán - (504) 651-4480/81/82 . Located 2 kilometer (0.6 miles) from Copán Ruinas and Sepulturas. A little far away from town (3 kilometer - 2 miles). Big rooms, private bath with hot water. Restaurant and Pool & Jacuzzi. Free scheduled shuttle service to town and Ruinas/Sepulturas.
Terramaya (2 1/2 blks north of Central Park), 504 651-4623. Six rooms each with either private full size terrace, private garden or private balcony. Hammock, a/c, ceiling fan, Egyptian cotton linens, lovely handcrafted hardwood furniture, wood beamed ceilings, library, full breakfasts included in rate, massage pavilion, outdoor shower, free wireless internet, internet jack in each guest room, garden, complimentary coffee, tea and iced tea. Spectacular views from guest rooms.
Antigua Guatemala - Many shops in town sell tickets for the Antigua shuttle, which departs at 5:30AM and at midday, pickup from your hostel is all part of the service ($20US - August 2011).
El Florido (Guatemala Border) - A minibus leaves regularly from the bridge near the central square beginning at 6AM (L30). From El Florido you can catch a minibus to Chiquimula (Q20), a transport hub. Of particular interest in Chiqui is the direct bus to Flores via Rio Hondo, Rio Dulce and Poptun. Leaves from the main bus station in the market at 9:30AM daily (Q85, 8 hours). Leave Copán bright and early and you will have plenty of time to get the bus to Flores.