Earth : North America : Central America : Honduras : Honduran Highlands : Copán Ruinas
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.
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).
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.
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.
The town of Copán Ruinas has all types of accommodations for all prices ranges. Most places are located within two blocks of Parque Central.