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Published: February 28th 2015
The Ball Court
Great stairway is under the awning on the right
Left Atitlan on the 24th of February. Hired a private car to take us directly to Copan rather than taking one ride to Antigua, another to Guatemala City and a third vehicle to Copan. Cost for the ride was $200 US in total. Six hour trip along some good roads and some bad. Our driver, Hector, schooled us on our Spanish while we cruised through the Copan river valley. High mountain ridges clad in jungle on our left and right. Fertile farmland on the flats. This area was once controlled by the United Fruit Company now known as Chiquita. The agricultural wealth here is what financed the construction of Copan between 100 AD and 800 AD. The area was originally settled about 1,400 BC but building of the city did not start until much later.
The Honduran border was deserted when we arrived. However, this did not help cut down on our time spent with the authorities as forms had to be filled out, unofficial taxes paid in cash and our vehicle sprayed down with insecticide. Money changers hanging out at the crossing offer to exchange Lempiras (Honduran currency) for US dollars. Their rake is ten percent off of the
KJ and 18 Rabbit
Stella describing the importance of the great Copan ruler; 18 Rabbit and the role of Copan in Mayan culture.
top. You will need 120 Lempiras for two people to cross the border so bring a $10 bill with you. Honduras is very credit card and ATM friendly so get your Lempiras there.
Copan Ruinas is a cute little tourist town. Paved streets, western clothing and more Ex-Pat bars and restaurants than are needed. Souvenir shops selling stuff made in Guatemala and dusty Cuban cigars that look as if they were rolled back in the days of Batista. We stayed at the Yat Balaam hotel. Nice place. King-sized bed, frig, flat screen, hot water, AC and a small restaurant on site though there is no shortage of eateries nearby. Honduras is substantially more expensive than Guatemala. Karen and I eat at a mix of Comedors where we can both eat for $10 and places like the San Rafael where dinner costs $30. The food here is pedestrian but varied. The other night we ate at Sol de Copan which is a German restaurant owned and operated by a Bavarian named Tomas. Great food; No. German; Yes. So far we believe that prices overall in Honduras are nearly 100% higher than Guatemala for food, entertainment and transport. Hotels are slightly
The Great Stairway
Started by 18 Rabbit and completed by Smoke Shell in the 8th Century. Over 2,200 glyph blocks make up the stairway to a temple at the top. Considered to be one of the most important structures built during the Mayan civilization.
The draw here are the ruins. Located about a mile from town, entry into the park costs $15. The Tuk ride from town costs one dollar per rider. If you want to visit the Museo de Sculturas it will run you another $8 and you DO want to see this museum. It is that good. There are tunnels running inside some of the pyramids, to see these costs another $15. Skip it. There is a museum of Archaeology in town on the central plaza. Entry costs three dollars. Very good museum with burial artifacts and tombs moved from the old city.
After you buy your ticket there is a shady walk down to the park from the visitor center. You will present your ticket, sign the visitor book and enter. About 50 squawking Macaws greeted us. Permanent residents of the park. From there you enter the great plaza which runs from your left to your right. A huge space that, in the 8th Century, was completely paved in limestone.
We arrived at 9 AM and we were the first visitors on that day. The park opens at 8 AM. We saw very few people while
Sloping side walls became the norm for the ball court designs. The walls became part of the playing surface. The carved Macaw heads along the wall were used as bench markers.
we were there and pretty much had the place to ourselves the entire morning. Bus tours started rolling in around noon but even they were sparse of humans. There are guides available if you like. Most speak Spanish. A few spoke German, French and English. We went alone and used our Lonely Planet book as a guide. It worked out just fine.
Copan is more than a little reminiscent of Angkor Wat. Lichen covered stone buildings pierced by giant Ceiba trees. Jungle pressing up against the ruins. Cacophonous song birds perched in the branches. A few of the structures are fenced off. Places like the Glyph Stairway can only be viewed from the ground. Most others are completely open so feel free to climb them and take pictures. I suspect that this will not last much longer. As more and more tourists hear about Copan and start visiting, inevitably, restrictions on movement in the city will be restricted. We saw the same thing happen at Angkor in less than 10 years. The stonework at Copan is considered the best that the Mayans ever produced. Intricate, deep carvings that stood the test of time and weather.
The ball courts
are a popular attraction. Rectangular courts saddled with long sloped walls. The walls are topped with rectangular buildings that were used by the city's wealthy and powerful to view the games. Stuff never changes does it? Their were two players to a team. The ball was made of rubber and weighed 8-pounds. Stone Macaw head goal markers. Nobody can give you a straight story on the game itself. How did one score? Were the losers really killed? The courts here are famous because they have the original paved floors under the protective lawn that now covers them.
It is a remarkable place enhanced by thick emerald jungle and a startling lack of visitors. Karen and I found a spot to sit quietly and think about those thousands of people who once lived here. We sat in the same place for over a half hour and never saw another human being besides ourselves. It is a fantastic site and historically on par with Angkor though smaller. We liked it so much that we returned a day later for a second look. It was all as good as we had hoped for.
The Sculturas museum is a surprise. Two story
Detail of Temple Carving
Not the usual Mayan work. Detail of headdress on statue. Water bird consuming a fish. From the late classic period in the 8th Century.
building that surrounds an exact scale model of the Rosalila temple that was discovered buried intact in the center of the temple number 16 pyramid. You can pay $15 to enter the tunnel to see the real deal but the poorly lit tunnel is barely 3 feet wide and it presses right up against the temple facade so it is difficult at best to take in the temple's scale. The museum contains numerous stellae, statues and temple facades removed from the site and placed here for protection and renovation. Karen and I spent as much time here as we did at the ruins.
Besides the ruins; Copan has little at this time to keep young tourists engaged. There is a butterfly farm, a coffee plantation, a thermal spa, a bird sanctuary and a rainforest canopy trail if you are so inclined but these activities are expensive and too meager to hold much attention. They are completing construction on an airport here, hoping to draw trade from Mexico and Belize. As it stands now the town has an oversupply of restaurants, bars and hotels. What they really need are more visitors.
We ended up spending 4 nights here. We
Ball Court Three
The buildings along the sides of the court were used during the games by the rich and powerful. The world's first sky suites.
like the slow pace and the friendly people. We would definitely return for the ruins. Hopefully the airport will be open by then because that ride in is a pain.
Shouts to Noah and Aerin and Jane and Brad. Fin. Mike and Karen
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