Copán is the site of a large set of ruins in Honduras, one of the few such Mayan ruins in the country which is located at the edge of the Maya Region. The site is located in western Honduras near the border with Guatemala, about halfway between the two oceans. It is located in the extreme southeast of the Maya Region and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples. The city-state had a population of at least 20,000 people in about 100 square miles at its peak in the Classic period from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. The kingdom then collapsed and lost most of its population. The abandoned city suffered from the encroachment of nature including the Copán River whose course has now been changed to prevent further destruction. The ruins were later rediscovered by Europeans, and the site is now an archaeological park run by the national government. The uncovering of buildings and restoration are ongoing.
The site has been described as the most enchanting of all the Mayan archaeological sites and the most artistic since one of its major features is the many large (10 to 15 feet tall) stone stelae with portraits carved on one side and intricate hieroglyphics on the other in high relief. The site contains more hieroglyphic carvings than any other Mayan site. 4,509 structures have been found so far.
The Copan Ruins and the Museum of Sculpture are open from 8am to 4pm daily. There is a $15 cost to enter the park, and an additional fee for the Museum of Sculpture. And there is an additional cost to enter two tunnels. Guided tours are recommended and can be arranged at the park entrance or by contacting the Copán Guide Association.
The park is located a pleasant 15-minute walk from the town of Copán Ruinas, a lovely and comfortable town of about 3,000. There are numerous hotels, hostels, restaurants, cabs etc. in the town.
The Sculpture Museum is a 2-story building whose centerpiece is a full scale, and full color, model of the Rosaline Temple, which was covered over when another temple was built on top of it. The museum also contains much of the original stonework from the site.
In addition, the Principal Group contains five major areas of interest The Acropolis, The Tunnels, The Ball Court, The Hieroglyphic Stairways and the Great Plaza.
The Acropolis is divided into two big plazas and two temples. An altar depicts the 16 members of the Copan Dynasty.
The Tunnels, 4km long, were dug by archaeologists under the acropolis to view earlier stages of Copan civilization. The Maya tended to build new temples over their old ones covering them completely. By digging the tunnels, the archaeologists were able to see these earlier buildings. Two of the tunnels are open to the public for an additional fee.
The ball court is the second largest in Central America.
The Great Plaza is famous for its stelae and altars that are found scattered around a well groomed lawn.
Las Sepulturas is another archaeological site, less than a mile from the main Copán site, and the admission is included in the Main Park fee. This site provides examples of how the people actually lived, and is the only such residential site open to the public in the Mayan Region.
How to get there
The ruins are located about a mile outside the town of Copan Ruinas, which is located about 100 miles southwest of the city of San Pedro Sula. The San Pedro Sula International Airport is the major airport serving this region, and this airport can be reached from Miami, Houston, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Mexico City and Cancun. In addition, there are connections via the Central American Airlines through San Jose, Costa Rica; San Salvador, El Salvador; Panama City, Panama and Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Once in San Pedro Sula, the easiest way to get to the ruins is to purchase a tour package through one of the tour operators in town. It is a three-hour bus ride to get to the ruins on such a tour. Another alternative is to take a regularly scheduled bus to Copan Ruinas and spend the night in one of the numerous hotels there.