On the approach to the Guatemalan-Honduran border, for reasons unknown, our mini-van was forced to slow, with several stationary vehicles blocking the lane ahead.
Turns out a large truck had rolled on its side, but thankfully, it appeared the driver, although shaken, was otherwise okay.
This came as a harsh reminder of how dangerous these roads can be, not solely due to their condition, but also because of the often maniacal speeds at which people drive them!
What proved a relatively pain free border crossing followed, before the final leg of our journey on to Copan Ruinas (both the town and the Mayan ruin site share the same name).
It seems that the shuttle company must have a deal with a local Honduran hostel, as rather than deposit us in the centre of town, we took a slightly more circuitous route before our journey finally concluded when we dropped outside a very closed looking establishment.
Turns out it looked closed because it was closed… indefinitely!
Apparently they couldn’t locate their guest register/log book which is monitored quite strictly by the government.
Unlucky for them, however it didn’t bother us, and we shortly found an alternative a few minutes from the main plaza (in fact the town is not huge, so anywhere is probably only a few minutes from said plaza).
With a place to rest our heads sorted, we fed ourselves with a cheap and filling lunch before a quick trip to the local market for some vegetables that would be our later dinner (it’s always satisfying when you can arrange a meal for around a $1.00).
Given that so much time still remained in the day, we decided to go and visit the ruins that same day rather than wait until the morning, thus allowing us to leaving early the following day (some sort of time efficiency methodology was applied here I’m sure).
As already mentioned, Copan Ruinas is a fairly small town and part of the reason both it and the ruins share a name is their proximity, so accordingly it was only a short 10 minute walk from the main plaza out to the ruins themselves.
Now compared to Guatemala’s Tikal, it appears (from what we’d read and heard) that Copan pales in comparison, and given how much lower than many of Mexico’s wonderful ruins even somewhere as lauded as Tikal sat (in our estimations), we didn’t make that walk holding huge expectations.
But whatever expectations were left we well and truly exceeded! It seems such a shame that this highlight of the southern reaches of what was once the Mayan empire is forced to sit in the shadows of many other more popular places.
Not as grand as Tikal, the nearest of the significant tourist sites, however where it surpasses its Guatemalan neighbour is in the quality and detail remaining in its carvings.
I’m not going to try and espouse the virtues of Tikal versus Copan here, however what I will note is that I feel our experience at Copan was better for having visited the former.
What you see at Copan is what is no longer left to enjoy at Tikal, so really as a package together they are superb.
Some of the ruins are still locked in a struggle with nature, and to be able to see ancient temples or crumbling stairways locked in with vines and tree roots just further adds to the charm.
It is a very nice place to simply wander, and even the tour buses that do arrive seem to be fewer in frequency and smaller in terms of the group sizes encountered.
This obviously means less dodging hordes of bodies and less creative camera shots to get people out of shot!
There is the option to take ones exploration a little further, or perhaps that should really be a little lower or deeper, as there is an optional extra which allows the exploration of some tunnels which lie underneath certain areas of the ruins themselves.
We however baulked at this option, as the additional cost was the same as the actual entrance fee and according to our occasionally trusty guidebook, does nothing to justify doubling the cost of ones Copan experience.
Instead we wandered a little more, taking in the last of what isn’t a huge archaeological site (or at least what’s available to explore is nice and compact).
So what was it that lifted Copan Ruinas so that it was almost on par with Tikal (in our humble opinions)?
That was thanks to the locals, and as nice as they appeared to be, I’m not referring to the local Honduran population.
Adding a splash of colour and exacerbating that sensation of being in a wild and rugged jungle were the resident Scarlett Macaws!
After finding the population in danger (they were worthy enough to even appear in the Mayan carvings), the area is now a protected one and the population, at least around the ruins themselves seems to now be healthy indeed!
With time on our side this particular afternoon, we ummed and ahhed about taking a walk along a small nature trail we’d spied on the approach to the ruins proper (this was on our right hand side after purchasing entrance tickets, but before we’d passed the fence protecting the ruins), before finally rationalising that we really had nothing better to do, so let’s just do it!
In the next 45 minutes that we walked this trail, there were times that we truly hated this decision, but it did produce a couple of nice little surprises.
The reason we enjoyed it less than we could have was really just a fault of our own, a lack of preparation, as this path seemed an incredibly popular haunt for Mosquitoes. So many in fact, it wasn’t even a challenge to kill a few, simply slap your arm (no aim necessary)!
Nevertheless we soldiered on, spotting the odd bit of wildlife in the brush, as well as many stunning birds in the branches and skies above, but the highlight was surely coming upon what they believe may have been a practice ball court in the middle of the jungle.
To think that so few people would take the time or make the effort to see this made us feel a little bit special indeed and also made the memories of those mosquitoes just a little dimmer.
* A shuttle from Antigua to Copan Ruinas cost us $20.00 US per person with the added convenience of no bus changes, and our driver waited whilst we were all processed through border control.
* Entrance into the Copan Ruinas site was again $20.00 US per person (why all these places do not use local currency for the prices is a wonder!)
* Although in town it was fine, around the ruins themselves there were large populations of Mosquitoes so if you possess repellent, slap some on before you go!