If you are planning a visit to Copan Ruinas no doubt you are coming here to visit the incredible Copan Mayan Ruins. Well, I am here to tell you everything you need to know including how to get to the Copan Mayan Ruins, entry fees, opening hours, what you can see, and more!
If you are looking for a destination that combines history, culture, and nature, you should consider visiting the Copan Mayan Ruins in Honduras.
Copan was one of the most important and impressive cities of the ancient Maya civilization, and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts thousands of visitors every year.
The Copan Mayan Ruins offer a unique opportunity to explore the ruins of a magnificent city that flourished from the 5th to the 9th century AD and to admire its stunning stone sculptures and intricate hieroglyphs.
You can also enjoy the beauty and diversity of the surrounding forests, where you can spot wildlife such as macaws, monkeys, toucans, and more.
Though there are definitely some things you will want to know prior to visiting to make the most out of your experience, and this is where I come in.
In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know about the Copan Mayan Ruins, including how to get there, entry fees, opening hours, history, and more.
Ultimately allowing you to make the most out of your trip to the ruins and have an unforgettable experience that will enrich your knowledge and appreciation of the Maya culture and its legacy.
Visiting The Copan Mayan Ruins: What You NEED To Know
- History Of The Copan Mayan Ruins
- Why Visit The Copan Mayan Ruins
- Entry Fee To The Copan Mayan Ruins
- Opening Hours Of The Copan Mayan Ruins
- How To Get To The Copan Mayan Ruins
- How Long To Spend At The Copan Mayan Ruins
- When To Visit The Copan Mayan Ruins
- What To See At The Copan Mayan Ruins
- Wildlife At The Copan Ruins
- My Experience At The Copan Mayan Ruins
History Of The Copan Mayan Ruins
The Copan Mayan Ruins are in western Honduras, close to Guatemala. They are one of the coolest places to see how the Maya lived from the 5th to the 9th centuries AD. A guy named Diego found them in 1570 but people didn’t really start digging them up until much later.
The Copan site was the main city of a big kingdom that ruled over a lot of land. It was started by a Maya leader named Yax Kuk Mo, who came from Tikal in Petén and made a family of 16 rulers that made Copan one of the best Maya cities.
The Copan Mayan Ruins have a main complex of ruins with some smaller ones around them. The main complex has the Acropolis, a huge structure that has pyramids, terraces, temples, and some plazas.
Some of the plazas are the Ceremonial Plaza, with a cool stadium and sculptures of monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with a big stairway that has more than 1,800 glyphs, the longest Maya writing ever; and the Eastern Plaza, with a stairway with jaguar figures.
It is famous for its unique sculptures, which show the Maya culture and identity of its rulers. The sculptures have stelae, altars, statues, and carvings that show the kings, gods, ancestors, and events of Copan’s history.
The sculptures also have influences from other places, like Teotihuacan and Quirigua. The Copan site also has underground tunnels that show older structures and tombs.
The Copan site was left in the early 10th century after things went bad and there was a lot of trouble. The city had a big loss in AD 738 when its king Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awiil was caught and killed by his former friend, the king of Quirigua.
This made Copan lose its power and fame, which it never got back.
The Copan site is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cultural monument of Honduras. It is one of the most popular places to visit in the country and a source of pride and inspiration for the Honduran people.
Why Visit The Copan Mayan Ruins
At the Copan Mayan Ruins, you can admire the impressive architecture, sculpture, and hieroglyphs that reveal the achievements and mysteries of the Maya people. A highlight is the Acropolis, a massive complex of pyramids, terraces, and temples that housed royal palaces and tombs.
You can also explore the plazas, where you can find the Ceremonial Plaza, with its stunning stadium and carved monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with its monumental stairway that has the longest known Maya inscription; and the Eastern Plaza, with its jaguar stairway and stelae
Copan is also famous for its distinctive sculptural style, which reflects the Maya ethnicity and culture of its rulers. You can see stelae, altars, statues, and carvings that depict the kings, gods, ancestors, and events of Copan’s history.
You can also see influences from other regions, such as Teotihuacan and Quirigua. You can also visit the tunnels that reveal earlier structures and tombs under the Acropolis.
Copan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cultural monument of Honduras. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the country and a source of pride and inspiration for the Honduran people.
This was certainly a highlight for me and was one of the more enjoyable ruins I have visited in Central America because of the surrounding nature, and it’s not overrun with tourists. It is also an active archaeological site, where new discoveries are being made every year.
By visiting Copan, you can learn more about the Maya civilization and its legacy, as well as support the conservation and research of this amazing site.
Entry Fee To The Copan Mayan Ruins
To visit the Copan Mayan ruins, you need to pay a main entry fee of $15, which includes the entrance to Copan and Las Sepulturas. This fee also allows you to access the Museum of Sculpture, which displays replicas and originals of the sculptures found at the site.
If you want to see more of the ruins, you can also pay an additional fee of $15 each to enter the Rosa Lila tunnel and Los Jaguares tunnel, which reveal earlier structures and tombs under the Acropolis.
Tickets can be purchased at the park itself and you will also find places to purchase water and souvenirs at the same spot.
Opening Hours Of The Copan Mayan Ruins
The Copan Mayan Ruins are open every day of the year, rain or shine, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Though I will say that if you are spending a few days in Copan Ruinas, try and plan your visit on a weekday rather than a weekend to avoid the crowds. This is also a popular spot with locals.
How To Get To The Copan Mayan Ruins
The Copan Mayan ruins are located 1 km east of the town of Copan Ruinas. To get to the ruins, you have two options:
Walk: You can walk a bit over 1 km from the town’s central park (Parque Central), heading south on Av. Copan and then merge east on CA11 Avenue until you reach the ruins to your right. There is a nice pedestrian walking path along the main road that you can take.
Tuk-Tuk: You can also take a moto-taxi or a tuk-tuk, which are small three-wheeled vehicles that can fit up to three passengers. They are easy to find in the town and they should not cost more than L$20-40 / $0.80 – $1.60. The ride takes about 5 minutes.
Honestly, you are best off hitting the runs early so you can easily walk there from the town before the day gets too hot, plus it is not undercover at the ruins and you will be right out in the heat, so the earlier in the day the better.
On the way back to town I recommend getting a tuk tuk which you will easily find outside the carpark. They had a signboard with fixed rates with the journey to town costing L15 / $0.60 which was a very reasonable price.
How Long To Spend At The Copan Mayan Ruins
The Copan Mayan ruins are a fascinating and impressive site that deserves at least half a day to visit. You can explore the main complex of ruins, which includes the Acropolis, the plazas, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, and the stelae.
You can also visit the Museum of Sculpture, which displays replicas and originals of the sculptures found at the site.
If you want to see more of the ruins, you can also pay an additional fee to enter the Rosa Lila tunnel and Los Jaguares tunnel, which reveal earlier structures and tombs under the Acropolis. These tunnels are worth visiting if you are interested in seeing the hidden layers of history and art of Copan.
You can also visit the nearby site of Las Sepultura, which is included in your main entrance fee. Las Sepultura was a residential area of Copan, where you can see the remains of houses, temples, and tombs of different social classes. You can also see some stelae and altars that are similar to those on the main site.
There is also a little jungle walk which you can do to try to find wildlife. Though honestly, I would skip this and instead visit the museums as the bushes were so dense it was difficult to spot any wildlife, except the territorial bugs which we were running away from.
Depending on your level of interest and budget, you can spend anywhere from 2 to 6 hours at the Copan Mayan ruins. You can also hire a guide at the entrance or join a tour group if you want to learn more about the history and culture of Copan.
Personally, we spent 3 hours only exploring the park and the jungle walk before we got too hot, tired, and hungry.
When To Visit The Copan Mayan Ruins
The Copan Mayan ruins are open all year round, so you can visit them at any time of the year, but there are some factors to consider when planning your trip:
Dry Season: The best time to visit the Copan Mayan ruins is during the dry season, which runs from November to April. The weather is sunny and pleasant, and the ruins are less crowded. The downside is that this is also the high season for tourism, so prices may be higher and accommodation may be harder to find
Wet Season: The worst time to visit the Copan Mayan ruins is during the rainy season, which runs from May to October. The weather is humid and wet, and the ruins may be muddy and slippery.
The upside is that this is also the low season for tourism, so prices may be lower and accommodation may be easier to find. You may also enjoy seeing the lush green vegetation and the colorful flowers that bloom during this time
Holidays: The most festive time to visit the Copan Mayan ruins is during the local celebrations and holidays, such as Easter, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Independence Day (September 15th).
You can experience the culture and traditions of the town of Copan Ruinas, which hosts parades, dances, fireworks, and other events.
Ultimately, the best time to visit the Copan Mayan ruins depends on your personal preferences and budget. You can have a great experience at any time of the year, as long as you are prepared for the weather and the crowds.
What To See At The Copan Mayan Ruins
There are a variety of different parts to explore at the Copan Mayan Ruinas, these are some of the highlights:
The Great Plaza
The Great Plaza at Copan Mayan ruins is also known as the Ceremonial Plaza or the Central Plaza. It is a large open space with an impressive stadium and sculptured monoliths and altars. It is one of the most important and impressive parts of the site, as it was the main public and ceremonial space of the city.
The Great Okaza is surrounded by several structures, such as the Acropolis, the ball court, and Temple 11. The most notable features of the plaza are the stelae, which are stone columns that depict the kings and gods of Copan.
You will spend a couple of hours exploring the Great Plaza and all that you can find within so make sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen.
There are 21 stelae in the Great Plaza, each with a corresponding altar. The stelae are arranged in chronological order, from Stela 1 to Stela 21, representing the dynastic history of Copan from AD 426 to AD 800.
The stelae are remarkable for their artistic quality and detail, as they show the portraits and costumes of the rulers, as well as their names and titles in hieroglyphs.
The stelae also reflect the political and religious ideology of Copan, as they emphasize the divine ancestry and authority of the kings, as well as their relationship with the gods and ancestors. The stelae are considered among the finest examples of Maya sculpture and art.
The Acropolis is the main structure of the Copan Mayan ruins, which contains pyramids, terraces, and temples that housed the royal palaces and tombs. It is a magnificent architectural complex that appears today as a large mass of rubble, which came about through successive additions of buildings over time
The Acropolis is divided into two main sections: the East Court and the West Court.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway
The Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan Ruins is a remarkable monument that showcases the rich history and culture of the ancient Maya civilization. The stairway is part of a temple-pyramid known as Structure 26, which was built by the 14th ruler of Copan, K’ak Joplaj Chan K’awiil, in the 8th century CE.
The stairway has 63 steps that have more than 2,000 glyphs carved on stone blocks. These glyphs are the longest and maybe the most famous writing in the Maya area, telling the story of Copan from the first king, Yax K’uk Moh, to the 16th king, 18 Rabbit. The stairway also focuses on the story of the 12th king, K’ak Uti Ha K’awiil, whose tomb was found inside the pyramid.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway is a unique and invaluable source of information about the Maya kings and their achievements. However, it is also a fragile and endangered monument that has been damaged by earthquakes, erosion, and vandalism over the centuries.
The stairway was first found by Alfred Percival Maudslay in 1885, and later dug up by the Peabody Museum from 1892 to 1900. But many of the stone blocks had moved and were mixed up by archaeologists in the 1930s and 1940s, making it hard to read them right.
Since then, people have tried to protect, fix, and study the stairway, like putting a cover over it, scanning it with 3D cameras, and figuring out what the glyphs mean.
Visiting the tunnels at Copan ruins is a unique and fascinating experience that allows you to explore the hidden layers of the ancient Maya city. The tunnels are passages that were dug by archaeologists to reveal the earlier structures and tombs that were buried by successive constructions over time.
There are over 4 km of tunnels under the Acropolis, but only two of them are open to the public: the Rosalila Tunnel and the Los Jaguares Tunnel.
The Rosalila Tunnel is located under Temple 16 and includes the remains of the Rosalila Temple, which was built by the 10th ruler, Moon Jaguar, around 571 CE, and was later covered by a larger temple by his successor, Smoke Imix.
The Rosalila Temple is one of the best-preserved temples at Copan and is decorated with elaborate stucco masks and sculptures that represent the Maya gods and cosmology.
The Los Jaguares Tunnel is located under Temple 26 and includes several chambers and tombs that date back to the Early Classic period. One of the tombs belongs to the 12th ruler, K’ak Uti Ha K’awiil, whose reign marked a golden age for Copan.
To visit the tunnels at Copan ruins, you need to buy a separate ticket from the main entrance and join a guided tour that lasts about an hour. The tours are available in Spanish and English, and provide information and insights about the tunnels and their discoveries.
The tours are limited to small groups of people and require wearing a hard hat and a flashlight. They are also narrow, dark, humid, and sometimes steep, so they are not recommended for people who suffer from claustrophobia or have mobility issues.
The Eastern Plaza
The Eastern Plaza at the Copan ruins is a large and elevated platform that overlooks the valley floor. It is one of the five plazas that make up the main complex of ruins, and it showcases some of the most impressive stelae and altars at Copan. It was built by the 13th ruler of Copan, 18 Rabbit.
The Eastern Plaza is accessed by a stairway on its western side, which is sculpted with figures of jaguars that were originally inlaid with black obsidian. The stairway leads to a wide open space that contains five stelae, four altars, and two other monuments.
The stelae depict 18 Rabbit in different costumes and poses, representing his roles as a king, a priest, and a god. The altars are circular stone platforms that were used for rituals and sacrifices.
The Eastern Plaza also extends to the southeast, where a series of low platforms and structures form the eastern perimeter. These include the Ball Court Plaza and the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, which are two of the most outstanding features of Copan.
The Ball Court Plaza contains a ball court where the Maya played a sacred game that involved bouncing a rubber ball through stone rings.
The Museum of Sculpture
The Museum of Sculpture at Copan Ruins is a must-see attraction that showcases the finest examples of Maya art and architecture from Copan. It was designed to respect the ancient landscape and to protect the precious sculptures from the elements.
You can find the museum located near the entrance of the archaeological site which covers an area of 4,000 square meters on two levels. The museum is accessed by a tunnel that represents the jaws of a mythical serpent that the Maya rulers used to communicate with their ancestors.
The tunnel leads to a large courtyard that contains a full-color, scale replica of the Rosalila Temple, one of the best-preserved and most elaborate temples at Copan. The temple was built by the 10th ruler, Moon Jaguar, around 571 CE, and was later buried by a larger temple by his successor, Smoke Imix.
The museum also displays more than 3,000 sculptures and architectural elements that were recovered from the ruins, such as stelae, altars, benches, thrones, masks, and glyphs.
The sculptures are arranged in galleries that illustrate the history and culture of Copan, as well as the artistic and technical skills of its inhabitants.
Las Sepulturas in Copan Ruins is a secondary complex that was a residential area for the elite of the ancient Maya city. It is situated a little more than a kilometer northeast of the main site, and it was connected by a large sacred road known as a sacbe.
Las Sepulturas offers a unique opportunity to see how the Maya aristocracy lived, with several open plazas flanked by impressive houses and buildings.
Las Sepulturas was occupied for more than two thousand years, and it contains structures that date from the Preclassic to the Terminal Classic periods. The name Las Sepulturas means “the tombs” in Spanish, and it was given by local farmers who discovered an abundance of tombs around the area.
The nobility of Las Sepulturas were indeed buried under and around their homes, with some of the oldest tombs belonging to priests and scribes from the 5th century CE. Some of the tombs contained rich offerings of jade, pottery, shells, and obsidian.
Las Sepulturas is divided into several groups of structures that are named after letters of the alphabet. Some of the most notable groups are:
- Group A contains a large palace with several rooms and courtyards.
- Group H, contains a temple pyramid with a stucco mask of a deity on its facade.
- Group L, contains a complex of buildings that may have been used for administrative purposes.
- Group O, contains a small ball court where the Maya played a sacred game that involved bouncing a rubber ball through stone rings.
To visit Las Sepulturas, you need to buy a separate ticket from the main entrance of Copan Ruins, or you can buy a combined ticket that includes both sites.
You can walk to Las Sepulturas from the main site, following the signs along the road, or you can take a taxi or a tuk-tuk that costs around L$20-40 / $0.80- $1.60.
Wildlife At The Copan Ruins
The Copan ruins are not only a remarkable archaeological site but also a natural sanctuary for a variety of wildlife. The ruins are surrounded by lush forests that provide habitat and food for many animals, such as monkeys, toucans, parrots, sloths, peccaries, and more.
The wildlife adds to the beauty and mystery of the ancient Maya city and offers a chance to observe and appreciate the biodiversity of Honduras.
One of the most iconic animals you can see at the Copan ruins is the scarlet macaw, a large and colorful parrot that is the national bird of Honduras. The scarlet macaw was revered by the Maya as a symbol of the sun god, and its feathers were used for adornment and rituals.
The macaws can be seen flying over the ruins, perching on the trees, or feeding on fruits and seeds, and were definitely a highlight of my visit. They are also part of a conservation project called Macaw Mountain, which aims to rescue, rehabilitate, and reintroduce macaws into their natural habitat
Another animal you can encounter at the Copan ruins is the spider monkey, a small and agile primate that lives in the treetops. The spider monkey has a long tail that helps it balance and swing from branch to branch. It feeds mainly on fruits, leaves, and flowers, and sometimes shares its food with other monkeys.
My Experience At The Copan Mayan Ruins
Now I visited The Copan Mayan Ruins in the month of June which is considered the wet season. Sure, it rained in the evenings so we were usually in bed relatively early, but the days were hot, like crazy hot. Therefore we made the decision to visit the ruins straight after grabbing a baleada for breakfast.
This is still pretty early in the day we also decide to walk there, plus it is downhill which also makes things a lot easier. We cross over the main road and follow the signs for the easy 1-kilometer walk to the Copan Mayan Ruins.
Once there we head into a building where we purchase a ticket as well as a bottle of water to keep us hydrated. Then it’s time to walk down the wide path, declining offers for a guide, until we reach the entry of the ruins.
Our tickets are scanned in and we enter right to the local wildlife having their breakfast. There is a macaw, as well as a few other birds, and a cheeky squirrel munching out on some fresh fruit.
Unfortunately, you do need to walk around the ruins a set way which is anti-clockwise so we are ushered away from the feeding animals and are told to follow the path around to the right. Doing so we enjoy the shade the trees provide and soon find a small hill with stairs leading up it.
At the top, we are met with the most impressive views, ruins as far as you can see, to your left, to your right, and in front of you. It’s absolutely insane the size of the Copan Mayan Ruins, and we are somehow expected to explore it all.
We slowly make our way around the different areas of the ruins, starting off with the Acropolis and the Western and Eastern courts. Plenty of rest stops are had and large quantities of water are consumed as we try to catch a break from the heat.
We climb up what is left of the Acropolis where nature is taking over, and descend down the other side to the Hieroglyphic Stairway. This area is undercover so its quite nice to take a break here to appreciate the beauty of the history around you.
Continuing on we venture out into the Great Plaza and watch the macaws soar over us, between various trees, and to their nesting boxes. These beautiful animals definitely add another element to an already impressive park. We wander around the Great Plaza admiring the various stelaes scattered around. Though it is quite exposed here and soon enough the heat becomes too much and we decide to continue on.
Before exiting the park itself we stop once more at the feeding stations we watch the local wildlife have a nibble. Unfortunately, the macaws have had their lunch and have dispersed. Though unlike when we came in, we actually looked up on the way out, to find the main pathway lined with their nesting boxes high up in the trees.
We also did the small jungle walk which honestly I do not recommend unless you have a guide. It was not overly well marked, and the bushes were quite dense so it was hard to spot any wildlife.
Nevertheless, it’s no doubt the Copan Mayan Ruins were my favorite that I visited throughout my travels in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. The size of them, mixed with it not being over touristy, and the abundance of wildlife made this a super memorable experience.
Where To Stay In Copan Ruinas
Copan Ruinas is a super quaint and just chill town. There are a few accommodation options here, but you won’t find a lot compared to Guatemala.
Honestly, I think of it being because travelers have two options to take, either El Salvador, or Honduras, and because of safety concerns they tend to choose the other option. Though you will be glad you chose Honduras because it’s an absolutely incredible country.
One thing to be aware of is Copan Ruinas does lack hostel options, though this doesn’t mean you won’t find other backpackers here. This is a super popular spot with budget travelers and you will find plenty of affordable guesthouse and accommodation options.
Personally, I stayed at Hostel Iguana Azul which is the only hostel option with a dorm room, but I did book in the private rooms which are equally as affordable. We had a shared bathroom and it was fan cooled. Facilities were on the basic side, but for the price point, this was an excellent choice.
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Another affordable choice close to the town center. Private rooms start from $21.00 per night with a shared bathroom.BOOK NOW
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Other Things To Do In Copan Ruinas
Copan Ruinas is a charming town in Honduras, famous for its proximity to the ancient Mayan ruins of Copan. But there is more to this place than just the archaeological site.
Copan Ruinas offers a variety of activities and attractions for visitors who want to experience the culture, nature, and history of this region.
Here are some of the best things to do in Copan Ruinas:
Explore Macaw Mountain: This is a bird park and nature reserve that rescues and rehabilitates macaws, toucans, parrots, and other exotic birds. You can walk through the lush forest, interact with the friendly birds, and learn about their conservation.
Visit the Copan Sculpture Museum: This museum showcases the impressive art and architecture of the Mayan civilization that flourished in Copan. You can see original sculptures, stelae, altars, and hieroglyphs that depict the rulers, gods, and rituals of the ancient city.
Relax at the Luna Jaguar Spa Hot Springs: This is a natural spa that offers thermal pools, massages, mud baths, and sauna. You can enjoy the soothing waters surrounded by tropical vegetation and volcanic rocks. Just be aware this is a little bit of a drive away, but there are plenty of tours on offer that you can book.
Shop for souvenirs and explore the town: Copan Ruinas has a charming colonial atmosphere with cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and friendly locals. You can shop for handicrafts, jewelry, textiles, and pottery that reflect the Mayan heritage of the area. You can also check out the weekend market, where you can find fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, and tortillas.
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