This magnificent park, located in the Copan Valley, has been a major source of information regarding the ancient Maya civilization. Copan has always been referred to as the most artistically advanced and elaborate of all the Maya cities. Copan was declared a heritage of humanity site in 1980 by UNESCO, and continuousstudy of the city by archaeologists for over a century make it the most studied city of the Maya.
Although the park itself is enclosed, the legacy of the Maya can be found throughout the valley. The principal attractionsare the main park, "Las Sepulturas", "Los Sapos" , the stelae surrounding the valley and the two museums: the Museum or Archaeology,located in the town and the Museum of Maya Sculpture, located within the Visitors Center area of the Park.
Entrance fee is now the equivalent to $15.00 US Dollars and includes a visit to the main park as well as the Sepulturas Archaeological site. The fee for the new Museum of Mayan Sculpture is $7.00 US Dollars or its equivalent. The Museum is withoutquestion a new major attraction to the park. Finally, the Museum of Archaeology, located downtown has an entrance fee of $3.00 US Dollars.Two different tunnels are open to the public: The "Rosa Lila" Tunnel and the "Los Jaguares" Tunnel.
The additional fee to enter these tunnels is $15.00.
The park has five basic areas of interest: TheBall Court, considered the social center of the city. This park is byfar the most artistic ball court in Meso-America. Unique to it are the markers on the side walls, resembling macaw heads. The final work done on this ball court goes back to the days of ruler 18 Rabbit.
The Great Plaza. Famous for its stelae and altars that are scattered around this immense plaza. Most of the stelaes that are standing today were erected during the times of the 13th ruler, known as 18 Rabbit between the years 711 and 736. Many of the altars have a zoomorphic form.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway. This unique temple holds the longest known text left to us by the ancient Maya civilization. It was erected by ruler number 15, known as Smoke-Shell and is believed to be a lineage tree, recording the ascension and death of all Copan rulers from Yax-Kuk-Mo to Smoke-Shell. The 5 portraits located in the stairway represent five successors to the dynasty. Unfortunately, the glyphs can not be read because the steps had all fallen out of place. Archaeologists rebuilt the temple, but had no way of knowing where each piece belonged. Today, this magnificent temple has an enormous tarp covering it to protect the steps from further erosion, which has unfortunately already damaged a great part of the glyphs.
The Acropolis. The acropolis is divided in two big plazas: the west court and the east court. The westcourt houses temple 11 and temple 16 with the unique altar Q set at its base. Temple 11 was built during the reign of Yax-Pac, and is his most significant architectural contribution to Copan. This very elaborate temple was meant to be his portal to the other world. Altar Qhas now been completely "read" and depicts each (16) of the members of the Copan Dynasty, including Yax-Pac, seated on their own glyph. Init, the founder of the dynasty Yax-Kuk-Mo is passing the scepter of power directly to Yax-Pac.
Temple 16 is set between the east and the west court, and in its last stage, was finished by Yax-Pac. One unique aspect of this building is that for some reason, the previous standingtemple was not defaced or "deactivated or terminated" but instead, a big effort to build on top of it without damaging it was made. This old temple, is known today as the "Rosa Lila Temple, or Temple of the Sun" and its discovery has helped archaeologists understand how Copan actually looked in its days of glory. The fine stucco masks of this building retain their original colors, and a replica of this temple isbeing made at the new museum of sculpture.
The long term archaeological studies and excavationsin Copan have lead to the digging of many a tunnel under the site itself. As a matter of fact, there are over 4 kilometers of tunnels under the acropolis. These have allowed archaeologists to view earlierstages of the Copan urban structure, as well as the discovery of important tumbs that have tought us much of the ancient Maya. As of March 1999, two of these tunnels are open to the public on a limited basis. Only ten persons will be allowed at one time in each tunnel, and they will be accompanied by a guide. The additional entrace fee of $10.00 USA dollars per person must be paid to gain access to th the tunnels. The tunnels that are open are the Rosa Lila Tunnel, located under temple 16 and represents what is perhaps the best preserved stucco building in the Maya civilization. A full size replica of this temple can be seen at the Museum of Mayan Sculpture within the park. The other tunnel is the "Los Jaguares Tunnel" This tunnel is over 700 meters long, and among other highlights, you will se what was one of themost important tumbs in Copan: Galindo's Tumb, discovered over a century ago!
Las Sepulturas" archaeological site forms part of the "PAC" (Proyecto Arqueológico Copán) and is located one mile from the central acropolis. This small site has been most important in understanding how the Mayan elite lived during the days before the collapse of Copan. Probably the most asked question by tourists visiting a site like Copan is: where did the population live? A good part of the answer to that question can be found at "Las Sepulturas". In addition, you will enjoy walking through its trails, listening to the birds and wildlife, and being surrounded by the peacefulness of the area. There are no guides on site, so if you wish a guided tour, whichis highly recommended, be sure you hire one at the visitors center atthe entrance to the main Copan park.
Commonly referred to as the “birthing place”, “Los Sapos” is a very small site located on the hilltops overlooking the Copan valley. Studies suggest that this is an area where the ancient copanecan Maya women would go to give birth to their offspring. It is easily accessible via horse back riding. You can arrange for a “guide”, usually a young boy from town to lead you there. The area is located within a private ranch, known as Hacienda San Lucas. This old hacienda is being remodeled and is one of the highlights in Copan. It offers an outstanding bed and breakfast, fine local cuisine and a complete bar with cold drinks including a fine cold Honduran beer after your hike in the area. They also offer horseback riding tours tothearea departing fromtheir visitor center located 1 ½ blocks from central park in Copan Ruinas. There is an entrance fee of Lps 30.00 perperson to the hacienda which goes into keeping the trails in good condition and providing visitors with better services. Other than the San Lucas horses, other good options are to hire a horse and a guide with one of the local tour operators in town, such as Xukpi Tours, Go Native Tours or MC Tours. Another good alternative is to stop by the Hotel Yaragua, located half a block from downtown, where you can arrange for a tour. The ride from town will take you about 45 minutes each way. “Los Sapos” is interesting in the fact that the stones sculptured there are “in situ”. In addition, the view of the Copan valley, the town and the main acropolis is well worth the walk!
Although most of the Mayan "tree stones" or stelae'sare located in the main plaza, there are a series of stelae's that are located throughout the valley in strategic locations. Some of these are very easily accessible, while others require an effort to get to. All of them were erected by Butz Hunab K'awil, more commonly known as Smoke Imix-God K as part of an effort to demonstrate the power of the Maya kings, the power of creation, inherited directly from the Gods that founded the order of the present world. Through them, he made the entire Copan valley his personal portal to the other world.
This small museum is located right on the main square of the colonial town of Copan. It houses a very complete selection of artifacts found in the site. Among the exhibits is a burial ground of a scribe, and complete original sculptured bench of the house excavated at "Las Sepulturas". The museum is well worth a visit. Open daily except Sundays from 8:00 am to 12:00pm and 1:00pm to4:00pm. Entrance fee is $2.00US dollars per person, and your ticket may be purchased at the Museum.
This massive museum is without doubt one of the highlights of your visit to Copan. Located adjacent to the visitors center and the ecological reserve area next to the park, the museum houses a series of original pieces of sculpture that have been recovered within the Copan Archaeological site. The masterpiece is thereal size replica of the Rosa Lila temple, discovered intact under structure 16 in the acropolis. This replica will give the visitor a veryclear idea of how the temples where decorated with stucco and paint during the peak of the Mayan culture, over 1000 years ago! In addition, a series of temples with fine sculpture have been reconstructed here. Perhaps the most outstanding is the facade of the Ball Court, which is completely original. The archaeological bench, originally from the Sepulturas site is also one of the most distinguished masterpieces. After exiting the museum, you can take the option of following the nature trail that is open and takes you throughthe dense jungle behind the ruins. The hike is a short 25 minute walkand is completely flat, making it easily accessible to most people. You will end at one of the ball courts within the park, from here, follow the trail to the left of the mounds and you will return to the entrance gate to the park. The entrance fee to the museum is $5.00 USAdollars.
Copan’s newest attraction, dedicated specifically tothe children visiting the ruins. This interactive museum is located at the old school building directly across the street from the centralpark, and is open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 a.m. till noon and 1:00 p.m. till 5:00 p.m. Closed on Sundays. Entrance is free, however large groups require an advance reseration which you can make by calling tel 651 4105. Casa K’inich offers children a place to learn though play and sensory interaction about the ancient Maya of Copan and aboutn the environment of this ancient region. Guided by local teachers, and assisted with signs in English, Spanish and Chorti (a Mayan dialect spoken in the local communities in the neighborhood of Copan) children will get a taste of the ancient Maya culture and modern environment. Casa K’inich is a must for all young children visiting Copan Ruinas.
Located near the town of La Entrada, (the detour is ashort 4km before this town) this site is the second most important archaeological park in Honduras. The detour is marked by a sign on theroad. There is a distance of 7 km between the road and the site itself. The area is perfectly safe to hike in, however, you can arrange for a pick up to take you to the visitors center. The road to the park has recently been paved, making the trip much faster and accesible year round. Because of this, there is no excuse to not visit this site. "El Puente "has only been opened to the public since January 1994, making it a site well off the usual path of tourists. The visitors center is equipped to provide the day visitor with information and basic services, such as rest rooms, a small restaurant, etc., as well as a fine museum of anthropology. For those who wish to visit "El Puente", and the museum, do not want to go on to San Pedro Sula the same day, but would prefer not to backtrack to Copan once again, there are several hotels in La Entrada. By far the best is the El San Carlos Hotel.