Michael Angelo’s ancient Mayan cousin must have lived here. Seriously. Copán, which lies in the northwestern part of Honduras not far from Guatemala, is covered with spectacularly carved stele and sculptures. History written in stone. You can see Mayan carvings at other sites, but nothing compares to those at Copán.
Copán was occupied for over 2,000 years from pre-classic through post-classic times. The city reached it’s height in the Late Classic era and is believed to have been home to 20,000-25,000 people. Walking around the ruins and reading my guidebook, I couldn’t help but think that one of the rulers- a man named 18 Rabbit, was a bit of an egomaniac, reminiscent of Ramesses II (only not as obsessed with size).
Although Copán was a regional power in its time, the site is compact and easy to enjoy without becoming too overwhelmed. This makes it an excellent place to explore the classic elements of Mayan architecture such as the tiered layers of rock which were used to form the Mayan arch and the ubiquitous ball courts.
And of course, there are pyramids. Two of these maybe considered highlights. One, Structure 26, boasts a stairway with Mayan writing carved into every step- The Hieroglyphic stairway.
Another, Rosalilia, is a pyramid within a pyramid. As happens in cities that are occupied for thousands of years, new structures were built on top of old ones. In the case of Rosalilia, special care was taken to preserve the inner building, which is entombed in Structure 16. Thus protected from the elements and from humans who wanted to loot or recycle building materials, Rosalilia offers us a chance to see what Mayan temples looked like in their time. There is a full-scale replica of Rosalilia in the Copán museum, allowing visitors to see her in her brilliant colors, while still protecting the original.
Like other Mayan ruins, Copán is an excellent place to enjoy the natural wonders of Central America. Things are lush and green, and a flock of scarlet macaws call this place home. The adjacent town, Copán Ruinas (the ruins are called “Copán” and the town is called “Copán Ruinas” – don’t ask), is a fabulously pleasant place to hang out. With plenty of good restaurants, affordable hotels and a walking path from town to the ruins, it has all the amenities without being annoyingly touristy. There’s even a zip-line.