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A town called Copan Ruinas is going to be most famous for the nearby Mayan ruins, but after spending a week in the small Honduran town just 12 miles from the Guatemalan border, we found there to be much more to Copan than first meets the eye, including several lesser known Mayan ruins scattered throughout the hills beyond town.
The town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras (Copan for short) can easily be reached by shuttle from the popular tourist town of Antigua, Guatemala, meaning that many travelers opt to visit the ruins on a day or overnight trip. The turnover rate for hotel beds in Copan is an average of 1.3, meaning that only 30% of visitors who stay in a hotel in Copan remain for more than one evening. However, despite a minuscule population of 6,600 inhabitants, there is plenty both in town and out in the verdant valley to entertain visitors truly curious about Honduran life.
The well-preserved town center is lined with colonial buildings which are by far the most well-maintained in all of Honduras and the cobblestone streets are filled with tourist-friendly cafes and restaurants. Grab a strong cup of coffee from the Espresso Americano coffee shop on the main plaza and watch the Honduran cowboys and macho reggaton-types mingle while children play catch and ladies sell freshly sliced fruit. Another option is to head up to the view point (mirador) on north side of the town. Although it is a steep climb, the views over the bright green hills are worth it.
The day before our visit to the official ruins, we set off on a hike through ViaVia Hostel/Café, which we booked through their on-site Basecamp tour agency. Setting off at 8am with a French couple and one of the three Belgian owners of the hostel, we hiked four hours through the mountainous countryside to the south of town.
Throughout the semi-arduous hike, our guide pointed out several Mayan sites, including several stelaes, which are large stone poles serving as location markers and telling the story of the village. From the highest stelae up on the furthest hill, we were able to peek onto the official Mayan Ruins site, too. There was also a giant stone frog, which is thought to be a site where Mayan women prayed for fertility. Definitely book a guide, as you will see many more ruins, and we also learned an immeasurable amount of Honduran culture from our guide, who after 9 years in Honduras, could relate both to our perspective and as a Honduran insider’s.
Birdwatchers will love Macaw Mountain, a bird sanctuary outside of Copan with 170 different species of birds. The ultimate forest chill-out spot, visitors pay the Nature Reserve entrance fee, and can hang out in hammocks, hike, interact with several bird species, visit the on-site coffee roasting house or eat at the riverside restaurant, owned and operated by the very popular Tanya of Twisted Tanya’s restaurant in town.
There are loads of other activities around Copan: you can visit the Butterfly House, tour the Finca El Cisne coffee plantation, visit a Maya village, go horseback-riding or spend a day relaxing in the nearby hot springs
Where to stay
Home to a major Central American tourist attraction, Copan Ruinas has a wide range of accommodation that caters to cheapie budget spots to high end luxury. We found various mid-range hotels with double rooms for US$25, not much more expensive than a double room in hostel, which are priced between $12-16. A bed in a dorm room can be found for US$6-$7.
ViaVia has double rooms with private bathroom for US$16, although it can get loud when there is live music in the bar at the weekends. There is good wi-fi in the restaurant.
Hotelito Marjenny has clean basic rooms with free wi-fi and ensuite bathrooms for US$15.
Hotel Jaragua on the south east side of the Parque Central has rooms with private bathroom, hot water, TV and wi-fi in the room for US$25.
Where to eat
Picame, a small restaurant on the road up from the bus station, has fantastic baleadas – a folded flour tortilla filled with refried beans, eggs and avocado.
Just one block west of the Parque Central is a delicious smoothie place called Super Jugos, a popular Honduran chain with huge fruit smoothies and milk shakes in all variations for just US$1.40.
Llama del Bosque opposite the ViaVia bar and hostel has good and cheap
breakfasts and local dishes.
Café Welchez on the north west side of the Parque Central has a great selection of cakes (even Banoffee Pie!).
Espresso Americano, a nationwide chain of coffee shops, is located on the north east side of the Parque Central and has excellent coffee.
ViaVia does not have the best food, but is a good place to hang out at night and has 2 for 1 on various cocktails & beers during Happy Hour.
Wine Barcito has amazing Spanish food cuisine, with a daily-changing menu, great wine to match, and it turns into a full scale bar with a DJ at night.