Central America #14: Copan Ruinas, Honduras – exploring some Mayan culture

Having made it through Tegucigalpa unscathed, I decided that the next stop was to be Copan Ruinas, a site of Mayan ruins sat on the triple border with Guatemala and El Salvador. I’d already paid for an extra day in the Honduran capital, but thankfully the hostel reimbursed what I’d paid and I set off in a hurry so that I could get to my destination before the day was out.

I didn’t make it. The direct bus to Copan Ruinas was ridiculously priced at around 35USD, whereas breaking it down and going via San Pedro Sula, where the expensive bus passed anyway, would cost about a quarter of that price. I took the latter option and actually made it in time to catch either of the last two buses out to Copan from San Pedro, but as it happened, they were fully booked. For those who haven’t heard of San Pedro Sula, it regularly tops the list for most murders per inhabitant in the world, thus qualifying as the most dangerous city in the world outside of a war zone. My only impression of the place was the flashy new bus terminal, which was excellent by Central American standards. In addition, a guy from San Pedro at the hostel in Tegus had told me that the city wasn’t as ghastly as it was made out to be, as most of the deaths are accounted for by drug wars which rarely impinge on the lives of the locals. Then again, he had spent a lot of time travelling, so must have been relatively rich, and therefore probably lived in a gated community somewhere.

San Pedro Sula here I come (for 10 minutes)

Anyway, as I couldn’t get directly to Copan, I took a shot at Plan C and jumped on a bus towards Santa Rosa de Copan, which some quick map-reading earlier had shown me was not so far away from my intended destination. About two and a half hours later we got to Santa Rosa, a small town with not much to write home about. I asked around if any buses would be going to Copan, but the locals said not, so I set about finding a hotel for the night. I foundgreat wifi in a chicken restaurant (it must be said that Internet connection in Honduras is decent for the region), but had no real luck finding anything nearby, so opted to stay in a hotel called Noemi’s on the main road, a hair’s breadth from the bus terminal. It cost me about 15 USD, but they gave me a room with three double beds and I had cable TV, so who was I to complain? I spent a few hours browsing online at the Texaco garage across the road and had a Subway dinner in the same place, before watching Nat Geo for a while and hitting the hay.

The next day I got up at about 6am so as to catch the early bus to Copan, and it was a good thing I was there a bit before departure time, as they decided to leave the terminal about fifteen minutes early and park further down the street. The bus cost about 4 USD and deposited me at Copan about two hours later by the bridge which leads into the small town. I walked up the cobble-stoned hill and stayed in Berakah Hostel for 7 USD for the one night I would stay. Initially, I was the only guest there, but other people arrived later. I first went for breakfast and had the classic eggs, rice, beans and tortilla combo with coffee, ordered without asking the price beforehand, but they charged me fairly, as Hondurans had done for the most part.

From the town it was about a 10-minute walk to the ruins, and cost 15 USD to enter the main site, plus some other less-renowned tombs further up the road. Guides cost 20 USD, but I opted against having one, and museum entry would have been an additional 10 USD, but I didn’t pay for that, and just as well, as people would later tell me that it wasn’t worth it.

Loud macaws

I first went along to what were called the residences, and wasn’t wholly impressed. In fact, the din made by the colourful macaws on my way in had got my attention more. However, when I got the main part of the ruins, what with the temple, sporting arena and so on, I certainly began to enjoy my first Mayan experience. I was keeping myself to myself and quietly observing a statue, when an indigenous man with the look of a farmer came over and started talking about what I was looking at. I politely let him give his speech about the statue, and to be fair, he was quite well-informed, but I wasn’t in the mood for a guide, whether official or unofficial as he was.


He claimed that the other guides charged 40 USD and that he would give me a special price of 15 USD. Having learned the art of fibbing from Nicaraguans, I lied back to him, saying I only had the change left from my lunch on me, and I showed him the evidence. He pointed at my other pocket and questioned what the slight bulge was, the audacious fellow, but I was prepared, and showed my ID, any other notes safely tucked away in an inside pocket away from his sight. I told him that was all I had and that I didn’t want to take advantage of him, but he said whatever and that I give him however much I had.

The Copan ruins are on the 1-Lempira bank note

I must admit that despite my reluctance to have a guided tour, I was glad that I did in the end, as he explained several things that I would never have figured out on my own due to lack of any information to accompany the monuments. We saw the temples and pelota arena, a sport whose winning team were sacrificed, but whose players were still insistent on winning. After a while he left me to it, and I gave the amount promised, and that left just me and barely any other tourists with the site to ourselves. There were a few dodgy-looking characters dotted around, and I even asked one to take a photo of me, which could perhaps have had differing consequences for the fate of my phone.


As with most people who took photos of me during my Central American trip, he failed miserably, and I realised that I’m not such a bad photographer myself. I don’t know why people find it so difficult to understand that if someone stands in from of a Mayan temple or something of that ilk, they would prefer for the photo to show both the whole thing as well as the person, rather than the subject of the photo and a backdrop of wall that means nothing to nobody. Anyhow, I couldn’t find anyone to take pics of me, so I took selfies, which I am admittedly useless at taking. I then took a few moments to sit atop one of the temples and merely admire my surroundings, trying to imagine myself in Mayan times, perhaps as a warrior.

Where pelota was played

After this daydream, I headed back and had the super-effective stomach cleanser that is papaya and banana combined, and went on to chat with the other people staying at the hostel, which included a Swiss guy I’d meet on a mountaintop a few weeks later and a British woman who had just gotten the travel bug in her late fifties. I went with the Swiss guy and a rather hazy Australian girl, who reminded me of Cass from Skins, for a drink, which ended up not being a beer as was habit, but a milkshake, in my case containing mango.

The next day I’d have yet another early start, as I hoped to get down to the Pacific beaches in El Salvador before sundown the next day. The heavy travelling was starting to take a toll on me, and at this point I decided that when I got to my next destination, I’d stop moving so quickly and spend a few days chilling.

My time in Honduras would come to an end, and I was certainly glad that I hadn’t skipped it for just another tourist hotspot. Of course, Tegucigalpa wasn’t paradisaical, but I didn’t expect it to be. Copan Ruinas had been my fist ruins experience, so I was glad I could add that to the list of things I’d done on the trip, and I’d had a cultural experience rather than an extreme sports one. As I’ve mentioned before, due to not being infested with tourists, Honduran people still manage to treat visitors well and are a very polite and honest people.

The reality is that due to the political and safety situation of the country, there’s hardly likely to be an influx of foreigners any time soon. Honduras has nowhere near the same tourism infrastructure as Guatemala or even Nicaragua, but shares the same geographical characteristics. I felt I’d had a Honduran experience rather than a gringo-central one, and often one has to mix the beaten trail with other places not so as explored, so as to remember that not the whole world operates out of a tourist bubble.

Jeans and trainers, no flip-flops.


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