Whether you’re planning your first trip to Central America or are a veteran explorer with dozens of treks under your belt, there are a handful of travel destinations in Honduras that shouldn’t be missed, foremost of which are the ancient ruins of Copan. Even if you’ve visited every other set of Mayan ruins in Central America, your experience will be incomplete until you’ve made a stop at the Copan ruins.

Unlike Chichen Itza, which has been completely rebuilt and renovated, the ruins of Copan retain a sense of mystery and mysticism. When you set foot in these ruins, you’ll feel as if you’re rediscovering a primeval civilization. As a result, there’s nothing artificial about your experience at the ruins of Copan.

As the clock strikes eight each morning, the gates open and you have the chance to step back into ancient American history. A chorus of colorful, talkative macaws greet you as you make your way to the Eastern Plaza and notice several towers, stretching high above the valleys below. As you glance around the area, you see a stairway flanked with jaguar sculptures. Next to the stairway is a large open court that once echoed with the sounds of competitors playing tlachtli (Mayan: pok-ta-pok), an ancient Mayan ball game. It’s one of the largest such Mayan courts in the world, second only behind Chichen Itza’s.

Making your way through the ruins, you’ll discover dozens of ancient artifacts, including ritual accessories, sacred idols, sacrificial altars, and pyramids that were built for worship. It’s a space that strikes terror in the hearts of many local, superstitious people. They’ve grown up hearing stories of how this place is cursed and how a fearsome dragon now lives within one of its pyramids. Some have even claimed that if the dragon were to be slain, the city would suddenly come back to life. The ruins shouldn’t be rushed. Plan a minimum of a full day in Copan Ruinas.

If you’re looking to make the most of your visit, you’ll want to give yourself several hours to explore the entirety of the ruins. So, come prepared – with plenty to drink and a hat to shade yourself from the sun’s heat.

And make sure that you don’t miss…

The Acropolis

The Mayan’s Temple of the Sun (also called the Rosalila Temple) was replaced by what’s now called Temple 16. However, the original remains are intact and can still be clearly seen. In fact, you’ll be able to see this sacred space as intended by its Mayan engineers since the structure’s outer stucco coating still has its original colors. It’s one of the best-preserved stucco-coated Mayan buildings in the world.

The Great Plaza

Scattered across this large, picturesque courtyard, you’ll find a variety of well-known stelae and altars. If you look closely, you may even notice one of the most famous Mayan stelae in the world, the ’18 Rabbit’, representing the 13th ruler of Copan.

Underground Tunnels

When you’re finished exploring the surface ruins of Copan, you can move into Los Jaguares Tunnel, a 700-meter-long tunnel that houses the tomb of Galindo. Excavations have been ongoing since the 1970s and have revealed numerous other tombs, aqueducts, baths, and more.

includes more than 4,500 structures (spread over 24 sq km)

The only two are open to the public: Rosa Lila Tunnel and Los Jaguares Tunnel.

The fastest way to get to Copan Ruinas from San Pedro Sula is by car. The journey is roughly 3 hours long and will cost 260 HNL ($11) per day, if renting. Alternatively, take a 6h 40m bus ride,which costs 1600 HNL ($65).

To enter the Copan Ruinas, discovered by Diego García de Palacio in 1570, you’ll pay 369 HML ($15) per person. This includes entry to Las Sepultras, located a two kilometre walk away. Other attractions and activities in and around Copan Ruinas are:

  • Underground tunnels: 240 HNL ($10)
  • The Museo de Esculturas: 175 HML ($7)
  • Copan Bird Park: 960 HML ($38)
  • Horse Riding: 3200 HML ($130)