Saturday July 14th Gracias -Copan Ruinas
Pretty long day on the buses– lots of roadworks on the roads between the two towns so the trip ended up taking nearly 6 hours – for about 100kms distance! Checked into a lovely hostel in Copan Ruinas called Iguana Azul. The town seems just lovely and they people are super friendly.
Sunday July 15th Copan Ruinas
Quiet day of relaxation today – world cup final was on this morning (France won) and I spent the afternoon wandering the streets of the city. It gets really hot during the middle of the day here!
Monday July 16th Copan Ruinas
Took a trip to the Luna Jaguar Spa today. It’s located up a pretty rough dirt road about 25kms from Copan Ruinas. I took the public bus to get there in the morning. It was way cheaper and because I had arrived at the hot springs so early, I had them all to myself for the three hours that I was there which was incredible! There were a bunch of different hot pools of different temperatures to enjoy – up to 40 degrees Celsius in temperature which was a little bit uncomfortable! One of the pools had a waterfall which worked as a shoulder massage when you sat below it, and another had mud that could be used as a face mask! It was the most incredible place set way out in the jungle – very private. I really enjoyed relaxing in the hot water, reading my book! One of the locals even gave me a free ride back into Copan Ruinas in the back of his ute which was super kind. That night I had the whole hostel to myself which was awesome – it’s not very often that you have your own place when you are travelling as a backpacker!
Tuesday July 17th Copan Ruinas
This morning it was up early for a visit to the Mayan ruins of Copan which opened at 8am. My German friend Joost had just got into town so we decided to tour the ruins together. At 8am we were the only ones there which was great – where are all the tourists?! The ruins are pretty spectacular – the main point of difference with other sites in Mexico and Guatemala is that the stone carvings are really well preserved and detailed, many of them have been reproduced and the originals are held in the sculpture museum at the site to preserve them. The macaw is the national bird of Honduras and we saw two on the way to the front gate of the park – they are beautiful birds and their images are found carved into many of the ruins at the site. After passing through the entry gate, after a short walk we very soon arrived at the main plaza which was a wide open grassy area which contained a number of Stelae (statues) which the king of the day would have had commissioned to demonstrate his power – through investment in the arts. This huge plaza was open to the public so they could come in from the surrounding areas to view the art, make sacrifices to the gods and watch the ball games in the nearby ball court. It would have been an amazing sight to see it full of people back in the day. As we moved on through the site we came to the ball court and the most famous part of the site, the hieroglyphic staircase.
The ball court was interesting – it was much smaller (narrow and long) than the courts that I had seen in Tikal and Chichen Itza. It also didn’t have any hoops for the players to score as in the other two places. Actually in Copan, players scored goals by throwing the ball at the carved Macaw heads which were on either side of the ball court. As in the other places, the losers (or winners) were often sacrificed to the gods after the game – they aren’t sure which ones!
The hieroglyphic staircase was covered over by a huge tarp to prevent further damage to the carvings into the stone. Apparently the carvings tell the story of the empire over hundreds of years. Also interesting was that there are many levels underneath the level we see today – the final one. This is because every time a new king took over, he built new structures over the top of the old ones.
The Rosalalia temple was found practically intact underneath the Acropolis which was built directly over the top of it. I didn’t pay to go down into the tunnels to see it, but there was a life sized recreation inside the Estatua museum. It’s hard to believe that something that large could be hiding underneath these temples.
Halfway through walking around the ruins, we ran into a Brazilian guy who was staying at Joost’s hostel and he invited us to join his tour. It was great to get a little bit more information about the structures and the tour was also in Spanish so it was really good practice too! The guide also took us on a tour through the outer ruins at Sepalchulas where the intellectuals and scientists lived, just outside the main centre of Copan. At these ruins we also had the opportunity to see the restoration in process – it’s just amazing how the archaeologists can take what looks like a big pile of rubble and reconstruct piece by piece to it’s former glory.
By the time the tour had finished it was getting really hot – so it was time for a siesta! I did venture out later in the day to have a look at the Digital Museum – which had a great virtual tour of the Copan Site including through the tunnels that lead to the Rosalalia Temple. The museum also had a lot of information about the local history – and particularly the work done by the locals in the restoration of these amazing ruins.
Wednesday July 18th Copan Ruinas
Set off early this morning for a walk through the countryside surrounding Copan Ruinas. I was headed towards a ranch up in the hillside and to have a look at some more ruins which were called Los Sapos (The frogs). The walk took me alongside the river – across from where the Copan ruins are. It was nice and cool and shaded – at first! I then managed to take a wrong turn which worked out really well – and ended heading up the hillside all the way to a small community called San Rafael. There were amazing views up there of Copan Ruinas – and the locals seemed pretty surprised to see me! I had a chat with a couple of schoolgirls who were on break from their studies and continued on my walk. Maps.me was showing a really nice big road to head back down the mountain towards Los Sapos so I crossed over the local soccer pitch to find not a road but a tiny path winding its way down the mountain! Definitely not suitable for even motorbikes! It was a beautiful walk back down through the village and the coffee plantations to a small village where the children tried to sell me some beaded necklaces. Los Sapos themselves weren’t really that amazing but it was interesting to learn that this place, across the river and up the hill from the ruins was the place that the royal women went to give birth. Also, later in the afternoon I saw a number of the frogs that had been removed from the site for preservation in the museum which made more sense as to why there wasn’t too much to see at the original site.
For lunch I went to the Hacienda San Lucas – which is a lovely hotel with great views over the town of Copan Ruinas from some really comfortable deck chairs. The food was crazily expensive though and I got a bit of a shock when I saw the bill! It was a nice way to spend the afternoon though, relaxing and reading my book in the deck chair.
The final stop for the day was to the museum of sculpture – located at the site of the ruins. You have to walk down a very impressive long tunnel into the huge “room” that holds a number of the ruins to preserve them from the elements. The replication of the Temple of Rosalalia was particularly impressive, towering right in the centre of the building, it’s the first thing that you see as you exit the tunnel, and it gives you a taste of the feeling that they archaeologists must have felt when they found this amazing temple practically intact within the Acropolis. The sculptures were in varying conditions, but it was nice to be able to view them with some explanatory information to give them a bit more context. Most of the pieces have been replaced in the actual ruins by replicas which are also really impressive – it’s very hard to tell the difference between pieces that are real and those that aren’t!
Thursday July 19th Copan Ruinas -Antigua
Big day of travel again today – 12 hours in total to make it from Copan Ruinas to Antigua – it looked like such a small distance on the map! The main problem was with the traffic in Guatemala City, it took one hour for a small trip across the city in a Uber and then 3 hrs to travel the distance of 50kms to Antigua – it was hell!