Standing on the edge of the green expanse which is the Gran Plaza it was impossible not to witness the scarlet macaws as they flew overhead. If their colors, the brilliant reds with patches of vibrant blue, were not enough, the raucous calls forced them to the fore-front of our attention. The scarlet macaw, recently reintroduced to the area, was a sacred bird for the ancient Maya and images of the macaw are found throughout the Copan ruins.
In the background we could hear the howler monkeys roar occasionally and, as we walked about the plaza, we saw the unusual and very bizarre nests of the Montezuma Oropendola (thanks Google for helping us identify this Dr. Seuss-like bird!).
The ruins of Copan, in far western Honduras near the Guatemalan border, have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. The expansive ruins offer an impressive number of stelae (tall columns carved on all four sides), altars, relief statuary and hieroglyphic writings. While the ruins are compact in size we spent several hours walking and climbing the groupings at the Gran Plaza and the East and West Courts of the Acropolis, with the ball court and hieroglyphic staircase in between.
The ball court was unique in that the hoops we had seen displayed at other Mayan ruins (such as Chichen-Itza) were replaced by macaw heads. It is believed that the stone heads were the targets to be struck by the rubber ball. Site archeologists have discovered several iterations of the macaw heads from the successive ball courts at the Copan site.
Copan also has the most impressive on site museum that we’ve seen with numerous artifacts from the site preserved for site visitors rather than being housed in the national museums. The center piece was a full-scale reproduction of a sixth century temple, La Rosalila, which had been buried intact within the Acropolis. Because we had spent so long wandering the actual ruins we were forced to move post-haste through the final portion of the museum as the guards began locking the outside doors and giving us polite hints that the museum was about to close.
The city of Copan Ruinas is a very small colonial city, roughly a four block square surrounding a pretty little cathedral and a very picturesque parque central, perfect for sitting and people watching. The streets extend out on all sides and are inclined or declined sharply on the steep hillsides that surround the city. It was the first colonial city we had visited where there was no visible evidence of the traditional Mayan native dress that we had become accustomed to seeing in both Mexico and Guatemala: the rural setting made this distinction even more noticeable.
Tourism is the primary business in this charming little city and the people were smiling and friendly. We found a basic but clean, budget hotel at $25 per night with a fan instead of air conditioning and a little mosquito eating gecko at no extra charge on the bathroom wall. However, we weren’t prepared for the cold water only shower that had us dancing the hokey-pokey! Next time we’ll remember that that might be an important question to ask!
By Anita and Richard, June, 2013