05 Jan

Mayan Ruins of Copán with Meowzer

We’re heading to Copán in northwest Honduras to see one of the great cities of Mayan civilization! History abounds in this area and as we roll through, the smooth Honduran roads are a treat for Bruno. The entire country is filled with lush, green mountains and the endless rolling hills consistently offer beautiful vistas.

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Whenever we get hungry and are ready for a serious lunch, we usually find a place to pull over. Today’s lunch site is on a nice little side road next to a banana patch (note: no monkeys were spotted in the patch)!

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When it comes to camping with a vehicle, we rely heavily on the website and phone app iOverlander. It is wonderfully useful for finding good camping spots while traveling, and without it our entire journey down to Costa Rica would have been more difficult and costly. Thank you internet for making life easier!

In Copán, we used iOverlander to find this campsite, which is directly across the road from the Mayan Ruins. It’s actually just a nice family who let people park in their spacious yard, using their facilities and electricity for a small fee (150 Lempiras, about $7 USD per night). They have a covered area for tents, if you’ve got one. We saddled Bruno right up beside it and cooked under the shelter.

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The next morning we got up early, ate breakfast and walked across the street to buy our entrance tickets as soon as they opened the gates to the ruins.

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Copán was once a powerful capital, controlling the southern-most extent of the Mayan civilization. At its peak it had a population of around 20,000 people.

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It was fairly quiet in the morning with only a few other small groups of people exploring the site. A nice Belgian tourist took this picture of us, overlooking one of the main plazas of the ancient city.

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Copán was populated by Mayans for around 2000 years, but by the time Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 1500’s it was already abandoned. Check out this map showing the extent of the Mayan civilization at it’s peak during the Classic period (250–900 CE):

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The center of the city is where the ruling elite lived, where administrative functions were performed, and where religious ceremonies took place. Below is one of the residential areas we wandered through without another soul in sight.

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Inhabitants of the city would gather in the central plazas for public activities. There were various buildings used as marketplaces and schools, and they had a big ballcourt where they played a game similar to racquetball.

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Mayans also loved the Scarlet Macaw parrot, which is not surprising, considering how colorful and awesome they are! Back when Copán was a thriving city, macaws used to swoop all over the place like nobody’s business. They were kept as pets and the Maya used to engrave tons of macaw heads on their buildings. That’s not all! There is also a Mayan deity that is a macaw, and the first ruler of Copán was known as “Great-Sun First Quetzal Macaw”!

In summary, MACAWS ARE GREAT!!! Copán Ruinas is helping to repopulate macaws in the area. There were feeders with watermelon for the birds to snack on before flying back to the tree tops to squawk the day away.

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After watching the macaws eat watermelon for a while, we got hungry ourselves and headed back across the street to eat lunch at our camp spot. You can’t see it, but around the corner in this picture, the young teenager of the Honduran family is blasting a Spanish episode of Los Simpsons.

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We returned to the ruins in the afternoon and found a giant tree growing atop an old Mayan building! As you walk around and explore the old city, there are countless piles of ancient rubble that are still covered in jungle, not yet excavated and restored.

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A view of the area surrounding Copán Ruinas.

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While we were making dinner that night, a great Mayan miracle happened! A friendly kitten appeared on the roof and started throwing meow-bombs at us from above. We lured it over to a dip in the roof where it could be reached, and then scooped it up and brought it down to hang out with us.

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We named it “Meowzer” for obvious reasons and we became the best of friends. Here is a nice picture of Amanda and Meowzer bonding at sunset!

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Onward to Guatemala!

  • Matt @ The Resume Gap

    Awesome photos! The Maya, Inca, and Aztecs are all fascinating to me. Those Copán ruins look remarkably well preserved. Have there been many other tourists along your route? It looks pretty quiet based on your photos.

    • Travis

      Hi Matt! Thanks! We got to the ruins pretty early in the morning to avoid any crowds, although we did see a few tour buses at the site when we left. For the most part Honduras has been pretty quiet. The capital city of Tegucigalpa seems to have some problems with drug gang violence, so I’m guessing this may dissuade non-overlanding tourists from using it as a point of entry to fly in and explore how great Honduras is. For what it’s worth, the Belgian tourist we met said he took a bus over the border from Guatemala to visit Copán for the day.

  • Copan looks so much nicer than the only Mayan ruins we’ve been to at Tulum. Tulum is overrun with tourists on day trip excursions from Cancun. And it was unbearably hot when we were there in July.

    • Travis

      haha, well I guess Copán has the benefit of being inconveniently located deep in the Honduran jungle – instead of sitting atop a beautiful beach right beside thirty booming beach resorts!

      • Hmmm… That might explain the lack of mobs at Copan.

        The beach at Tulum ruins was my favorite part and the kids enjoyed the beach even more than I did! We found a spot underneath the rocks and the cliff so it was shaded and breezy (compared to stiflingly hot and humid at the ruins).

        Still worth a stop if you’re headed north along the Yucatan coast, but it’s very touristy.

  • Kevin Coppa

    I’ve never been to Honduras, but I love the Yucatan. Thanks for allowing me to vicariously explore Latin America (?) with you. Your travel and writings inspire me.

    • Amanda

      Happy to share our photos and experiences with you, Kevin! We’re looking forward to exploring the Yucatan in the next few weeks 🙂

      • Kevin Coppa

        We did love the Tulum ruins even though it’s pretty well trampled by tourists, like me. It’s featured in the ending of the campy movie Panet Terror, an all time favorite of mine. The town of Tulum and the city of Playa del Carmen are two reasons I love Mexico. Looking forward to reading your next post! Be Safe!

  • Wow, awesome photos! I’ve only seen Tulum, but now maybe I need to go back and explore!

    • Amanda

      Thanks! There are so many ruins all packed into this little area of the world. Each has their own charm, size, and story. We’ll share photos from several others we’re planning to see around the Yucatan!

  • Zach W

    Hey guys. I just wanted to say that I love the blog. It was recommended via Mr. Money Mustache, and I was immediately hooked, and have read all your posts. It has also led me to some other cool travel blogs which has re-ignited the travel bug for me. My wife and I (and our 1 year old daughter) decided to take a trip to Costa Rica in a few months. Just bought our tickets last week ….. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Travis

      Zach, thanks for leaving such a great comment! Before Amanda and I started saving money and traveling, it was really other blogs that gave us the inspiration and drive to make our plans become reality. In return, we’re more than glad to give something back to the internet! Just curious, where in Costa Rica are you heading?

      • Zach W

        We are flying into San Jose and renting a car, so we will be going to a few different places. We will spend some time near the Arenal Volcano area as well as Quepos on the coast. Any suggestions, must sees/do’s, or tips (especially with driving in CR) ?

        • Travis

          Nice! We spent most of our time in the pacific north west. Note that it’ll be much hotter on the coasts compared to the mountainous areas in central Costa Rica. If you’re interesting in trying out surfing, you might enjoy Tamarindo in the north-west pacific coast of Costa Rica. If you already surf, you might like Nosara which is about 2 hours south of Tamarindo. It’s very quiet and fairly remote, but has a good beach with nice breaks. Otherwise, you may like Samara which is 45 mins south of Nosara. More happening and interesting than Nosara, with a nice beach good for swimming and an okay break for beginner surfers.

          Driving in CR is safe, and most roads are great. When you start to venture into rural areas, the roads become dirt and can get pretty rough. During rainy season some areas get washed out and you may need to cross some small rivers depending upon where you’re going.

          Enjoy your trip, and feel free to ask any other questions!

          • Zach W

            Thanks a lot, Travis! We appreciate the recommendations/information!

  • Mrs. Lewis

    Mr. Lewis and myself were in Guatemala just over a year ago and loved it! I highly recommend La Fortuna in Panahachel. Here https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/774362 and https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/435778 are great places to stay and we love both of them. drink as much coffee as you possibly can and try to visit a finca. The ruins in Tikal were worth the strenuous drive all the way there on a two way road. Good luck on your trip.

    • Amanda

      Thanks Mrs. Lewis! We hit up Lago Atitlan on the way down to Costa Rica and loved it. I was surprised how many Airbnb spots were available in the area! So many expats with beautiful homes. Pictures of our time at Tikal coming up!