Copán Ruinas – Eco-tourism and Archaeology

Honduras’ raw authenticity and lush beauty leaves even the most culturally jaded deeply affected. The newly elected president’s push for increased stability, safety and education is evident. And in an effort to fight poverty, Honduras is following in the footsteps of its Central American neighbors Belize and Costa Rica by encouraging eco-tourism. Still largely undiscovered by tourist masses, the slow and friendly town of Copán Ruinas is an outdoor enthusiast’s utopia, with birding, waterfalls, hiking and hot springs, while its ruins are a mecca for archaeology buffs – more than 7,000 Maya descendents live in nearby mountainous villages.

Georgia native Jennifer Mathews and her business partner, the vivacious Brit restaurateur known as Twisted Tanya (, operate Copán Connections
( Working with a network of hotels, tour operators and transporters from across Honduras, they provide information and book services. Mathews shares what first-time American tourists ought to know:

“The village of Copán Ruinas takes a minimum of three days to enjoy. The magnificent archeological park, located in the Copán Valley, has been a major source of information regarding the ancient Maya civilization. UNESCO declared Copán a heritage of humanity in 1980 and continuous study of the city by archeologists for over a century make it the most studied city of the Maya.”

“Hacienda San Lucas is a 100-year-old family owned eco-B&B situated above the world-renowned Maya ruins. The Hacienda is only five minutes from town, but secluded in the mountains, away from the town’s activity. Its well-traveled clientele will enjoy simplicity, authenticity, cultural exchange and quality in nature. Its restaurant serves up a signature adobe sauce, an authentic Maya sauce similar to the Mexican mole, except without the chocolate. A base of sesame and pumpkin seeds and exotic peppers are roasted in a clay dish over a firestone and browned by hand in a Maya stone metate. The adobo is served over fire-roasted chicken with handmade fresh ground corn tamales, wrapped in banana leaves, then steamed, and pickled green papaya. The owner, Flavia Cueva, is a native Honduran.”

“The 15 stage zip-line ride through the forest is one of the most astounding canopy tours . The tour begins at the top of one of the hills near Hacienda San Lucas, and leads you through a beautiful birds’-eye view of the town, the Mayan Acropolis and the river valley. The tour ends by zipping straight over the Copán River and stopping right at the southwest side of the Acropolis.”

“Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve is an innovative tropical bird reserve in Western Honduras that cares for rescued and endangered birds. North American conservationist Mandy Wagner began rescuing parrots and toucans out of devotion to these intelligent, social creatures, and by the 1990s, her private collection had grown to more than 40 birds representing 15 species. The 9-acre nature reserve, one of the last old-growth forests close to Copán, includes an extraordinary forest including mahogany, Indio desnudo (gumbo limbo), Chico zapote, Spanish cedar and fig trees. Elevated wooden trails and decks offer spectacular viewing of the park’s pristine river, year-round freshwater springs, huge boulders and sloping canyon walls. The whisper of Blue Morpho butterflies is a soft counterpoint to noisy flights of wild parakeets. At the Blue Morpho restaurant on the property, owners Pat and Lloyd also serve up cups of the best coffee in the region, harvested from their nearby coffee finca.”

“The best souvenir shop in town is Casa de Todo, offering Mayan calendar jewelry, original carved stone, Mayan paintings, Mayan literature, local children’s art, Honduran music, a range of local coffees and cigars, and Mayan design T-shirts. It is located just off the main square and run by Sandra Guerra, native Copaneca.”

Getting to San Pedro Sula, the main airport serving Northern Honduras, isn’t the hard part; it’s the pilgrimage to Copán Ruinas that can be tedious. An airport and welcome center are slated to open – just 30 miles outside town – in 2009. Fly from San Francisco to Houston; then connect to San Pedro Sula International Airport. A U.S. passport is required.

The three-hour drive to Copán is best done with a private driver. There is also a luxury bus, which is safe and reliable ( Copán Ruinas is a walking town, but for further locations, for about $1 U.S. per person, mototaxis will zip you to your destination.

Banks are open Monday through Saturday morning. It’s best to go into the bank and get a cash advance and receipt. ATM’s are not always reliable or trustworthy. Most places accept credit cards, but there will be a service charge of up to 16 percent. Visa is more widely accepted than Mastercard. Xibalba’s Coffee Shop and Pub, located on the main square, will exchange dollars, lempiras, euros and quetzals, and does so after bank hours.

A departure tax is required (currently $34 U.S.).

by: Charyn Pfeuffer

Leave a Reply