COPAN RUINAS, Honduras – Men in jeans and straw hats walked along the highway that snaked through the mountains from San Pedro Sula to Copan Ruinas; fruit stands speckled the route.
A small landslide caused by some heavy rains made part of our drive difficult, but my local guide, Eli, told me this was nothing – there had been times when he was unable to bring tourists to Copan because labor strikes blockaded this road.
In my mid-20s, this was my first solo trip. And to a country where I didnâ€™t speak the language, no less.
I was armed with a sense of adventure, a quest to learn a little about Central America and a notebook filled with key phrases a friend had taught me (I memorized the phrase â€œI am a vegetarian.â€)
I stayed in this quaint town near the Guatemala border for two nights. The major tourist draw is the nearby ancient Mayan ruins. My base here was the Hotel Marina Copan, located by the townâ€™s central plaza. From here (or just about anywhere in the small town of Copan Ruinas), the ruins are just a few minutesâ€™ drive or short walk away.
At the ruins, I was surprised when the ancient city seemed smaller than it appeared on the map. Hard to believe this city once housed 20,000.
After climbing to the top of one temple, Eli saw a hole in the ground, and with a long piece of grass we enticed a tarantula into a game of tug of war until several of its furry legs were out in the open. When its large, hairy abdomen quickly moved toward my hand, I instinctively jumped back. But it was cool to see the spider nonetheless.
From the temple top we had a good view of the ruins, which included numerous statues and intricately carved art pieces uncommon to other Mayan cities – Copanians were considered the most artistically advanced of the Mayan world. A highlight here is the largest hieroglyphic stairway in the Mayan world, which dates to the year 749.
Besides the view above ground, touists also can access several archaeological tunnels around and under the ruins.