Ancient culture meets New World savvy in this popular tourist Mecca.
The sound of marimba music rises up off of the cobblestone streets and mixes with the
aroma of spiced meats and fresh tortillas being grilled on the street corners, and the voices
of townspeople sharing the day in the town plaza. As locals would say it’s a “typical” day in
Copan, the heart of activity in north western Honduras.
Copan seems like what I heard Mexico was like 30 or 35 years ago before you could shop at
The Gap or Wal Mart; the days before a hamburger and fries cost you $15 US. It is intimate,
friendly and colorful. Copan’s narrow streets, brightly colored buildings, numerous cafes,
restaurants, hotels and shops is a lively example of rural Honduras mixed with the hustle and
bustle of a larger town.
It’s a picturesque, spot set against low rising mountains. And it’s an artistic town. Wood and
stone carvings, corn-husk dolls, hand made leather trinkets are available everywhere and
anywhere. You may have to haggle a bit on prices, but the locals are incredibly kind and fair.
Everywhere you look there are intricate carvings and colorful representations of the land,
agriculture or of animals. I’d later read that in the time of the Maya, Copan was the Paris of
the day – the artistic hub of the Maya world, while Tikal to the South in Guatemala, and was
its industrious counterpoint – like modern day New York.
The original town site of Copan no more than ½ a mile from the present day setting, is an
ancient city, at its peak once home to nearly 30,000 Mayas at around 800 A.D. when the city
was mysteriously abandoned. Most of the population was moved to the northeast to its current
location. Current day Copan is far from 30,000 that once lived in the in the original city, now
the ancient Maya ruins of Copan. About 5,000 people live in the current location, with another
20,000 scattered in the hillsides throughout the region.
The vegetation really defies any manmade structure. In fact, when Archaeologists started
visiting the area looking for the ancient Copan civilization, what they found initially were
nothing more than large mounds of earth and foliage. The wild and abundant surroundings
had literally reclaimed the landscape and covered the temples in dense underbrush.
the last 100 years, scoop by scoop that overgrowth and earthen layers have been carefully
removed to uncover the once thriving culturally, politically, economically and religiously
significant ancient Mayan culture.
Honduran hospitality being what it is, it isn’t surprising that tourism came up quite
incidentally. A few local families were helped out visiting archaeologists with food and lodging
when they first arrived in Copan and were visiting the ruins site. Many of those early visitors
were greeted by the family of Doña Marina Villamil de Welchez who opened her home to them.
By the mid 40´s the family of Doña Marina decided to construct a modest, yet comfortable
lodge for the growing number of visitors. The Hotel Marina Copan was named in honor of Doña
Marina and the hotel was built on the site of her family home in 1945.
The Hotel Marina Copan is a beautiful, quaint yet elegant jewel strategically located in the
heart of downtown Copan. Over the past 60 years, the hotel has added rooms and expanded to meet the needs of travelers from all over the world. Yet it still retains a magnificent sense of old world charm, with deep grained woods, colorful ceramic tile and bright plaster surrounding abundant natural courtyard gardens and a swimming pool that blends in naturally and subtlety.
My room was on the top of the three-floor building and it had spectacular views of the town – a myriad of intersecting red-tiled rooftops, and the lush surrounding mountains.
Using this hotel as my “hub” I was able to easily dart about the area to see the magnificent
ruins, local museums and take in a couple of other sites that I was particularly interested in –
a full walking tour of a coffee plantations and bird sanctuary.
The lush tall tropical trees evidently and the elevation of Copan evidently make it excellent
coffee and pineapple growing country. The Welchez family also operate a coffee farm, or finca,
just a few miles out of Copan – Finca Santa Isabel. You can bed taken by horseback or ride
in a funky coffee wagon to the top of the site, and then take a walking tour down into the
plantation Guides will introduce you to an abundance of plants, over 150 species of birds and
other animal life which inhabit this system.
Throughout the ruins of Copan and recorded in the glyphs, stelaes and monuments is the
Scarlet Macaw. The bird was revered by the ancient Maya and stood for a source of great
power. The Scarlet Macaw is still revered by Hondurans, and can be found in its natural
habitat among over 330 identified species of birds in the area. I had to see some of these
marvelous creatures ands found out about The Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve,
an exciting new conservation project, just outside Copan. It lets visitors stroll along forest
trails viewing brilliant multi-colored parrots, macaws and toucans, and other some rare and
Copan is an interesting mix of ancient tradition mixed with new world savvy. They have found that delicate mix of being able to show visitors their beautiful world, but without destroying that which makes it so unique. But it is also a very mystical place that Hondurans revere, that they willingly share with people from all over the world.
Speaking of people from all over the world, one of the best Copan Gathering places for Expats, travellers and many locals is Twisted Tanyas…
Don’t miss it and share your stories, ask your questions and engage in a myriad of conversations while enjoying unique inspired daily fresh dining options as well as your favorite cocktails.
Copan is a humble, safe and secure place with a prideful past. It is a society whose old world charm can still be experienced in a world that has become all together too similar.
IF YOU GO
You can get to Copan easily by air as the international airport in San Pedro Sula is regularly served
by major international airlines with direct flights from Miami, Houston and Los Angeles, New Orleans, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, EL Salvador etc. From there you may travel by ground and enjoy the scenic comfortable trip on paved roads in excellent condition 2.5 hours to Copan.
Other airports are in Guatemala City, Guatemala – 4 hours drive and San Salvador, El
Salvador – 4.5 hours drive.
Copan now features its very own new international airport and many charter services can be arranged to Copan’s airstrip from the Bay Islands as well as San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. Domestic Airlines in Honduras
Flights from Guatemala City are also now an option.
Follow the rules of the road and many Rental cars are available at the airports as well as well outfitted coach style buses travel regularly from San Pedro Sula, Guatemala City, Antigua Guatemala and other major cities.
More about Copan
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