Copan

We started the day with a hearty breakfast from the local market. Their desayuno typico consists of scrambled eggs, refried beans, avocado, local cheese kind of like feta, sour cream and hand made tortillas. It’s so much food, absolutely delicious and costs about $3. 

We wanted to be one of the first through the gates of the site so we could get some good pictures without the crowds. Well we were literally the third and fourth through the gates and got to spend a good half an hour getting shots of the site without a soul around. It was really quite special wandering around these ruins that were built between 250 and 900 AD with the place to ourselves.

The view looking back toward the grand plaza

West view of the ball court and kings podium

We then went back out to the entrance and got a local guide to give us some info about the place as we didn’t really know anything. We started with our guide who kind of reminded me of Mufasa out of lion kin with his limp, walking stick topped with a Macaw feather and enthusiasm. He would also repeat questions and answers two or three times which was a little annoying at the start but I definitely warmed to him.

We started on the western side of the ruins. We walked into the west plaza with two temples and several Stelas (statues). One of the temples had symbols of water animals and conch shells on it. For the Mayans water apparently represented the underworld and in the flood season they think this plaza may have been filled with water. 

The western plaza. Where this photo was taken would have been underwater in the wet season

The wind God on top of the water temple. As you can see trees and the elements have taken their toll.

A crocodile relief at the base of the water temple.
All the Mayan Kings of Copan were of the same family. Father to first son. But for some reason when a new king came into power they destroyed the previous kings temples and built their own over the top. The First Mayan king in the area called Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw came into power in 426AD but according to pottery people have been living in the area for more than 2 millennia. Most believe thy disappeared from the area due to drought so therefore had to abandon their city in search of food and water.

Across from the water temple there was another temple. Built by the 16th king Sunrise. An alter out front was dedicated to all the kings and showed the succession of the kings. Apparently 15 Jaguars and 2 macaws were sacrificed on this alter and then buried underneath. This particular temple is different from the others as the first king was buried here so everyone’s temple was built over the top, preserving the original. There is a copy of the temple in the sculpture museum and it was pretty impressive.


View on top of water temple looking over to alter. The Rosalila temple where the first King is buried is hidden under this temple.

The famous alter showing the 16 kings.

Next we walked to the residential area. The previous plaza was only for royals and was a very sacred place apparently. This residential area was for royals and their servants. You couldn’t go down into the area but the view from up top was pretty impressive. The Mayans didn’t have cemeteries and instead buried their dead beside their houses so when archeologists uncovered the site they were pretty excited to find tombs.

We then made our way to a kind of stadium with stepped seating called the East Plaza. Apparently this is where the nobles would do jaguar dancing. Not quite sure if that was the only thing they did here as it seemed a rather large stadium to be only used for occasional dancing. Next was another temple which faced the arena and this is were the King apparently sat while watching the dancing.


After this was the most famous section of Copan. The hieroglyphic stairway built by the 15th King Smoke Shell. This staircase is the longest Mayan written hieroglyphic they have found. Unfortunately due to the elements and flood a lot was destroyed and the archeologists couldn’t put it back together exactly how it was, so they don’t know what it is supposed to say. Another really sad thing is that it is missing some of its statuses running down the middle due to archeologists taking them back to their homelands as payment for their work. Some have been returned but others are still in museums around the world.

You can see the hole where a statue is missing. There are others up the top as well.

Next was the ball court. The Mayans played this game kind of like football but you could only use thighs, chest and arms to keep up a ball. According to our guide it was more a ceremonial thing rather than a game and apparently a player of the losing side would be sacrificed to appease the gods. No wonder the Hondurans have previously killed one of their football players who lost a game!


The ball court. The players would stand on the grass and try and hit the ball up on the slope where there were hoops the ball had to go through to score a goal.

Lastly we walked through the Great plaza where there were lots of amazing statues built in Smoke Jaguar and 18 Rabbits rule. 12th and 13th Kings respectively. Most of these had awnings over them to protect them from the elements. What I haven’t mentioned and we wouldn’t have known unless our guide told us was that a lot of the original statues had been replaced by replicas and the originals were in the sculpture museum to protect them from the elements.

So that was our next stop. You walked in through a giant snake head down a winding tunnel and the museum was in the belly of the snake. The first thing you saw was a full size reproduction of the Rosalila temple where the first king was buried. As I said previously they discovered this intact temple underneath King Sunrises. It was really quite something. The rest of the museum was filled with Stelas and sculptures from the site. It really made the site seem more spectacular as a lot of the statutes were pulled from the roofs of the buildings. Their written hieroglyphs and symbols are really beautiful and detailed. Amazing that these delicate carvings are still around in their original form today considering it has been 1500 years. 

Rosalila Temple

Although the site was nowhere near as breathtaking as Machu Pichu, it was spectacular in its own rite due to the stone carvings and hieroglyphs. Also much easier it get around! 

We had the afternoon free and were trying to decide what do. As we were walking back into town we heard what sounded like a great party happening. We soon found out that it was the local football team playing. So decision made.

We bought our tickets and the door guys were helpful enough to point out the local team. We went and purchased our beers and found a spot on a raised platform which we thought was part of the bar area. Little did we know that we had kind of positioned ourselves in the VIP area with the president of the football club and his cronies. They were all really lovely and pointed out that this was a big match for them as it was a cup qualifier. Within minutes we had scored 2 goals but the opposition soon scored one right at the end. The match finished and we thought this was the end and we had one. But unfortunately it was the second leg so it was actually 2 all and it went into overtime. 

The atmosphere of this game was electrifying. Drums, chants and beer throwing when we scored a goal. Also beer can throwing at the opposition when they scored a goal and got too close to the home fans. Brilliant. The fans were split with home fans down one end and away fans down the other. 

Unfortunately with a minute to go in overtime the opposition scored and that was that. Things started to get pretty crazy with the opposing side’s coach getting sent off. We left pretty soon after full time thinking there may be trouble if the two fan bases met in the street. That wasn’t going to happen as there were 3 army guys and 3 police with AK47’s standing outside. So no trouble was had. 

A very brief stop off in Honduras but we loved every minute of it. The people were lovely and I feel when this place sorts its problems out will be another gem of Central America to go visit. S

Honduras

When we were first looking at the map of Guatemala and where we wanted to go we got fairly excited as the distances involved seemed pretty short in comparison to what we have been doing. Unfortunately there isn’t much of a bus system and instead we have to take shuttle buses.
Sounds like it should be easy enough, if not a little boring. However in order to get from San Marcos to Copan (a distance of about 370km) it has taken us a whole afternoon, a stopover in Antigua and another shuttle at 4am and finally arriving in Copan at lunch time.
It’s a bit annoying to be losing days to travel when it’s such a short distance but there isn’t much we can do about other than haggle the prices down, plug the headphones in and enjoy ourselves as much as possible!!
Once we arrived in Copan we weren’t really sure what to expect. The ruins are some of the largest examples of Mayan ruins and we were hoping that there wouldn’t be too many tourists there as it was pretty difficult to get to. Also Honduras isn’t exactly the place to go at the moment.
Copan itself is just over the border from Guatemala and in fact the town has really been built purely due to the number of archaeologists working excavating the ruins so only began in the early 1900s. It has then expanded due to the tourist traffic.
The town itself was fairly simple with cobblestone streets everywhere and a central square and market. The method of getting around was by tuk tuk and while the place was designed for tourists, there weren’t many around which was nice.
We had the afternoon free and so decided to head out to a place which had been recommended called Macaw Mountain.
The area around Copan and the ruins was once famous for its beautiful Macaws unfortunately poaching has caused the numbers to dwindle to almost none and Macaw Mountain was a project set up in 2010 to try and rectify the situation. They used rescued Macaws to try and get breeding couples who then breed and the young are released into the wild around the ruins. The recused Macaws that are dropped off are either injured or have been poorly cared for as a pet so come in missing most of their feathers. They get stressed and start pulling their own feathers out if their diet is not right or their owners aren’t treating them properly. We saw some in various stages of recovery and it was pretty horrible to see these beautiful birds with no feathers. It can take up to two years for them to recover. Some of them are too mentally scared to stop the feather pulling or have done it for so long that their feathers will never grow back. Very sad.
So far they have released 27 Macaws and it was awesome to see them flying about the site of the ruins. Although they are “wild” they were still provided with breeding boxes and we reckon they were being fed too but nevertheless it was still wonderful to see these birds flying about.
Our entrance fee at the park included a guide and we were lucky as ours was extremely passionate about his work there and so we had a very interesting tour. It wasn’t just Macaws there were parakeets of various breeds, owls and hawks. The most impressive other birds were the Toucans though.
They are just such an unusual animal with their huge beaks. Not only is the size of their beak so strange but the colours on the beaks seem unreal in their vibrancy and clarity.
On the whole we really enjoyed our visit and it’s going to be interesting to see in the future how the project goes and how many Macaws they manage to reintroduce to the area around the ruins.
We got home just in time before a quite spectacular storm came in for the afternoon. Luckily there was a restaurant just opposite the hotel and we were able to sit out on the deck watching the lighting!! While gorging ourselves on fantastic steak. T

A breeding couple. They mate for life which is pretty special. The guide told us that the Macaws used for breeding were birds that could not be released into the wild. They had 4 breeding couples in this enclosure which was big enough for us to walk in and the birds could fly around in.

This one spent pretty much the whole time we were there upside down.

Their feathers are just so spectacular. Too much so really as they are still being poached for their feathers or as pets.

The park was set in beautiful rainforest right beside a river.

An other variety of parrot that was in another enclosure. Look at those feathers!

Not only the birds but these ginger flowers were incredibly vibrant too.

These Toucans just look fake.  Wonderful, but almost unbelievable in design and vibrancy of colour.

There were a few different breeds of Toucan at the centre some more impressive than Athens but still great to see them all.

A row of Parakeets.

Us able to pose for some pictures which was pretty cool.  The makaws in this area are free all day and just put in cages at night.  Unfortunately they have been in captivity for too long to be able to survive without being fed.