Honduras

Visit Copan Ruinas – the Amazing Mayan Site in Honduras

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Copan Ruinas, Honduras, was the first Mayan site I visited during my trip to Central America. And what a wonderful place it was!

This easternmost Mayan town has been inhabited since around 1000 BC. It was even the capital of Mayans between the 5th and 8th centuries AD.

Today, Copan is a complex of well-preserved ruins where you can explore and admire the former Mayan architecture, culture, and art. This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Honduras or even in Central America.

copan ruinas honduras

If you consider visiting Copan Ruinas, Honduras, I put together this guide based on my experience there. Hopefully, it will help you plan your trip to Copan Ruinas so you can enjoy the area to the fullest.

Copan Ruinas essentials

copan ruinas honduras

Where is Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan Ruinas, a small town and a getaway to impressive Mayan ruins, is located in the very west of Honduras, next to the border with Guatemala (only 12 km). Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, is some 400 km by road from Copan Ruinas.

copan ruinas honduras

A brief history of Copan

Copan was one of the most important towns in the Mayan world. The area was inhabited already around the year 1000 BC, but it flourished especially between the 5th and 8th centuries AD when Copan was the capital of Mayans. This is also when the Classical period of the Mayan culture and art was at its peak; hence, you will see numerous remnants of the Mayan glory here today.

Copan was one of the largest and most important towns for Mayans where, at one point, it is believed that over twenty thousand people lived. There were sixteen courts surrounded by living quarters, as well as places to play ballcourts and ceremonial quarters. It was a thriving place, founded in the fertile area, where the Mayan culture could develop freely under the rule of Kʼinich Yax Kʼukʼ Moʼ (living in the 5th century) and his successors.

Copan was abandoned in the early 10th century, and its ruins were discovered some six hundred years later. In 1839, the American explorer John Lloyd Stephens bought the area of Copan for 50 USD and, together with the English artist Frederick Catherwood, started exploring the site. Some of their drawings and found artifacts remain until this day.

The actual exploration of Copan Ruinas began in 1953 and is still underway. In 1980, Copan Ruinas was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

How to get to Copan Ruinas

Visiting Copan Ruinas is relatively easy. Traveling from abroad, you can take the private shuttle from Guatemala (Antigua, Guatemala City) or El Salvador (El Tunco, Santa Ana) directly to your accommodation in Copan Ruinas. That’s what I did, arriving from Antigua, Guatemala, and then continuing my journey to El Tunco in El Salvador.

Traveling from within Honduras is a bit more challenging; first, you would need to get to either La Entrada or San Pedro Sula to get a connecting bus to Copan Ruinas.

copan ruinas honduras

Where to stay in Copan Ruinas

There are some decent accommodation options in the town that you can choose from. I stayed in Garden Hotel and it was good, only a short walk to the main square and the center of Copan Ruinas and near the road leading to the Mayan site. The rooms were OK but the surrounding of the hotel was stunning, full of exotic flowers. You can check the availability and book the room at Garden Hotel here.

Other recommended accommodation options are:

copan ruinas honduras

Is Copan Ruinas safe?

Even if Honduras doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety, Copan Ruinas is the exception. Since the town has a bit of a remote location, not much is happening here. Of course, you need to follow general safety rules and trust your intuition, but there is no need to panic about the town being dangerous. I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment when visiting Copan Ruinas (and I was traveling solo there), even when I went out to get some food in the evening.

copan ruinas honduras

Visiting Copan Ruinas

The Mayan ruins are located outside the town (some 1.5 km from the center). You can either walk there (I did it; there is a walking path next to the road) or, for a few lempiras, get a tuk-tuk.

The visitors’ center is located next to the main road – this is where you buy your ticket. When I visited in May 2023, the entrance fee to Copan Ruinas was 15 USD; you can pay in dollars or local currency lempiras.

You can also find local guides willing to show you the place for a fee – this is recommended to get to know the place and its history better. I hoped to see the complex with someone more knowledgeable, but unfortunately, since I was visiting Copan Ruinas in the off-season, no one was around.

To avoid my mistake, you can book a guided tour before visiting the site. Here are the recommended tours of Copan Ruinas:

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

After a short walk through the forest, you will arrive at the entrance, where your ticket will be inspected, and you are free to explore the site. The area is medium-sized (if you compare it to, for example, Tikal in Guatemala) but packed with Mayan remnants. There are 1449 historical structures per square kilometer here!

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

The area is divided into a few groups of structures – it’s best to download an offline map (I used maps.me) to be sure you’ve seen them all. The part of the site where you arrive first is the core of the ancient city, with Acropolys, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, the ballcourt, and a few linked plazas. This is also where you will find numerous stelas – the monuments from the Mayan times.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

From here, follow the map to explore Copan Ruinas and its numerous plazas, structures, nooks and crannies. It took me around two hours to see everything – the area might not be very large, but it is packed with attractions.

You can climb some of the structures; there are also so many details around that you want to take a closer look at. Overall, it’s a wonderful place to explore that can wake up your inner Indiana Jones.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

What took me by surprise in Copan Ruinas was the fantastic wildlife that you can observe there, a perfect addition to the place. My jaw had literally dropped, and I was standing in awe when I saw the first colorful macaw in the wild. It was one of many I saw that day, and for me, it was as much of the highlight of visiting Copan Ruinas as the Mayan ruins.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

It is recommended to visit Copan Ruinas in the morning when the sun isn’t so intense. It is pretty much an open space, so I can imagine it can get too hot on the clear day. When I visited the place, it was a cloudy day, with storms rolling around, so it wasn’t as big of an issue.

I arrived at the site shortly after noon, and it was blissfully empty; only a few fellow tourists were wandering around, and archeologists were working. It was a perfect opportunity to explore the area and get a feel of the place.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

What else to see in Copan Ruinas

Many people don’t know about it, but there is another complex of Mayan ruins not far from Copan – Las Sepulturas. It’s some 20 minutes walking further, along the main road, in the direction opposite the town. The entrance to Las Sepulturas is included in the ticket to Copan, so it’s an excellent addition to the overall Mayan experience in the area.

Las Sepulturas are not as impressive as Copan, but the place surely is worth visiting. In the times of Copan’s prosperity, this was the residential area of the local nobility, with the direct road connecting Las Sepulturas to the central area of the Mayan town. Today, there are a few plazas surrounded by ruins, some of them with interesting decor.

I really enjoyed exploring this part of the ruins, too. I saw most of it on my own, but in the end, a keeper of the place walked with me around the main plaza, pointed out some of the key features, and despite the language barrier (and with a big help of Google Translate) explained a bit about the place.

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

The town of Copan Ruinas is a pleasant place, with a nice central square where you can rest for a bit and observe the world go by. There are also some cafes and restaurants where you can try local food – I can recommend La Casa de Todo. Some 2 km away from the center (in a different direction than the ruins), you can also visit Macaw Mountain Bird Park with some incredible local birds (not only macaws).

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

copan ruinas honduras

Where to go next

From Copan Ruinas, you can continue your trip further into Honduras, to San Pedro Sula and the Caribbean Coast. Or you can hop across the border to Guatemala and explore what this country has to offer – there are direct shuttles from Copan Ruinas to Antigua and Guatemala City. You can also take the shuttle to El Salvador and continue your Central America trip there – you can get directly to Santa Ana or El Tunco and continue the sightseeing there.

things to do in antigua guatemala

el tunco

Further reading

I published more articles about Central America that you might find useful when planning your trip there. You can find them here:

If you are looking for articles about a specific destination – check out the map with all the articles I’ve published (and their locations).


Travel Resources

You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for the place to stay in Central America

Never travel without travel insurance, you never know what might happen and better safe than sorry. You can check the insurance policy for Honduras here.

I recommend joining organized tours to get to know the place better and to visit more places during your trip. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide – click here.

Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.


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  • I’ve included a few handy links of services and products I personally like and use so you can plan your own trip to Honduras too. They are often affiliate links. This means I will get a small commission if you book/purchase anything through my links, at no extra costs for you. Thank you!

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copan ruinas honduras


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