by John Heaton, S/V L'Hirondelle

From Fronteras, travel to the Mayan Ruins at Copan by public bus. Three lines run from the market place in Morales to Chiquimula: Transportes Vargas and Carmelita are both more comfortable than Fuente del Norte, a "chicken bus" (Q10 for a 3 hour trip). To arrive in Copan about 3pm catch the 8:15am Vargas bus from Morales. The 7:30am chicken bus from Fronteras to the gas station at the crossroads to Morales might allow a connection with this Vargas.

In Chiquimula, find the Transportes Vilma office and the bus to El Florido by walking through the market stalls on the left of the bus on which you arrived. The ticket (Q7) will have the bus number and your assigned seat number (lugar).

Most of the 36 miles to the border is over a well maintained dirt road. Many rivers are forded and the journey takes over two hours but the scenery as the bus struggles up into the mountains, is magnificent. Descending into the river valley you see Guatemalan rural life at its best. The local people live in fine examples of adobe houses. Their tobacco crops dry in stange looking, tall, box like structures.

At the border you will be greeted by money changers whose rate of exchange is slightly better than the official rate. Change your money after checking through Guatemalan Inmigration and before Honduran Immigration. Although many places in Copan will accept dollars or quetzales your best value is to use lempiras, so estimate your needs and buy enough lempiras at the border.

If your only destination in Honduras is Copan, Guatemalan Immigration will not need to stamp your passport. However, if you are in need of a new tourist card for Guatemala, make sure you get the exit (salida) stamp (Q10). When you return you will get a new 90 day tourist card (Q10). At Honduran Immigration, if you are going to Copan only, the cost is L20 both in and out (lempira only).

Formalities concluded, 6 miles of rough, rain gullied dirt road still remain between you and Copan. The normal means of transport is pickup truck ("the only show in town"). If you are prepared, bargain hard with the driver (or if you are lucky enough to board with the locals) you may pay L10. However, if you want to get to Copan in a reasonable time the fare is L20 - L30 per person. Best bet is to gather up all fellow travelers and approach as one group. The driver will drop you off at a hotel if asked.

There are hotels in Copan to fit anyone's budget ($3.50-$80 per night). The Brisas Copan with private bath and hot water is comfortable, popular (double L160 -$18, no singles) and just off the square. The hotel Marina Copan, beautiful and expensive, has an excellent restaurant with main dishes L60 - L80.

After settling into your hotel go over to the Museum on the square to buy a combo ticket for the museum and park (valid for two days for L30) or wait to buy it at the park entrance. Either way, don't miss the museum as it is quite interesting.

For an early start to the ruins breakfast at La Llama del Bosque, an always crowded restaurant just down the road from Hondutel (the Honduran telephone company). The park is a 1 km walk from town. Go down the hill beside the hotel Brisas Copan and follow the road to the park entrance. Show your ticket and buy the green guide book for L25 (English and Spanish).

If you are interested in doing something adventurous after exploring the Mayan ruins, ask the friendly official here for the guide (guia) named Luis Alonso Moreno. He will take you by horseback up the road to Las Sepulturas and then up into the mountains (about 3 hours) to visit Los Sapos, a group of rocks carved like toads.

If you don't want the horseback trip, walk up the road for 2 km and visit Las Sepulturas. This well preserved and restored area where the Mayan nobility lived should not be missed. Without an explanation you will not appreciate the magnificence of this place so ask one of the men at the gate house to show you around (they will be pleased). The many unique trees here include the drum tree, which when tapped, sounds like a drum. The beautiful house belonging to the Mayan King known as 18 Rabbit will soon be open to the public. Before leaving don't forget to look at the white adobe house near the entrance. This is a reproduction of a house ordinary Mayan workers would probably have built in their villages.

Many gangs of workmen are still excavating and restoring the main park. Soon 6 km of tunnels will be open to the public. Next year a team from the University of Illinois will return and resume excavations of the tombs near the houses at Las Sepultural.

Get an early start returning to Guatemala as the first bus for Chiquimula leaves the Guatemalan border at El Florido at 7:15 am. The next is about 9 am. They then become more frequent up to the last bus at 3:30 pm. In Copan a bus is supposed to leave the blue painted bridge behind the Hotel Marina for El Florido at 6:30am, but don't count on it. It's best to wait by the bridge about 6:15 am for a pickup. You will once again bargain with the driver unless you board with locals and watch what they pay. Otherwise pay your bargained fare in Lempiras as you board. If you wait to pay they may try to charge you Quetzals which are worth 50% more. Don't forget to keep L20 per person to clear Honduran Immigration.

Get off in Chiquimula when you see the buses lined up in the square or continue to the terminal and walk back through the market. Board a bus for Puerto Barrios although you will be getting off in Morales. Unless it is a Vargas or Carmelita, you may wish to break for lunch and wait for one of them. You could get off the bus at the gas station by the crossroads to Morales and wait for the chicken bus to Fronteras and Rio Dulce, but it will probably be jam packed and your chances of getting a seat are better if you continue into Morales and board the bus to Rio Dulce there.

A last thought - no one I met in Copan spoke English except for the basics, so a command of basic Spanish is essential. However everybody I met was extremely friendly and helpful and were patient with my limited Spanish vocabulary. A word of greeting to passerbys and before you attempt a conversation always gets you off on the right foot and will assure that you enjoy the living Copan as well as the as the testimony of the ruins.

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November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier