Although we didn’t end up travelling through Honduras, we wanted to visit the Mayan ruins in Copán just across the border from Guatemala. So we left Santa Ana in the morning and seven hours, two chicken buses, four colectivos and two border crossings later, arrived in the pretty town of Copán Ruinas.
Tuk tuks and men in stetson hats roam the tranquil cobblestone streets and there are many places for the weary traveller to be fed and watered.
We loved the relaxed vibe of the town, with its views of the surrounding hills and welcoming places to have an evening drink.
In the morning, in preparation for a day at the ruins (and the brief walk there), we fortified ourselves with the rather luxurious desayuno típico of tortillas, scrambled eggs, cheese, fried plantains, re-fried beans, avocado, bananas and strawberries as well as some fine cups of coffee.
In our lodgings, we found several images of the scarlet macaw, a sacred bird for the ancient Maya. Its feathers were used to decorate the headdresses of the high and mighty, and it also represented the powerful god of the sun, K’inich Ahau, in flight between earth and heaven with its vibrant colours.
The ruins have a breeding program and they have managed to reintroduce the historically important bird to the area – we were greeted by the screeching of numerous magnificent scarlet macaws as soon as we entered the site…
… and their images also feature in many places within the ruins.
With over 2,000 hieroglyphs on its 63 steps, Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway is longest pre-Columbian inscription of its type in America, and is considered to be among the most remarkable monuments built by the Maya. There are various other places in the site containing hieroglyphs as well.
There are seven stelae – stone sculpture columns – in the grounds. Most of them depict the dynastic rulers performing rituals or milestones in the Mayan calendar.
The ruins are set in very scenic surroundings, with peaks visible to the north and east.
The Jaguar was one of the most revered animals by the ancient Mayans who lived here. They generally made the creature a symbol of violence and destruction, however this representation is thought to be dancing as well.
Six skulls look out into the west square.
“The magnificent ceiba tree is the Maya symbol for the tree of life. Its roots descend deep into the underworld, its trunk exists in the world of the living, while its branches stretch to the heavens.” More can be learned about the Mayans’ interactions with the natural world on a trail near the ruins.
This was our first encounter with Mayan ruins, but there are many more to come as our journey continues through Guatemala and Mexico.