Is it possible to have no expectations and yet at the same time have this feeling that you are really going to love a place?
I really thought I was going to love Copan Ruinas.
I didn’t know.
But something was drawing me there.
We arrived around 7:00 in the evening at the bus terminal. We made eye-contact with a tuk tuk driver while another man tried to convince us to stay at his hostel. We had no plans as to where we were going to stay. After a little bargaining on price we decided to go check it out.
While the wife and kids settled into our room I hit the street to find us some food. A man and his wife were making little dishes over a few pieces of charcoal on the street. I ordered two plates and told them I’d be back in to pick them up when they were done.
I walked to the town square and popped into a shop to buy a cigar and then into a bar where I ordered a double of Flor de Cana rum aged 12 years. I sipped my drink, went back to get our food, and then back to enjoy dinner at the hotel with my family. We got the kids to bed and Monica and I sat out on our balcony overlooking the town of Copan Ruinas.
It was a good start to a great week.
When we arrived in Copan we were ready to slow down. We’d flown into San Pedro Sula the previous week and had been on the move. We’d spent time on the island of Utila and in the rainforest at the Omega Lodge in the Pico Bonito National Preserve. Traveling only with our backpacks provided by The North Face, all of our clothes weren’t just dirty — they were stinky and wet.
The rainforest is well, wet. It’s not just the rain. The air is so think with moisture that you can cut it with a knife. On Utila we’d wash or clothes out in the sink and let them hang out to dry. Anything we hung out to dry in the rainforest just got more wet.
The first order of business our first morning in Copan was to find a place to have our clothes laundered. We found Casa de Todo and soon it was done.
It’s amazing the difference a good shower and a set of clean clothes can make in your demeanor.
Maybe that’s why I loved Copan so much.
With our laundry done we could now move onto other things.
There was plenty we wanted to do in Copan, but our first was to slow down. We layed in the hammocks and watched movies on our iPad with the kids. We cooked our own food in the little kitchen on the hostels balcony. We talked with other travelers. We played. We laughed. We did a little work on our computer.
The beauty of traveling for an extended period of time is that you’re not in a hurry. There’s no pressure to do everything right now. There’s no pressure that every day be epic. You can do nothing but lay in the hammock with your kids or sit at your computer on the balcony and wrap up the day by walking to an unmemorable dinner and at the end of the day you can say, “today was a great day.”
There was plenty we wanted to do in Copan. Those things would come.
Come they did.
With the Mayan Ruins scheduled to permanently close on December 21, 2012, this was our last chance to see a bit of history. Little did we know that our kids would be the ones on exhibit that day.
A short tuk tuk ride outside the main part of Copan Ruinas, Copan’s Mayan Ruins are something to behold. The kids climbed up the ruins — I climbed with them — and from the top we took in the view. Right on queue, a large flock of beautiful macaws flew overhead squawking. I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
As we moved toward another ruin a large school group descended. Our kids with their blonde hair and blue eyes became the center of attention. Whenever we stopped, huge crowds formed around us. At one point, security even stepped in to disperse the crowd.
Our son Jackson can often be a little timid when he senses there are eyes on him. From the very beginning he would bury his face into me whenever the crowds began to form. At first, Emery, who is much more comfortable with attention, played the crowd. As time wore on, though, even Emery became overwhelmed.
I will never stop and ask a celebrity for a photo or autograph again.
The ruins are some of the most extensive and impressive that we have from the Mayan civilization. It’s home to the longest petro glyph in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They cover 14 square miles, tours of the underground tunnels are available, and the grounds are also beautiful. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of these ruins and why you should visit, check out this post by another blogger.
Our kids loved Macaw Mountain. Love is hardly a strong enough word.
Macaw Mountain is a bird refuge and home to many of the most beautiful birds in the world. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty amazing experience to walk through an aviary surrounded by more than a dozen large scarlet macaws. It’s also amazing to have one of those macaws sitting on your shoulder. And another one on your other shoulder. While you hold another one on your arm.
It goes beyond the macaws. There are so many bird species, including toucans, as you meander down the beautiful walking paths next to the river.
Inside Macaw Mountain there’s also a nice restaurant. Prices are on the high end for Copan, but we relaxed with some tea and a little snack. The kids loved hanging out. There’s also wifi to post all the photos you’ve taken of yourself with all the birds to Facebook. At the very end of the tour there’s a cafe that serves very good coffee.
Your tickets are good for three days — and we came back a second time. This was a really fun experience. For Monica and me, and especially for the kids — which is what ultimately makes it such a great experience for Monica and me.
The Hot Springs
We almost didn’t go to the hot springs. I mean I’ve been to hot springs before and they’re never as nice as I envision in my mind.
We drove 45 minutes outside of Copan and I was really questioning why we were going to the hot springs. We parked and I really wondered why we’d spent our time and money on this excursion.
Then we walked over a little wooden bridge out of an Indiana Jones movie and through a passageway of beautiful stonework. Suddenly, I realized this was like no other hot springs I’d ever visited.
One of the things about travel in Central America is that marketing departments haven’t taken over. Try googling this place and it’s not that easy. There’s no official website for the hot springs. There are fliers advertising the hot springs at hostels around Copan, but not the kind of fancy brochures I’d design billing the place as a spa-like experience.
Fed by volcanic hot springs, several man made pools mimicking Mayan architecture provide an a completely unique afternoon of relaxation. At the source of all this hot water you can sit an an incredible steam bath. You can sit under the hot water fall massage. Check out this video. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, the visuals of the video will give you a good sense for what we experienced. The hot springs, though, were one of the highlights of our entire 6 weeks in Central America.
There was still more to do in Copan that we did not do. But that’s life. There’s always more to do. Always more to see. Always more to explore. I’m reminded of a line from Winston Churchill:
“If you cannot read all your books, fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.”
I read Copan. Maybe not all of it. But I fondled it. I peered into Copan. I explored what first arrested my eye and lingered for a while. I can call Copan a friend. At the very least, I can call Copan an acquaintance.
I sat at Cafe Welchez the morning or our depature. Cafe Welchez became my spot. A little cafe just off the main square. I’ll always remember it. I’m not overstating my case when I tell you I had the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had at Cafe Welchez. Every morning I’d order a cafe con leche. What I got was espresso with frothed milk. Not like a latte, which is heavy on the milk, and not like a cappuccino, which is heavy on foam. This was heavy on espresso with just a little frothed milk and it was fantastic.
At 2:00 o’clock that day we’d be on our shuttle to Antigua, one of the destinations I’d anticipated most about our Central America travels.
It was time for us to leave. Not in the sense that we were on a schedule, but in the sense that time had run its course. Like a mother giving birth, there comes a time. Our time had come to leave Copan.
We had lunch at the mercado. Little kitchens line the market and each kitchen feels like the kitchen in someone’s home. The food in each kitchen changes daily. They’re just preparing the same food for people like us that they provide for their family.
We then headed back to the hostel to collect our things. We hugged the staff and said goodbye.
I’ll always think of Copan as a friend.
Read more about our travels in Central America by visiting our Central America Trip Fall 2012 Tag Page.
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