It’s confusing, we know: The closest town to the ruins of the Mayan city of Copán, the most famous and widely studied archaeological site in Honduras, is called Copán Ruinas.Therefore, the comparatively new city of Copán Ruinas is your base for exploring the positively ancient remains of Copán ruins.
Copán Ruinas is tiny but jam-packed with tourists and the services that come with them. Because the number one tourist attraction in Honduras is right on the town’s doorstep, most offerings are of the mediocre but overpriced variety (case in point: laundry is $1 per pound). We visited Copán Ruinas on two different occasions and found a few finds that stand out from the rest.
Sleep with the Mayans
About a mile and a half above the center of Copán Ruinas lies one of the most noteworthy hotels in Honduras. Hacienda San Lucas is the 100-year-old home of the Cueva family, whose patriarch was a passionate amateur archaeologist and instrumental in early protection and exploration of the remains of the Mayan city of Copán.
His daughter, Doña Flavia Cueva, oversaw a disciplined reinvention of the family home which she has transformed into an eight room hotel. Flavia did a lot of the work herself (don’t miss the photos of the restoration in progress–Flavia is smiling in every single shot) and she worked hard to retain country touches like exposed beams, thick walls and ample patios.
Modern touches like electricity, hot water, great beds and WiFi were added. One thoroughly modern addition to Hacienda San Lucas is the large, colorful, graphic art work of Falvia’s daughter, Frida Larios. Frida has turned her artists’ eye to Mayan glyphs, transforming the traditional ancient stone carvings into modern graphic art which decorates the hotel. Frida calls it Modern Mayan and it’s great stuff.
The Hacienda San Lucas kitchen, staffed by Mayan women, also turns out some of the best food in the region. We had some of the tastiest tamales we’ve ever eaten here and dinner, open to non-guests too, is a set menu, multi-course affair featuring dishes made from traditional Mayan recipes paired with wines. The town of Copán Ruinas and the edges of the Copán archaeological site itself can be seen in the valley below.
Your own (sort of) private ruins
Though touring the ruins of Copán is the main draw, guests at Hacienda San Lucas are only a ten minute walk away from a tiny, little-visited archaeological site called Los Sapos (The Toads) that’s actually located on land owned by Hacienda San Lucas. About the size of half a football field, the Los Sapos area features boulders carved into the form of toads. Dozens of types of toads live in this area and the toad is the Mayan symbol of fertility. The origin and importance of this odd little site are still being studied but one theory is that Los Sapos was a fertility and/or birthing site used by the inhabitants of ancient Copán.
If Hacienda San Lucas is out of your price range we can also recommend Hotel Patty. Located right in downtown Copán Ruinas, the basic rooms are clean with bathrooms and TV, there’s a big secure parking lot, the WiFi works and the owners are friendly. Rooms start at US$25 double occupancy.
The best microbrew in Central America?
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Fabricio. He’s a local customs officer who we met when we crossed the border from Guatemala into Honduras. If he hadn’t told us about “the big German making beer” in Copán Ruinas we might never have found Thomas Wagner.
Thomas is serious about beer. Serious enough to drive 10 miles for his spring water. Serious enough to wear a lab coat while he brews. Serious enough to import all of his equipment and ingredients from his native Germany. He is not, however, very serious about signs. His tiny brewery and mini German beer hall is located down a residential side street with no more than a small sign right at the entrance. Ask anyone in Copán Ruinas for directions to the Sol de Copán Brew Pub (closed Monday and Tuesday), then look for the building with wacky castle-like turrets just a few blocks away from downtown.
Thomas, who has won awards for his beers in his native Germany, makes strictly German-style beer and you will find two different brews on tap along with a short menu of German dishes (spetzel, schnitzel) made fresh by Thomas’ bubbly Honduran wife. Their schnauzer, Sammy, usually makes an appearance too. Locals fill the place. Laughter spills out into the street–mostly Thomas’ laughter. He is visibly thrilled every time someone takes a sip.
It’s a good thing Thomas is getting joy out of his beer because he certainly isn’t getting rich. At 55 Lempiras (less than US$3) for a half liter of the delicious stuff, Thomas’ handcrafted beer is only slightly more expensive than a liter of Salva Vida, the ubiquitous but mediocre beer of Honduras.
We are happy to report that microbreweries are gaining a foothold in Central America but we can say with certainty that the stuff Thomas is making in tiny, remote Copán Ruinas is by far the best microbrew in the region.
Hot springs worth the splurge
We set aside just a couple of hours to visit the Luna Jaguar Spa hot springs located in the town of (surprise, surprise) Agua Caliente about 12 miles out of town over a pretty rough dirt road. The US$10 per person entry fee seemed like a whole lot at the time, however, as soon as we walked through the gate, over a hanging bridge and into a series of atmospheric pools, falls and dipping areas artfully crafted into nature over a trail-laced hillside the fee suddenly seemed worth it.
None of the crystal-clear pools are sizzling hot, but they do the trick. There’s even a pool that includes containers of therapeutic mud which is high in minerals and great for your skin. Another area has a small circular path lined in smooth river stones and filled to ankle-level with hot water. Walk around it and you get a free foot massage! We could have soaked all day.
A special note for drivers: If you’re driving to Copán Ruinas be prepared for the town’s cobblestone streets which are very narrow, sometimes steep and brutally bumpy. Parking is also tough. We had some tight squeezes in our truck.
Read more about travel in Honduras