Thursday, January 27, 2011


Tikal or Copan? That's a question I've seen on a bunch of travelers forums when I was planning my trip to Central America. Both are renowned Mayan ruins, Tikal in northern Guatemala, Copan in western Honduras. Many travelers who only have time for one or the other are looking for advice. I'd say it all depends on what you're looking for and where you've been before. The two sites are very different in character. Tikal is vast, its buildings monumental. Copan is a smaller site, with generally smaller structures, but with a wealth of carvings, reliefs and sculptures you just don't find at Tikal. Tikal is also either more difficult or more expensive to get to than Copan, as it's much more remote, requiring either an arduous bus ride from Guatemala City or Belize, or a not-so-cheap quickie flight from Guatemala City (I paid $211 round trip). Copan is a 5-hour ride from Guatemala City, where I got the ultra-luxury Hedman Alas bus. Their Ejecutivo Plus service gives you a fully reclining first-class airline-style seat. By Central American standards their service is very expensive (Plus service costs $75 return with a 20% r/t discount), but it's a very comfortable ride. If you're less picky you can get a standard bus or minivan for a fraction of that price.

Both sites have pleasant, traveler-friendly towns nearby. For Tikal I stayed on Flores island, about an hour away, though one can also stay at expensive lodges near right near the ruins. The town for Copan is called Copan Ruinas. It's a small, easygoing town, just a 15-minute walk from the ruins. I'm guessing it got its name when tourism started coming to the area; it was probably an insignificant village that was able to capitalize on the proximity to the ruins.

Ultimately, I'd say that all things considered I'd vote for Copan, which may be a minority opinion. But the ease of access and the pleasantness of the town are major pluses. Also, having recently been to the sublime, massive Machu Picchu, Tikal, impressive as it is, came as a bit of an anitclimax. If you have the time and/or the money to do both, by all means do both.

And now for the photos of Copan.

Who the hell is J. Higgins? A Google search reveals that there's a J. Higgins Trucking in Copan, Oklahoma, purely coincidental, I have to assume.

Could this be the Mayan Jim Backus?

No extra charge for the birds.

In addition to the wonderful in situ carvings, there's an excellent museum at the site with other excavated treasures.


Blogger Unknown said...

Hi peter! Thanks for the great info. I'll be heading to Guatemala / Honduras myself next week. Staying for two weeks and hoping to do both Copan and Tikal, back to back. Copan first, then Tikal. Any advice on how to do this locally, without flying, no matter how rugged?


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