Rural Honduras beckons. It’s a 6-7 hour journey to Copán
, which, along with Tikal, is the most impressive of the Mayan ruined complexes. This region of western Honduras is a remote province of velvety green hills and rushing rivers, dotted with whitewashed colonial villages where the horse is still the main form of transport. Its genial atmosphere comes in part from its relative prosperity gained through trade in coffee and tobacco, and through the tourism generated by the Mayan ruins.
Spend the night at Copán Ruinas, an attractive, cobbled village close to the site. There is time for a short hill walk, a visit to some nearby hot springs, but the main attractions, of course, are the archaeological site and the superb new museum, both of which you visit the following day.
Copán is unique, not so much for its impressive temples, but for the exquisite stelae and their artwork: huge, intricately carved statues depict the complicated history of the area and its great rulers. One of the highlights is the imperious hieroglyphic stairway; each of its 63 steps is sculpted with hundreds of different glyphs that describe important events in Copán's rise to prominence among the elite city states of the Mayan world. Copán flourished between 250 and 900 AD, at which point its prosperity mysteriously declined. Within about 100 years, this once-sophisticated city had been reclaimed by the jungle, only to be discovered by the Spanish conquistadors in the late 16th century, and subsequently excavated 300 years later.