The Vegan Traveler: Copán Ruinas, Honduras

Hieroglyphic stairway, Copan

I’ve wanted to visit the archeological site in Copán for years, and I finally got there in January. Copán was the capital city of a Classic Period Maya kingdom (5th to 9th centuries Common Era). It’s located in the extreme southwest of the Maya territory, in what is now Honduras. The ruins are remarkable.

Copán Ruinas is the charming small town next to the archeological park. It supports the park’s tourism with hotels, restaurants, and quaint museums, most of which are packed into a few blocks around the town’s central square. English is widely spoken, and US dollars are readily accepted. The town is only about a 15 minute drive from the border with Guatemala, and Guatemalan quetzales are accepted most places. That was a relief, since my ATM card didn’t work in the one ATM I tried.

We drove to Copán from Guatemala City–a trip that took about seven hours due to road work and a bicycle event that slowed traffic. There are daily shuttles to Copán from Panajachel, Antigua, and Guatemala City.

Old man's head sculptue, Copán
Old man’s head sculpture, Copán

Copán Ruinas Archeological Park

You really can’t go to Copán Ruinas without visiting the archeological park. We spent about five hours walking the site: it isn’t huge, but it’s beautiful and the carvings are amazing. We went on Sunday morning, when it was peaceful and not too crowded, though many people were entering the park as we were leaving.

You have the option of buying entrance to the tunnels that give you a look at the older layers within the Rosalila temple. The fee for the tunnels is as much as the entrance fee for the park. I’m glad we did it to satisfy curiosity, but it wasn’t worth the price.

Don’t miss the excellent sculpture museum, located across the parking lot from the ticket building. You can buy the ticket for the museum when you buy your entrance to the park. Inside is an impressive scale model of what the Rosalila temple probably looked like when it was in use.

Photo op with birds at Macaw Mountain, Copán
Photo op with birds at Macaw Mountain, Copán

Macaw Mountain Bird Park and Nature Reserve

We had no agenda in Copán other than visiting the archeological site, and we were pleasantly surprised by Macaw Mountain. This bird sanctuary houses birds that can’t make it in the wild and rehabilitates those that can. Many of the birds come from authorities who seize birds that are being sold or kept illegally.

The walk through the private park is lovely, on a path the meanders past aviaries and along the river. You can enter two of the aviaries: one a breeding aviary for scarlet macaws and one with toucans. At the end of the walk you can pose with the birds for a photo op.

Museums

Besides the excellent sculpture museum at the archeological site, there are two small museums in town, both right on the central square. The town archeology museum has a nice collection of artifacts. The digital museum, a gift from Japan, has some interesting photos and a great video that gives a virtual reality tour of the archeological site. Both museums are worth a visit and cost only a few dollars.

View from our balcony at Terramaya
View from our balcony at Terramaya

Hotel

Copán has a wide range of accommodations, from inexpensive hostels to B&Bs to vacation rentals. Choosing a hotel was overwhelming, but I couldn’t have been happier with our choice: Terramaya.

Terramaya is a six-room hotel run by Angela and her American husband, Howard. We received the best service of any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. Really. When I booked, Howard assured me that they could make us a vegan breakfast every morning. Angela was there to make sure the kitchen staff understood what to feed us. Her desire to make us happy and serve our needs was beyond amazing.

The hotel is charming, and an easy walk to restaurants and to the archeological site. We stayed in room #5, which has a large balcony and view of the valley. I indulged in a massage in their private massage pavilion. The whole experience was delicious in every way.

Restaurants

When you go someplace like Copán for the first time, you never know what kind of food you’ll find. If I can get fresh veggies and some beans, I’m happy. Unfortunately, few restaurants give vegetables any space on their menus.

Our best meals in Copán at ViaVia Cafe: veggie baleada and pasta with vegetable sauce
Our best meals in Copán at ViaVia Cafe: veggie baleada and pasta with vegetable sauce

ViaVia Cafe

Thank heavens for ViaVia. We went there three times in as many days. It was the only place I found that I could ask for a big plate of veggies and they happily prepared them. Highlights we’re the giant baldeada with beans and veggies and the pasta with veggie sauce.

Bon Apetit
We only tried this tiny eatery because of a review on Happy Cow. When it took 30 minutes for our drinks to come we weren’t sure we’d made the right choice (really, how long does it take to make lemonade??). But our food came immediately afterward and was fresh and tasty. I had a burrito filled with beans, veggies, and lettuce.

Comedor Mary
Our first meal was at this popular restaurant close to the hotel. When we asked whether they could make us pupusas without cheese, they looked at us like we were crazy, but the resulting bean and mushroom pupusas were delicious.

B’alam
After walking by B’alam and reading reviews, we came here for lunch after our morning at the Ruins. Mark had a large veggie sandwich on pita bread and I had a salad. Nothing to write home about, but it was serviceable.

Casa de Todo Happy Hour
The Casa de Todo restaurant has no vegan options on the menu, and they couldn’t even consider making something vegan. I only mention them because they have a longer happy hour than most places–from 5–8pm–which includes wine for 50 lempira (about $2.15 USD).

Twisted Tanya’s
We came to Twisted Tanya’s twice–the first time just for a drink. They have a great location: upstairs looking out over the town square.

On our last night we came here to try their happy hour. A number of people were enjoying the view and 2 for 1 drinks. We had delicious piña coladas and a nice hummus appetizer. Since we’d seen them listed on Trip Advisor as having vegetarian options, we decided to give dinner a try. It was the only serious food mistake of our three days in Copán. I ordered a salad that turned out to be thick pieces of beets, cucumber, tomato and radish, topped by a couple little slices of avocado and two olives, all arranged around a slice of melon. It was not a salad–it was a fruit and vegetable plate. It was so unappetizing that I let Mark eat it and then went to ViaVia to get some real food. To be fair, the owner of Twisted offered to have something else made for me, and I think he took the “salad” off the bill, but he wasn’t happy that I didn’t like it.

Have you traveled to Copán? Leave a comment and tell us about your experience.

 

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