San Salvador to Copán and Palenque

Jul 15th, 2019, 07:50 AM
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San Salvador to Copán and Palenque

*Logistics*

Even though within about an hour or so drive from the El Salvador capital, one can visit Tazumal, a quite remarkable eastern outpost of ancient Mayan civilization that lasted until Spanish arrival, to get to the giants of Classic Mayan civilization, Copan and Palenque, over land required numerous travel days. Makes one realize the enormity of the Mayan lands.

There may have been easier other reasonably priced options other than what I did but what I ended up doing was below. Wish there were some better direct means from San Salvador to Copan in particular. Maybe as things are improving in El Salvador, options will materialize. So even though there was a bit more backtracking than I might have liked, I have no regrets and enjoyed myself. Each travel leg you see took the better part of a day and I would not have chewed off too much more due to wear and tear.

July 6 Tica Bus: San Salvador-Guatemala City
July 7 Hedman Alas (only bus leaves at 5 am) Guatemala City-Copan Ruinas
July 7-10 Copan Ruinas (first time ever in Honduras)
July 10 Copan Ruinas-Guatemala City
July 11 Guatemala City-Tapachula
July 12 Tapachula-Tuxtla Gutiérrez
July 13 Tuxtla Gutiérrez-Palenque
July 13-15 Palenque

My focus will be mostly on the Classic Mayan sites, as that was the part that I found the most moving. However, I will mention border crossing logistics and will provide ideas for Guatemala City, as I could see future visitors flying into that capital and using it as a bouncing off point for Copan.

*San Salvador to Copán to begin.*
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Jul 15th, 2019, 08:33 AM
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Signing on, as I'm interested in Mayan sites. In fact, just the other day I purchased a paperback copy of Jungle of Stone by William Carlson, about Stephens and Catherwood. Years ago we read Stephens' book, which was great.

I saw your other report about El Salvador reputedly being the most dangerous Central American country. I had heard that distinction leveled at Honduras as well.

Thanks for the reports.
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Jul 15th, 2019, 10:57 AM
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Hi Nelson,

You may or may not find this amusing but prior to yesterday I didn’t even know who Stephens and Catherwood were. I missed their names and with a wink said to my Palenque guide “¿Quién? ¿Cat Stevens?” and he said matter of fact “No, el es singer!” He was in his early thirties so I was happy he even knew the name Cat Stevens.

Thanks for checking in.

Daniel


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Jul 15th, 2019, 04:45 PM
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For sure that was amusing, thanks!

Check out Catherwood’s drawings if you haven’t already. Remarkable, especially considering they were made in the field, some after he had come down with malaria.

Looking forward to your report.
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Jul 15th, 2019, 07:09 PM
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I'm pleased to see my local library has both Jungle of Stone & another with the drawings, Lost Cities of the Maya, both now requested. Thanks, y'all.
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Jul 16th, 2019, 06:11 AM
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To add to what was already written: The guide in Palenque also recommended to me the book by Stephens, apparently an instant hit in 1840 when it came out. The title is “Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas ans Yucatan”.
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Jul 18th, 2019, 09:50 AM
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*San Salvador to Copán*

The Tica Bus ride from San Salvador to Guatemala City took a bit longer than expected. *The bus arrived about an hour late (delayed earlier in Central America?) and leaving El Salvador went inexplicably slowly. *I read that some travellers found it unacceptable*handing their passports over to a TicaBus representative at the border. *Knowing this was how things are done, I relinquished my passport but must say I still felt relief when they honourably returned it*after Guatemalan immigration. *No fees for El Salvador or Guatemala.

After a short hotel stay at the Radisson*in Guatemala City (arriving at 11 pm, setting my alarm for 3:45am), I boarded Hedman Alas busline at 5am, the only time and only direct bus line I*knew of that goes from Guatemala City to Copán*Ruinas. *The bus was perhaps a step up relative to Greyhound and Tica Bus, but not luxury like say ETN in Mexico. *A drink and breakfast sandwich were provided. *Honduras immigration forms are collected when you check in at the bus station in the Zona Viva (I arrived at the station at 4:30 maybe?), thankfully close to the Radisson. *The ride is gorgeous (as frankly most bus rides have been in Central America) and the Guatemala/Honduras border was remarkably sensible with both Honduras and Guatemala officials housed in the same air conditioned modern building. *You get your stamp for leaving Guatemala and then you get in another line and get your stamp for entering Honduras. *One of the most pleasant & easy land borders I think I have ever crossed. *Make sure to have quetzales or lempiras to pay the fee to enter Honduras.

Arriving minutes after the border in Copán Ruinas town, I got one of these sort of charming sort of worrying three wheeled mototaxis to take me*into town from the bus station. *Thankfully, the driver took me to a money changer, who let me change some $US into lempiras so I could pay him. *

Copán Ruinas itself is a pleasant colonial town which has some excellent restaurants and some cafés which served**some of the best lattes*I’ve had anywhere. *(Starbucks is swill in comparison.). The only thing that really differentiated the town from other similar handsome colonial towns in Mexico & Central America was how many cowboy hats I saw! *I did not know Honduras had such cowboy culture! *I stayed at Don Udo’s, a charming colonial style hotel two blocks from the Parque Central*where they were very kind and have a reasonably priced laundry service (important as I was getting desperate to laundry).

Some people have told me they wouldn’t go to Copán since it was in Honduras (and they’ve heard*Honduras is dangerous!). **All I can say is if you’re interested in Mayan civilization, *please* do not let fear prevent you from going to this wonder of the world. *Copan Ruinas was very pleasant*and at no moment did I*feel concerned.

*Coming Up: *The*Archaeological Site*Copán Itself*
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Jul 19th, 2019, 07:46 AM
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*Copán*

The archaeological site is maybe 2 km from the Parque Central, so I took the mototaxi for 50 lempiras. *Arriving at the site, guides with tags are present offering their services. *Seeing as this was a lifetime experience, I opted to hire one for ~$30 (1020 lempiras). *His name was Tito Ever and he gave the tour half in French half in Spanish, hearing that I was from Quebec and that my French was stronger than my Spanish. *He spoke French quite well and his Honduran accent in French only added to the charm!

One of the surprises of the site was the number of wild macaws that populate the premises. *Not knowing much about this bird, I was surprised to discover that not only are they very colourful and beautiful but boy*they really do make quite the ruckus! *

The Zona Arqueológica**is mind-blowing. *From 400 AD-800AD, the 16 kings of Copán*ruled. *During the Classic Mayan period, Copán was one of the big players, which you get a sense of looking at the enormous scope of the grounds where they lived. *Copán in the Mayan world was especially known for its art (according to the guide more than anywhere else in the Mayan world) and sculpture. *Looking at the exquisite detail of the sculptures was breathtaking; moving as well, to think that here these magnificent sculptors whose names are forgotten, whose civilization is gone, but yet their work remains a beautiful*legacy of their existence. *The tall statues of “18 rabbit” (18 rabbit was the name of the 13th king of Copán) that punctuate the main plaza, as well as a slab with all 16 of the Copan kings*are especially incredible for their detail. *Then there’s also the*tomb of the 8th king of Copán, built upon*the 7th king’s tomb and so on inside a central structure,*something quite remarkable to see.

I’d read about the famous ball courts of the Mayans, but Copán was the first place I actually saw one. *Wearing something called a yugo (Spanish word) around their waist and their arms and waists padded, the players were trying to get this rubber ball into some stone bird heads without using their feet or hands.*The winners would get their head chopped off (a great honour apparently, to sacrifice oneself for Gods such as the wind god Ik)*and the losers the guide later at Palenque told me would get their hands and feet cut off and bleed to death. *I think I’ll sit this game out!

Going to Copan was one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences in my life. *Have no doubt that being there is every bit as powerful as seeing Teotihuacan or the pyramids of Egypt. *The structures are not as large, but the emotion of seeing this remarkable remnant of an ancient civilization was just as powerful.

*On to Palenque next*

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Jul 19th, 2019, 07:55 AM
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I realized I forgot in my previous post to mention the Hieroglyphic Staircase, with panels telling the story of the Kings of Copan. Never seen anything like that at other sites! This and also the parliament I forgot to mention where rulers made decisions and watched games in a central plaza left me feeling how little I know about the history of mankind, even after closing in on 50 years on this planet, this being just one of many sites of the powerful Mayan empire.






Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jul 19th, 2019 at 08:43 AM.
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Jul 19th, 2019, 08:10 AM
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Pictures of Copan



Hieroglyphic Staircase

18 Conejo, 13th King of Copan. Numerous statues like this punctuate the Grand Plaza of Copan

Slab with 16 kings of Copán

Parliament “arches” seen up high. Seats here were reserved for those of high rank.
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Jul 19th, 2019, 08:39 AM
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Wow! Thanks so much for this report and the pictures. I've wanted to visit Copan for a long time, but was put off by the logistics and security concerns. Maybe this will get me going!
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Jul 22nd, 2019, 11:41 AM
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So, Palenque. Although I went there from Copán (requiring several days) and caught a bus to it from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, for most visitors, flying into Villahermosa (or Palenque?) will be easiest. If you had some extra time before/after a flight, seeing the Olmec heads at the Parque Museo la Venta in Villahermosa might be interesting to combine with Palenque. From Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Palenque, the bus took about 7.5 hours, despite appearances of being not too far on the map.

I stayed at the Casssa Vlanca in Palenque (the town), situated about 10 km from the archaeological site. Palenque (the town) is hot, but pleasant enough with some colonial architecture including a church. A beauty pageant was occurring my first evening there.

*Archaeological Site*

As the proprietress of my hotel stated, “I won’t ask you if you preferred Copán or Palenque, because it’s not a competition.” Indeed. Whereas the sculptors of Copán blew me away with their exquisite detail, the architects of Palenque floored me with their structures. Disabuse yourself of the notion that it’ll just be “more of the same”; both offer unique and unforgettable experiences.

To get to the ruins, I caught a colectivo bus from a few blocks from the town of Palenque’s Parque Central. These run every few minutes. I decided to pay the hefty sum of 1300 pesos to get a guide, so as to better understand what I saw.

The structures upon arriving are absolutely mind-blowing and I’m amazed how well-preserved everything is, given Palenque (200 BC to 900 AD) was at its height in the 600s AD under the long lived Pakal’s reign. The Temple of the Inscriptions with its wall engravings and the “Leaning Tower of Palenque” (deliberately leaning apparently, related to astronomy, my guide told me) simply awe on first sight. What I didn’t realize until after seeing a tomb and admiring touches like the “T”-shaped windows and trapezoidal ceilings in this royal area, was that I had three imposing temples to see, the well-preserved Temple of the Sun, the tallest Temple of the Cross and the unique Temple of the Foliated Cross that weren’t visible upon entering. The roof combs were a remarkable ornamental addition that I had not seen elsewhere in the Mayan world. A ball court to end the tour, smaller than at Copán (and unlike in Copán, the “bird head” goalposts were not visible, since they were thought to be made of wood), was still interesting if only to see how widespread these games were.

The visit was was capped off with a stop at the museum, quite worthwhile since there’s no extra associated cost. The replica of Pakal’s tomb was well-presented and the artifacts exquisite.

In summary, Copán and Palenque both have brought Mayan civilization into a whole new light for me. These were powerful cities, much more in a similar way as their contemporary Teotihuacan than I had realized. I wondered what they thought of other communities and would love to have been a fly and observed daily life when they were all at their height. It’s quite powerful, even I dare say emotional, to see the traces of a dead civilization that is now gone forever and only somewhat understood.

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Jul 22nd, 2019, 11:57 AM
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Pictures of Palenque



Temple of the Foliated Cross

Temple of the Cross looms at right

Temple of the Sun with roof comb

Temple of the Inscriptions

Leaning Tower of Palenque
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Jul 23rd, 2019, 06:13 AM
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If anyone reading this is curious about my thoughts on San Salvador & vicinity, where I visited for the first time, I include the link below. Also found in that report are places that might to be interesting to combine with a visit to Palenque, such as the Cañón del Sumidero and thoughts on Tuxtla Gutiérrez as a base for visiting that canyon. Buses: Austin & Mexican Gulf Coast to El Salvador



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Jul 25th, 2019, 09:39 AM
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Nelson & mmeperdu---Just a quick shout out to thank the both of you, as you encouraged me to add Jungle of Stone by Williams Carlsen and Incidents of Travel to Central America, Yucatan and Chiapas by Stephens to my e-reader! Looking forward! At first, I was thinking to wait to read the books until I saw more Mayan sites so I would understand better from first-hand visuals, but given how many sites there are, I then was afraid I'd be kaput before I deemed I'd seen "enough", LOL. So, on second thought, reading them now seems as good a time as any!

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jul 25th, 2019 at 09:47 AM.
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Jul 25th, 2019, 11:04 AM
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I'd also encourage you to see if your local library (or an ILL source) has a copy of The Lost Cities of the Maya, by Fabio Bourbon, a comprehensive large format presentation of the very detailed drawings, prints, maps, etc. Those in Jungle of Stone are small as they will be presumably on your e-reader. The drawings are complex and benefit greatly from seeing them much larger. I have them both right now and while Jungle has more textual information, Lost Cities makes the visual record more comprehensible.

Thanks for your report sending me in this direction, intellectually speaking and maybe in real life one of these days. The only site in southern Mexico I've visited so far is Monte Alban in Oaxaca. My report: https://www.travelgumbo.com/blog/ana...ca-monte-alban
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Jul 25th, 2019, 11:31 AM
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Thanks Daniel for the report and photos. I also have been put off from Copan due to the security concerns, even if I thought those were overblown. The Calakmul Bisophere Reserve is also on my radar. Palenque as well, for that matter! We'll see...

Hope you enjoy Jungle of Stone. I read enough in the bookstore to believe I'll enjoy it, and bought the paperback because I think the drawings will be better than the e-reader. Plus I wanted a real book to take on an upcoming trip, in case the e-reader stops working. So I haven't actually started it yet.

MmePerdu, I enjoyed your report and photos of Monte Alban. I too have felt privileged to stand in archeological sites. Interesting how it seems you were converted due to that one visit! Thanks for the Lost Cities recommendation. It looks like not in my public library, but the university might have a copy. I also threw it into an amazon list I keep for this kind of stuff.
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Jul 26th, 2019, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Nelson View Post
MmePerdu, I enjoyed your report and photos of Monte Alban. I too have felt privileged to stand in archeological sites. Interesting how it seems you were converted due to that one visit! . . .
I'd say "converted" in the sense that none of us really know what we're missing until we try it, do we. Monte Alban was a good place to start as it's so easy to get to and very civilized with museum & cafe. It remains to be seen if my conversion sticks & I make my way to more sites.
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Jul 26th, 2019, 08:47 AM
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>>>The only site in southern Mexico I've visited so far is Monte Alban in Oaxaca.<<<

". . . well I--what have you been doing, then?" --From The Wind in the Willows
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Jul 26th, 2019, 09:35 AM
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Nelson, mmeperdu— Back in early 2005, I went to Mexico City for the first time ever. You were mentioning that it appears to have taken one site to get mmeperdu hooked, well it took that one trip to change the way I perceive North America forever. The Museo de Antropología, the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlán and then on my penultimate day, seeing the scope of Teotihuacan, it all conspired to make me begin to realize the extent of my ignorance of pre-European Mesoamerican civilization. That trip was an epiphany & I feel I’ve been digging my way out of ignorance since.

For this trip, even though I’d gotten an ilk of understanding of Mayan civilization in the past from the Museo Popol Vuh in Guatemala City, the Mayan Museum in Chetumal and the Belize Museum in Belize City, as well as the pyramids at the medium-sized settlement Altun Ha (Belize), seeing Copan and Palenque this year has been similarly an awakening, making me understand much more vividly how these Mayan civilizations were important in a similar way as Teotihuacan.
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