A Little Travel Guilt…Copan Ruins, A Necessary Third?

Reluctantly paging through my Lonely Planet guidebook in the quite cool of the incredibly westernized Bagel Barn in Antigua, Guatemala (one of my favorite places for a western breakfast in the city) I was seeking out inspiration. Divine travel guidance. Something of interest to break up the 16 hour commute between western Guatemala and eastern Honduras. I’m not a big planner but I was down to a mere 12 hours before I boarded my 4am bus to the Honduran border so I had run out of time.

I should probably stop in Copan Ruinas, Honduras.

A good traveler would be eating up the chance to easily pass through a town with a full set of Mayan ruins and soaked in a rich cultural history.

It didn’t take long for the travel guilt to seep into my brain…while I was systematically downing my morning coffee the guilt came right on in, sat down, and invited itself over for a seven course meal.

Overview of the Copan Ruinas in Honduras

I’d be a bad traveler if I skipped the Mayan ruins, right? No matter that I had already done both Chichén Itzá in Mexico and the mac daddy of Mayan sites, Tikal in Guatemala, I booked a place to stay in Copan with a firm decision to poke around the Mayan ruins for a couple of days on my way to the Honduran coast.

Intricate Carvings at Copan Ruins, HondurasI so rarely force myself to do the prescribed tourist activities in a certain region, but sometimes, particularly if I’ve had a stint of “lazy-traveler-syndrome” I suck it up and join the other travelers in one of the top guidebook recommendations.

The fact that there were actually very few tourists was actually a welcomed change from my first assumption about Copan that was based on the guidebook’s description. I lucked out with the season, the timing, something, because the town was deserted and the morning hours at the ruins were also noticeably lacking in huge tourist groups.

Which means I had a lot of personal time with some of the carvings and various sections of the ruins as my backpacker friend Angela and I used the guidebook’s written tour of Copan ruins to putter around the sites without an actual guide.

This is the point where I should wax poetic about the ruins and highlight all of the positive aspects of the town and ruins.

So book your plane ticket now and create a stampede on the way to Copan Ruins?

Maybe.

I visited three Mayan ruins in Central America and am actually perfectly pleased with how that worked out – each one offered up a very different experience and they complimented each other better than my advanced planning could arranged.

The Acoustics at Chichén Itzá, Mexico

Chichen Itza Maya Temple

Although the Chichén Itzá ruins are very small compared to the other sites around Central America I actually registered a level of shock when our guide demonstrated the absolute perfect acoustic alignment of the temples and structures.

The Undiscovered Size and Scope of Tikal, Guatemala

Tikal Ruins in Guatemala

Hiking through the ruins at Tikal rates as one of my favorite temple experiences. Most of Tikal is still hidden in the hundreds of miles of dense green forest around the main site, Jaguar Temple so the animals are alive and roaming. The views from the top of the temple stretch forever and the sounds of the howler monkeys echo up from below the forest canopy.

The Intricately Carved Ruins at Copan Ruinas, Honduras

Copan Ruins Mayan Carvings in Honduras

Copan’s climate has preserved a huge number of amazingly detailed carvings on the temples. Tikal and Chichén Itzá were noticeably light on the actual Mayan designs so Copan provided the missing link through it all. The carvings themselves tell a story that you have to simply imagine when the guides at the other ruins attempt to describe the Mayan ceremonial faces, figures, and gods.

Succumbing to Travel Guilt

Copan Ruins was a really pleasant surprise. I wont say that it’s a must-stop place, or even one of the favorite ruins that I visited, but I loved how the ruins showed me a different piece of the ancient Mayan culture – a bonus I just wasn’t expecting as I hit my third set of ruins.

I feel like the travel guilt was likely a result of that pesky travel fatigue that plagued me for a couple of months – it’s a lot more fun on the road when I’m hitting cities and towns that have me eager to explore and experience rather than that nagging obligation that I “should” visit, but travel isn’t all puppies and butterflies (or rather lollipops and rainbows as Brooke mentions) so I think the guilt worked well in prompting me to get out of a funk and back into travel mode.

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15 Responses to A Little Travel Guilt…Copan Ruins, A Necessary Third?

  1. Eva & Jeremy Rees August 6, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    It's funny. People ask us about our trip sometimes, wanting to know if we visited so and so place, or this and that museum. Usually, it's a no. They look at us like we're crazy — we missed a major opportunity to actually be in some postcard picture setting. On short trips, like a week in Costa Rica, etc. I might pursue going to more of the “sights” but we figured we'd just get jaded if we tried to do it week in and week out for a year. Instead, we just wandered around cities, shopped & ate in markets and hung out at neighborhood watering holes. I think it helped us see what life was like in other places… the whole purpose of our year abroad. I would love to go back to many of our destinations and get a chance to see x and z, but I'm not worried about missing it. I don't really understand the obsession with shooting my own images from the same spot as the postcard photographer did 3 years before. Another reason we didn't go to some sights was that the ticket prices were too high, it just didn't fit the budget to tour that castle or that museum.

    That being said, we did hit the ruins in Mexico with a vengeance. It all started with Palenque, which was so stupendous, we got some sort of ruins bug. After touring several more, including Chichen Itza, we realized that they didn't compare to our serene and magical first experience. What was nice, however, is how different the experience at each site was: bikes were offered for touring at one (Coba); one was completely unrestored (Sayil); another had tour groups — but only in the first 800 feet — the rest was our own private playground (Uxmal). It was amazing how much variety we found. We really were saddened to miss out on Tikal. We had planned on driving there from Mexico (we had a rental car for over a month), but the road systems were so poorly mapped that we got freaked out. This was the first month of our RTW… I know if we had done Mexico/Guatemala last we would have been motoring down that drug road without any hestitation.

    Oh well, next time!

    • ShannonOD August 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

      Tikal is amazing but at least you have something else that will really draw
      you back to that region! Guatemala ranks up there with some of my favorite
      experiences, Tikal included :-) It's funny how the perspective for longterm
      travel is so very different – although there are all of these touristy and
      amazing sites on the beaten track it's more about setting a sustainable pace
      and really taking all of that extra time to see more and experience more
      than you could on those whirlwind weekend vacations!

  2. Jennifer July 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    I'm glad that Copan was worth the trip! My mom refers to her travel fatigue as “castle fatigue” because she got to the point in Europe where she couldn't stand to visit another castle, no matter how famous. Sometimes you just have to say “I'll catch it next time” or be a rebel and not follow the guidebooks :)

    • ShannonOD July 23, 2010 at 2:25 am #

      I can *completely* understand your mom getting castle fatigue in Europe! It
      can be best to just skip it for next time rather than go and leave with a
      negative impression!

  3. Jen July 17, 2010 at 3:26 am #

    Ah, travel guilt…like being between a rock and a hard place. You should see all the things a place has to offer because, after all, that is why you set out in the first place, but then you have to ask yourself, will you really appreciate the experience if your heart's not into it 100%? Another question is: are you actually a “bad” traveler if you don't go see what's been “prescribed” by guidebooks and other travelers? But then when you look at it from the other side it's like “well, maybe I'm being urged by something inside me to go see this thing because there's something the universe is trying to tell me…”

    Having said all that, I ask: are you really glad you went?

    • ShannonOD July 23, 2010 at 2:20 am #

      You know Jen, I am glad that I went – I was on the fence before hand but
      looking back I can really say that I am glad I was able to see and learn
      about that site while I was there. It could be that this may not be the case
      all of the time, but it worked out in my favor this time!

  4. AdventureRob July 16, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    That reminds me a lot of the Angkor region ruins in Cambodia. It's annoying to get a bit fed up with sights when you know how amazing your surroundings are but you're not in the mood to enjoy them.

    • ShannonOD July 23, 2010 at 2:12 am #

      Argh! I Cambodia was a perfect example – I finished up at Angkor after two
      months in the region and I wish I had started there so that I was fresher to
      the temples :-)

  5. Naomi July 15, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    Well, I think travel guilt can be a good thing sometimes – you might not want to visit X cultural landmark on the day that you're actually in town, but you might regret not doing so in the future when you had the chance if you don't! And as you said, it did wind up pulling your Mayan ruin visits together, so there's an unexpected surprise :)

    • ShannonOD July 23, 2010 at 2:10 am #

      Sorry for the late reply – I agree that the travel guilt can really get you
      out…and I have actually never regretted dragging myself to a landmark, so
      there is something to say for just getting out there :-)

  6. Audrey July 15, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    We were pleasantly surprised by the Copan ruins as well. Although I wouldn't list it at the top of my all-time travel favorites I really enjoyed how laid back it was with hardly any people around. After Tikal, I also appreciated the detailed engravings even more. I'd say it's worth a stop if you're in that neck of the wood.

    And you know, even if you didn't visit I wouldn't think any less of you as a traveler :) Sometimes you just need to let sights go – ruins will be there to return and visit at a later time.

    • ShannonOD July 22, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

      Sorry for the epically late reply! Agreed that they are worth a stop when
      passing through for sure – those engravings were really neat and so much
      more detailed then elsewhere :-)

  7. Migrationology July 15, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Glad that you had a good time and that Copan wrapped everything together. At Angkor Wat, after seeing the main tourist populated temples, I sat around at a few of the least visited temples and enjoyed the quiet peace of them. It can be really nice when you aren't having to share with so many people.

    • ShannonOD July 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

      Angkor is a great example! There are just so many people there at the main
      few that it can get overwhelming and cause temple fatigue, while wandering
      the remote and quiet ones is a totally different experience. :-)

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