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Tikal or Copan


ging466

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Hi

 

I have the opportunity to do an excursion to either Tikal or Copan. Both are very expensive because there are flights involved so I can only afford to do one.

 

For those of u who have been to both areas, which is the most impressive?

 

This is my only chance to see some Mayan ruins so I want to see the best one.

 

Any advice?

 

Thankx

ging466

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I can't answer your question directly, but I have been to several sites, including both Tikal and Palenque. Together with Copán, these are the three largest and most impressive. Any one is awe-inspiring, and in the absence of any particular interest or affinity, I don't think you can go wrong with any.

 

That being said, all three sites are distant from any cruise port, and much of your time will be spent dealing with the logistics of flying, probably by chartered aircraft from Pto. Barrios. In the case of Tikal, the airport is at Sta. Elena, just outside of Flores, and from which you'll spend another hour or so traveling by highway to and from the site. Make sure that you've plenty of time in port, but even so, it is quite likely that you'll be hurrying around to see what you can.

 

In our case, we traveled by sea from the United States to Mexico, then spent three weeks going overland throughout much of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, before boarding another vessel to return to the United States. I think you would likely get more out of a visit to one or more of these three places by going overland rather than as part of sea voyage. I do so, though, that you're coming all the way from down under, and may not have the same time or capability as those of us here closer, so if this is indeed your only opportunity I think you will be quite impressed notwithstanding the very high cost and limited time duration.

 

Everything else being equal, I would probably choose Copán because it is the most remote of the three, being located in rural Honduras, and it is the place I would least likely have reason to pass near again in the future. It is that reason that Copán remains the only one of the three I have not visited.

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I can't answer your question directly, but I have been to several sites, including both Tikal and Palenque. Together with Copán, these are the three largest and most impressive. Any one is awe-inspiring, and in the absence of any particular interest or affinity, I don't think you can go wrong with any.

 

That being said, all three sites are distant from any cruise port, and much of your time will be spent dealing with the logistics of flying, probably by chartered aircraft from Pto. Barrios. In the case of Tikal, the airport is at Sta. Elena, just outside of Flores, and from which you'll spend another hour or so traveling by highway to and from the site. Make sure that you've plenty of time in port, but even so, it is quite likely that you'll be hurrying around to see what you can.

 

In our case, we traveled by sea from the United States to Mexico, then spent three weeks going overland throughout much of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize, before boarding another vessel to return to the United States. I think you would likely get more out of a visit to one or more of these three places by going overland rather than as part of sea voyage. I do so, though, that you're coming all the way from down under, and may not have the same time or capability as those of us here closer, so if this is indeed your only opportunity I think you will be quite impressed notwithstanding the very high cost and limited time duration.

 

Everything else being equal, I would probably choose Copán because it is the most remote of the three, being located in rural Honduras, and it is the place I would least likely have reason to pass near again in the future. It is that reason that Copán remains the only one of the three I have not visited.

 

Thankx GTJ for your advice. I am from Australia and this will be my one and only trip to this area, so I wanted to try to see "the best". You have given me some food for thought.

 

If u go to Copan, does this mean that u fly from Guatemala to Honduras?

 

Cheers

ging466

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We did both on a long DIY trip of the Mayan route through Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Yucatan. Yes, they are both Mayan ruins, but could not be more different. We loved both and it is hard to advise without knowing what you would like.

 

Copan is more polished. It is more restored and cleaner. The grass around the pyramids is immaculately cut, the toilets and the coffeeshop are sparkly clean. The little town Copan Ruinas is a strangely perfect (but really pleasant) model town with nice restaurants and bars, an ATM, etc.

Tikal is rougher. It is a jungle experience. You are allowed to climb the pyramids, I don't think you were allowed to in Copan. Some ruins here are not excavated yet, there are mounds of earth where the buildings got swallowed by the rainforest. It has this whole "Indiana Jones in the Mayan jungle" feel about it, a bit mystical and adventurous. The town closest to it (Santa Elena/Flores) has dirt roads and feels a bit disorganized too, but is ok.

 

Copan feels a bit overrestored and overorganized, but I thought the buildings were more beautiful. It was my first Maya site, so I could have just been terribly impressed. It is, however, somebodys take on history how he felt it looked like. If you have never seen Maya temples before, Copan makes it much easier to visualize. Tikal asks more of your own fatasy and imagination. In Tikal, you are more aware of the authenticity of the place, but it can be a bit more rough around the edges. If you don't mind getting mud on your pants and being 40 miles from the nearest civilisation, go to Tikal. If you want to keep your new trainers white and want your latte coffee in 1 mile, go to Copan.

 

Both places are fairly hard to get to and both will involve lengthy travel. Try to find out how much time is actually offered on-site. You will need a fair amount of time to get round them. Both were bustling cities in their day, so the excavations are spread out. If it takes you all day to get there and then have 1 hour on-site, leave it. Travel in Guatemala and Honduras can be slow at times.

Do you get to go to Mexico? In Yucatan, there are many Mayan sites in easy reach of the coast. Yes, Chichen Itza, Tulum or Uxmal are more touristy, and you do not have the reward after all the hardship of getting there, but it sure would be easier and not less interesting or impressive.

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Thankx for your advice UKBayern...it gives me a better idea of the sites.

 

I do go to Mexico but it's the touristy places on the Pacific coast, not the Yucatan. I have previously seen the Teotihuacán Ruins near Mexico City though and I like seeing & climbing pyramids so maybe Tikal is the place for me.

 

I know that both trips involve flying and with Tikal there is a 1.5 hr bus ride from the airport and back so I will need to get more info as to how long we are actually at the site. I'm not sure that I can spend 1.5 hrs each way on a Guatemalan bus though:confused:

 

Thankx for all the input.

 

Cheers

ging466

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Teotihuacán was also the first place where I was able to visit ruins, though as I'm sure you know those were Aztec.

 

I agree with much from UKBayern, and take all being said about Copán. I do differ somewhat in the characterization of Tikal and the surroundings (though from an absolute sense rather than a comparative sense with Copán).

 

There are many dirt roads throughout the Petén region of Guatemala, and we traveled more on dirt than paved roads when crossing that northern part of country overland from Bethel, through Sta. Elena and Flores, and on to Melchor de Mencos. However, the portion of the journey between Flores, Sta. Elena, and Tikal is entirely paved. There are some unpaved streets in Sta. Elena, but it is unlikely that you'll be going there (since the airport is between the town of Sta. Elena and Tikal). I also would not worry unduly about a "Guatemalan bus." Most of the tours use air-conditioned mini-buses, not the more colorful chicken buses for which Guatemala is better known.

 

Nor did I find Tikal to be especially rugged. There are small stands throughout the park where refreshment may be obtained readily (more so than at Palenque), and most tours to the park also include a meal within the park. The paths between sites were all easy and well maintained, and the grounds were kept neatly. Perhaps as not much so as Copán, but in any event I would not consider it to be adventurous. On the other hand, some of the pyramids, if climbed, could be considered rugged, even the one with a staircase built to help with the ascent.

 

As you probably know, the cruise lines often add a substantial mark-up to the tours they offer. You might be able to get a better price--perhaps even better tour elements--with an independent vendor. If not a better price or arrangements you could at least get the satisfaction that the cruise line is offering a reasonable tour. We were largely satisfied with Ecotourism and Adventure Specialists in Guatemala, http://www.ecotourism-adventure.com. For us they were able to arrange independent travel and touring and had the option for independent charter flights. I expect that they would be able to arrange charter flights from Pto. Barrios and tour arrangements for either Tikal or Copán.

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There are many dirt roads throughout the Petén region of Guatemala, and we traveled more on dirt than paved roads when crossing that northern part of country overland from Bethel, through Sta. Elena and Flores, and on to Melchor de Mencos. However, the portion of the journey between Flores, Sta. Elena, and Tikal is entirely paved. There are some unpaved streets in Sta. Elena, but it is unlikely that you'll be going there (since the airport is between the town of Sta. Elena and Tikal). I also would not worry unduly about a "Guatemalan bus." Most of the tours use air-conditioned mini-buses, not the more colorful chicken buses for which Guatemala is better known.

 

Nor did I find Tikal to be especially rugged. There are small stands throughout the park where refreshment may be obtained readily (more so than at Palenque), and most tours to the park also include a meal within the park. The paths between sites were all easy and well maintained, and the grounds were kept neatly. Perhaps as not much so as Copán, but in any event I would not consider it to be adventurous. On the other hand, some of the pyramids, if climbed, could be considered rugged, even the one with a staircase built to help with the ascent.

 

-I did not talk about chicken busses. Although we took one, I know the OP wants an organized excursion. I only commented about travel to be slow at times. Your nice aircon bus might get caught up behind farming vehicules, slow chicken busses, etc. I also remember the extreme amount of roadworks in Guatemala, causing substantial delays when we were there.

 

-There were no refreshment stands or anything at Tikal when we were there, only the main restaurant at the entrance that had a very limited menu and had also sold out of many items. Because the size of the grounds, it was impossible to go back to the main entrance all the time if you wanted food.

 

-we would not describe the grounds as neat. The jungle paths in between the ruins are dirt paths that get extremely muddy after a bit of rain. We had the mud splattered up to our knees.

 

-I cannot comment on the airport and on the condition of the road there. We did not fly in, so I could not share any information with the OP about that. We had some rain the night we came into Flores, and the next day Santa Elena and Tikal was one giant mud bath.

 

-I don't know the OP, nor do I know his previous experience. He could be 85 years old, never been outside his country and especially bought new white trainers for his trip. Knowing what some people on cruiseships can be like... on our last cruise there were people on board who thought that Dubrovnik was dirty, and did not bother to get off at any of the other ports. Don't let me laugh....It is one of the cleanest towns in Europe.... When you send somebody like that to Tikal without telling them it is not Disney, they are in for a shock....

We are young and very DIY, and have travelled the world extensively, but that does not mean I can expect that from other people.

 

I don't know when you were there (year/season/weather conditions), or if you were there DIY or on a tour, or if you saw the whole of Tikal, including the unexcavated or restored parts in the rainforest or just some highlights pointed out by a guide. A review/opinion/advice will always be subjective, whoever posts it.

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My observations were based on visits to Tikal in late November 2007, as we had just gotten married the week before in Oaxaca, Mexico, and were on our honeymoon going through southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. We were there for one full day, and were quite occupied in the excavated portions. It is such a huge site that one can spend a long time there, being as adventurous as one cares to be. I recommend the guidebook, "Tikal: A Hanbook of the Ancient Maya Ruins" by William R. Coe. It was published by the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania in 1967, and while the university's website does not show it available, it can be obtained readily in Guatemala. Nevertheless, you may want to do a search on Amazon or E-bay for a copy in advance to help with your decision making (or in the alternative, as it is reprinted by the Asociación Tikal, you could contact the association directly at http://www.asociaciontikal.com, 8133 N.W. 67th Street, P.O. Box Gua 66-025368, Miami, FL 33102, USA, asotikal@quetzal.net) . It includes a good map of the site. Of course tourist facilities change, so I would not take anything from a review of a previous visit as absolute.

 

I reviewed some of the pictures we took related to Tikal and have attached them to this post. Included among them is a picture of our vessel that we traveled on going from Frontera Corozal, Mexico to Bethel, Guatemala along the Usumacinta River (stopping enroute at the ruins at Yaxchilan). Mind you, we traveled aboard a somewhat larger vessel from the United States to Mexico (the Norwegian Spirit) and from Mexico back to the United States (the Carnival Fantasy)!

680299574_Tikal1.jpg.218dc551f4daa4e0ac4f4c55dbfec3f4.jpg

843253033_Tikal2.jpg.f89a1c7082a1800f2a808e3de662861b.jpg

497118218_Tikal3.jpg.5eee4b541f5253fdda8253faa550209a.jpg

182033649_Tikal4.jpg.4e57d40db28fa1f7231bf96a29937f50.jpg

542696860_EnroutefromMexicotoGuatemala.jpg.164bbc8e19140a620cbceb6917cbc61e.jpg

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My observations were based on visits to Tikal in late November 2007

Maybe they improved the paths and facilities in the 2 years between your visit and ours. Could be why I thought it was rough and you didn't.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Ging466 - I was faced with the same choice you are making & chose Tikal. We went to Tikal in Nov 2006. We purchased an overnight tour from Antigua, which entailed a 50 minute drive to Guatemala City.... a flight to Flores... and another 50 minute drive to Tikal. It's a long day, but it's worth it. Yes. I wish I'd had more time there, but I am glad I saw the ruins at all.

 

As GTJ states, the road from the airport to Tikal is paved, flat and straightforward. The transportation from airport to ruins was a medium-sized, well air-conditioned van. There were no other cars or buses on the road. Petén (where Tikal is located) is the least populated Guatemalan departamento.

 

At Tikal, most pathways are dirt and not paved, but I would never call the site rugged. On the tour, a guide takes you from one excavated ruins site to another. You are in the jungle, yes, but it is flat and not difficult to walk around. If you like to climb on ruins, I would highly recommend Tikal. It is the most important site in the Mayan world and the largest. The temples are gorgeous & the majority of the site was created during the Classical period of the Maya - so, of course, the temples are extremely impressive. Interestingly, at Tikal, there are also temples built from an earlier timeframe which are quite similar to those at Teotihuacan.... these temples & other artifacts found at the site prove links between the two "kingdoms."

 

Tikal: http://www.tikalpark.com/

 

Enjoy yourself, whatever you decide!

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