Living in Copan Ruinas: The Basics
Copán Ruinas is a small town of under 10,000 inhabitants, located 12km from the Guatemalan border. Most teachers agree that this is a nice place to live, particularly for Central America: small enough to be safe, large enough and touristed enough to offer a lot.
It is quite mountainous here, and there are banana, palm, and orange trees everywhere, among many other flora and fauna. Because Copán’s economic heart is tourism, it has many hotels and restaurants that cater to international visitors. Streets in the center of town are paved with cobblestones, and several blocks away may drop to dirt roads filled with horses, chickens, other livestock, not to mention corn fields.
This is by and large a rural, agricultural area that enjoys international status thanks to the Mayan archaeological site nearby. Although Copán has running water and electricity, there can be outages of both. Water from the tap comes from the river and is not drinkable (for this, you buy 5 gallon jugs of water for L20/$1). Hot water will come from an electric heater in your shower, and your stove will run on gas canisters (delivered) or electricity.
Because Copán is so small, as an outsider here, people around town will know who you are even before you meet them. Families here are tightly-knit and interconnected, and news travels quickly from person to person. There are no street addresses in Copán, but you can direct someone to your house by giving your neighborhood and the landlord’s name.
Volunteers can expect to find some but not all of the products and foodstuffs that they are used to in the United States and Canada in Copán, but imported food, beauty, and clothing products may be scarcer, more expensive, and of lower quality. In most parts of Honduras, however, American toiletries, snack foods, and dietary staples may not be available at all. We highly recommend you bring favorite foods and toiletries with you, not to mention specialized medicines. Local fruit, vegetables, and staples like cornmeal, rice, beans, tortillas, and baleadas are much easier and cheaper to come by at the local market and corner stores.
The UNESCO World Heritage Mayan archaeological site that has made Copán famous is about 1 km from town. Adventurous volunteers and visitors can find plenty of hiking, mountain climbing, waterfalls, hot springs, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities near Copán. Getting around in Central America is slow, but teachers can visit lakes, the beach, and other sites on long weekends and breaks.
Mayatan Bilingual School serves the communities of Copan Ruinas, Santa Rita and several small, Maya Chorti aldeas (or villages) in and around town. Our teachers and students sometimes do volunteer work in the community, including: teaching weekend courses in the small mountain village of La Pintada, volunteering to translate for medical brigades, or helping out at one of two local NGO's established by former Mayatan teachers.
It is important to consider the safety risks of living and working in Honduras. We advise applicants to do their homework to make informed decisions about living and working in Honduras. Although the town of Copán is generally safe, Honduras has received a lot of negative attention in the world press recently for security issues. The main security problems in the country tend to be related to political corruption and drug trafficking. Those who are not involved in drug trafficking and corruption are not typically targeted. Everyone at the school believes that the climate here is safe enough to continue working here.
It is normal for women and children to walk around town and the Central Park in the evening hours after the sun goes down. Moto taxis (Tuk-tuks) are cheap and run until about 11:00 p.m. Copán also has tourist police who maintain a presence. The streets of Copán Ruinas are well lit (except when the power fails), and as long as you are smart about where you go, you should have no problems. Like many Central American border towns, there are areas that should be avoided, and these are not the parts of our teachers' daily experiences. It is always advisable here, as in any foreign country, to travel in groups, particularly when hiking, traveling, or going out at night.
There are many things to do to keep oneself busy while in Copan. For example, on the weekends many of our teachers enjoy volunteering with different projects around town, hiking, relaxing in one of Copan's coffee shops or visiting one of Copan's tourist attractions. There are also many opportunities to practice Spanish through language exchanges, one-on-one lessons with a certified Spanish teacher or just out and about with locals and families.
Copán's nightlife is generally low-key and revolves around the passing tourists who visit the town's many restaurants and bars. There are also venues that are frequented mostly or exclusively by locals. There is a good selection of Honduran and some American and international-style food to be found at restaurants in and around town, including pizza, burgers, fried chicken, and Chinese food.
The local cable TV has a few channels in English (including CNN) or in Spanish with English subtitles, and the pizzeria in town boasts direct TV with all the big sporting events broadcast for the crowd. Occasionally, bars and restaurants will offer Salsa, DJs, live music, or karaoke, and one restaurant, Via Via, screens movies regularly for L20.
For formal instruction in the language, there are two Spanish schools which offer one-on-one teaching to Mayatan teachers at discounted rates (L130 for an hour of teaching at Copan Spanish School). Many teachers also make private arrangements with Spanish teachers or exchange Spanish lessons for English.
The weather is warm year round, although in the winter, the temperature may drop into the 50s for a few weeks. We recommend bringing a light jacket and sweater. You will also want an umbrella for the rainy season, which lasts from June into November. (The rainy season is called winter here, though it aligns with summer and fall in the United States.) During the rainy season, it rains every day, often in the morning or late afternoon, though it does not usually rain all day long. It is very hot, dry, and dusty in April.
Immunizations & Health
Honduras has no immunization requirement, and Copán is outside of malaria zones.
Many travelers choose to get immunizations for diseases like hepatitis A and B. Talk with your doctor at home before departing to find out what is right for you. Note that hepatitis immunizations and other vaccines sometimes require 2-3 appointments over a 6-month period. Plan accordingly.
Bring a supply of any specialized medicines with you (including birth control), and we recommend a supply of contacts or a backup of your glasses. Women may want to bring tampons, as these are hard to find in Copán. (There are pads.)
Medical care like routine doctor's visits and dental cleanings can be cheap, starting around L100 ($5) without lab fees. Common medicines like antibacterials can be found readily at pharmacies, often without a prescription, and you will find many generic prescriptions there as well.