In western Honduras, not far from the Guatemalan border, nestle the ruins of Copán: a tumbledown treasure-trove of ancient Mayan buildings in various states of repair, dotted with silvery Ceiba trees.
This particular site is small, as they go; nowhere near as epic as the soaring temples of Teotihuacan in Mexico, or as sprawling as the eery jungle site of Tikal in neighbouring Guatemala; but more sculpture has been discovered in Copán than any other Pre-Columbian city.
More than a millennium ago, this small city with its neat public plazas and richly decorated royal buildings was one of the great centres of Mayan civilisation - particularly for stone-carving.
It’s heyday lasted for 16 generations of ruler - men with fantastic names that paid tribute to mother nature, such as Smoke Jaguar, Sun King Quetzal Macaw and 18 Rabbit.
For reasons unknown - although numerous theories abound - the city was abandoned in the early 10th century. The local flora and fauna slowly reclaimed the site, and it was not rediscovered until 1570 by the Spanish explorer Diego García de Palacio.
His reports back to Spain attracted some interest, but it was not until the 19th Century that international archeologists turned their attentions to Copán and came on sponsored excavation projects.
In 1980 the ruins were accorded UNESCO World Heritage status, and money was invested to protect and restore the dilapidated old temples. Today, there are many ongoing projects - which means you’ll come across buildings in various states of repair. But somehow that adds to the charm of this secluded spot.
For international visitors, entry costs around US $15 per person (correct as of mid-2015) after which you can make your way from the entrance, through the trees to the main plaza.
Stepping out of the forest shade into the spacious forum, the first thing you notice is the frenetic jabbering of hundreds of scarlet macaws, that throng the trees around the clearing’s edge.
The site rangers actually feed the parrots that nest here, and they are consequently quite relaxed around people - swooping happily over the heads of visitors and chasing each other from tree to tree.
The plaza itself, surrounded by ghosts of temples held together by wandering tree-roots, is now grassed over and neatly mowed - but in its glory years, this vast forum would have been paved with white limestone.
The carved stellae (sort of Mayan totem poles, telling stories of rulers and their ancestors) are on show here - displaying staggeringly preserved images of ancient kings bordered by clear-cut hieryoglyphics.
The carving of these ancient Mayan letters has been extremely helpful to archeologists - particularly on the famed hieryoglyphic stairway: a 12-metre-high construction with 63 steps, built in the 8th Century in celebration of the then ruler. It is covered with around 2,500 glyphs - making it the most extensive example of hieroglyphic writing in all of Mesoamerica.
However the stairway is currently covered in tarpaulin for protection from the elements - part of a protection and preservation project by the Honduran government in conjunction with the USA’s Getty Conservation Institute - so what you can see is slightly limited, albeit impressive.
Another element of the site are the Sepulturas, or tunnels. These were dug by archaeologists in the 1980s to excavate older temples hidden under newer constructs, a practice often employed by the Mayans.
Two tunnels are open to visitors today, showcasing buried parts of older temples - but at an additional $15 per person, it’s debatable whether the brief underground experience is worth it.
Also within the archeological park is a museum (entry $7 per person) with a life-size reconstruction of the fabulous deep pink Rosalila Temple - a (now buried) temple honouring the city’s first ruler with amazing stucco images and bright colours.
It also contains numerous beautifully restored stellae, tablets, statues and artifacts - and you can even watch their team working on pieces.
The park opens to visitors at 8am, and it’s a good idea to get there early, to avoid the scorching midday heat. It’s an easy walk from the centre of town - around 1.5km - but there are buses if you prefer, or you can take a taxi or tuk tuk.
The local town of the same name - Copán Ruinas - is nestled among rolling hills in a fertile river valley, and full of lovely guest houses and hostels, so you won’t have any problem finding accommodation.
On the budget side, Iguana Azul (www.iguanaazulcopan.com) is a great choice - clean, comfortable and attractively done-up. For something more luxurious, the centrally located Hotel Marina (http://hotelmarinacopan.com) is an elegant option, with a beautiful inner courtyard and swimming pool.
The town is also home to plenty of restaurants, bars and markets, catering to the visitors that flood in to admire the ruins.