As we snaked around the bays of Huatulco towards the archeological site of Copalita I felt my excitement rising. I love exploring new places in Mexico and the fact that I had never heard of Copalita only increased my enthusiasm for checking it out. My two companions, although interested in seeing the site, were quite amused by the level of my excitement.
The first thing that struck me when we arrived at the site was how naturally it had been preserved. The site had not been cleared in the way some other archeological sites are and the trail around the structures took us through tree and vine-lined walkways that were simply enchanting. We could observe the trees and birds and enjoy the way that nature had reclaimed its space amongst the temples. This, I would read later, was the intention of the archeologists who claimed that even though the roots of the trees may eventually destroy the structures, their presence is just as important as that of the stone structures. I wholeheartedly agree.
We explored the serpents’ temple where two figures of serpents heads were found and we traversed around the small ball court that had been beautifully restored. The engraved stones found lining the court edges are the only ones found in the region, adding an interesting cultural significance to the site.
The most impressive structure for me was the Templo Mayor, or Main Temple, which at some 15-meters high made for an impressive sight. Although you cannot get too close, or climb the structure, you can easily see the layers of the temple that would have been extended outwards and upwards at various points through its inhabitance. A passing member of staff told us that 44 skulls were found at the top of the temple, marking it as either a place of entombment or sacrifice.
Ascending upwards we came to two impressive lookout points, which were the highlight for my photographer friend. We delighted in the view, firstly over the river estuaries reaching the sea and secondly, over the ocean and its impressively rugged cliff edge. A few surfers d the otherwise entirely deserted stretch of water, while gulls swooped down for fish and vultures glided overhead.
A so-called lighthouse stone stood proudly on the cliff edge and it is believed that this would have served as a marker for passing boats to find the site in a time when the coastline was dotted with these small cities.
Sadly we were limited for time so we couldn’t explore further to see the great ceiba and fig trees that are found deeper within the ecological park but this just leaves something to enjoy the next time and I will certainly be visiting again.
I am delighted that visitors to Huatulco have this chance to explore the cultural history of Mexico at Copalita. I definitely recommend that vacationers drag themselves away from the beautiful bays to explore this site for a few hours during their visit to Huatulco.
Facts about Copalita
- Copalita is set over 200 acres with a diverse ecosystem and 11 endemic bird species.
- The earliest remains at the site date back over 2,500 years.
- Copalita was inhabited by the Mixtec and Zapotec people.
- When Monte Alban was being constructed, Copalita already had a calendar, a writing system and a complex social, political and religious organization.
- It is roughly a 15-minute drive from Crucecita, just past the turn off for La Bocana Bay.
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR and The Independent among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Instagram and Twitter.