Mixtec drawings

Eco-Archeological Park Copalita




The Eco-Archeological Park Copalita or Parque Eco-Arqueológico Copalita is located about 15 minutes from downtown Huatulco. The 81 hectares (200 acres) site is an ecology park that contains pre-Hispanic ruins, a small museum and offers excellent birding opportunities. Well maintained paths made of leveled flagstone wander through a wetland, a forest; and up to steep cliffs and lookout points presenting awesome views of the ocean below.

The Ecological Park

Park employees have identified 411 species of animals living in the region; 13 amphibians, 57 reptiles, 63 mammals and 278 species of birds.[1] The most interesting animal I have seen there is an anteater.

flagstone pathway flagstone pathway

Like many of Mexico's archaeological zones, The Eco-Archeological Park Copalita is a good place to go birding, but this is far better than most. The best birding area is behind the Great Temple. To get there you will pass most of the ruins, after passing the Great Temple, instead of taking the path to the right and heading to the "Lighthouse", take the pathway that goes behind the temple. This pathway leading to "Plazoleta Ceibas" is a great birding area where no one seems to go. The path parallels Rio Copalita and is lined by trees around 5 meters (18 feet) tall.

The Archeological Park

unescavated_pyrmid at Copalita

Copalita was first settled around 500 B.C.E. and then abandoned between 700 and 1000 C.E. It was resettled around 1000 C.E. and abandoned again after the Spanish conquest.[2] Copalita probably had a population of over 2000 inhabitants.[3] Around 1050, the Mixtec King 8 Deer of Tututepec would have brought Copalita into his control.[4] The image to the right or above is of an unexcavated structure.

The acidic soil of the area is not conductive to farming however chiles, tomatoes and beans were grown.[5] There must have foraging and hunting and certainly there was a lot of fishing.

Serpent Pyramid

There are three excavated structures at Copalita; the Serpent Pyramid, the Ball Court and The Great Temple. The Serpent Pyramid is named after stone fragments of two serpent heads found there. Some of the pyramid's original stucco is found still intact. The stucco was made of sand and ground up sea shells giving the pyramid a brilliant white finish.

The Ball Court is over 1600 years old and is similar to other Ball Courts but is unique in that the playing field was covered in sand and ground sea shells.

The Great Temple (below) is the largest pyramid at Copalita. It was built on a small hill in two stages reaching the height of 15 meters (50 feet). The pyramid may date back 2200 years. There is a large staircase going up the west side of the pyramid. The top of the pyramid has a leveled area and it appears there was a structure on top, perhaps living quarters for dignitaries. On the pyramid there are numerous flat rocks of various sizes that may have served as stelae with drawings on them.[7] The Great Temple is still being excavated.

The Great Temple Prehispanic Lighthouse

One of the most interesting features at Copalita is the "Pre-Hispanic Lighthouse". From this excellent vantage point, lookouts could see approaching boats, the mouth of the River Copalita and the Great Temple. It is possible the polished flat rock standing there also served as a sign of the village to passing small boats known as cayucos. It is believed that sacrifices could have occurred at this location.[8]

Life was difficult for the inhabitants of Copalita. Human remains indicate the "average lifespan was 45 years, the diet was low in iron and calcium and in the case of women, lactation periods were very prolonged with continuous births and complications during and postpartum."[9] Human remains also reveal digestive problems and prolonged infections.[10] Certainly mosquito-borne diseases would have been an issue.

In 1522, Spanish conquistador Pedro Alvarado conquered and looted Copalita. Historical accounts of the area from 1522 and 1530 mention epidemics, emigration to the mountains and declining populations.[11]

Wheelchair Accessibility

The park was designed to be accessible to wheelchairs. All the paths are on leveled flagstone walkways, so the walkway might be a little bumpy. And there is small section of the pathway that had repairs making a small section of the walkway unusable to a wheelchair, if you can get out of your wheelchair walk 2 meters (or 6 feet) on level ground and get back into your chair, you will be fine. You will not be able to get to the "pre-Hispanic Lighthouse", the pathway is too steep and there are a few stairs. Much of the pathways are shaded, it should be enjoyable.

Getting There

sunbathing lizard

Getting there is easy. Many hotels offer excursions to the park for a fee. A taxi costs 110 pesos (4/18) or you can take a collectivo (shared taxi) for 18 pesos. I went to Copalita by taxi, when I left there weren't any taxis around so I walked to the highway and took the first collectivo into town.

You can also drive there. Boulevard Copalita-Tangolunda tramo 15, Bahías de Huatulco.


Tuesday thru Sunday, closed Mondays; 08:00 to 17:00. You can not enter the park after 16:00. The entrance fee is 85 pesos as of April 2018. A self guided tour takes about 2 hours.

You will need water, a hat and a good pair of walking shoes and maybe some mosquito repellent.

Photo Credits

Photos taken by Marc Wilkinson. I, the copyright holder, hereby publish these photos under the following license: Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Footnotes and Notes

  1. 1.Matadamas Díaz, Raúl Noél and Ramírez Barrera, Sandra Liliana. Copalita y las características de vida de un sitio costero en Oaxaca. Arqueología. January - April 2010. Spanish. p 43.
  2. 2. Parque Eco-Arqueológico "Copalita". Fonatur (Fondo Nacional De Fomento Al Turismo). Spanish. Retrieved 8 April 2015.
  3. 3. Ibid.
  4. 4. 6. Joyce, A. A., Winter M., & Mueller R. G. (1998). Estudios de Antropología e Historia N. 40. Arqueología de la Costa de Oaxaca: Asentamientos del Periodo Formativo en el Valle del Río Verde Inferior. Centro INAH Oaxaca, México. p. 9.
  5. 5. Parque Eco-Arqueológico "Copalita".
  6. 7. Ibid.
  7. 8. Pre-Hispanic Lighthouse. On site historical marker. April 2015.
  8. 9. Thematic Post I. On site historical marker. April 2015.
  9. 10. Ibid.
  10. 11. Ibid.