The Eco-Archeological Park Copalita or Parque Eco-Arqueológico Copalita is located about 15 minutes from downtown Huatulco. The 81 hectares (200 acres) park contains Pre-Hispanic ruins, a small museum and offers excellent birding opportunities.
At the entrance there are guides for hire. The two guides I talked with spoke decent English and seemed knowledgable. But you do not need a guide as there is plenty of information posted in both English and Spanish throughout the park.
Getting there is easy. Many hotels offer excursions to the park for a fee. A taxi costs 75 pesos (5/15) or you can take a collectivo for 13 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. The park is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:00 to 17:00 and is closed on Mondays. The entrance fee is 85 pesos as of April 2015. 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.
Copalita was first settled around 500 B.C.E. and then abandoned between 500 and 900 C.E. It was resettled around 1000 C.E. and abandoned again after the Spanish conquest. Copalita probably had a population of over 2000 inhabitants. Around 1050, the Mixtec King 8 Deer of Tututepec would have brought Copalita into his control.
The acidic soil of the area is not conductive to farming however chiles, tomatoes and beans were grown. There must have foraging and hunting and certainly there was a lot of fishing. The image to the right or above is of a unexcavated structure.
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 was 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.
To me the most interesting feature 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.
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 continues births and complications during and postpartum." Human remains also reveal digestive problems and prolonged infections. 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.
Like many of Mexico's archaeological zones, this 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 and eventually left. This pathway leading to "Plazoleta Ceibas" is a great birding area where no else seems to go. The path parallels Rio Copalita and is lined by trees around 5 meters (18 feet) high, much of the vegetation is somewhat thinned out. The area is isolated, semi-shaded, hot and there are plenty of mosquitoes.
The park was designed to be accessible to wheelchairs. However when I was there, a few small sections of the pathway had some on going repairs making the walkways unusable to wheelchairs. Perhaps they are repaired by now. If you can get out of your wheelchair walk 2 meters (or 6 feet) on level ground and get back into your chair, you should be ok. You will not be able to get to the "Pre-Hispanic Lighthouse", the pathway is too steep.
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).