1.         Maya Site of Copan (Honduras) (C 129bis)

Year of inscription on the World Heritage List  1980

Criteria  (iv)(vi)

Year(s) of inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger  N/A

Previous Committee Decisions  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/129/documents/

International Assistance

Requests approved: 0 (from 1979-1999)
Total amount approved: USD 226,513
For details, see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/129/assistance/

UNESCO Extra-budgetary Funds


Previous monitoring missions

Monitoring mission in 1999

Factors affecting the property identified in previous reports

Construction of an airport in the archaeological area of Rio Amarillo, 17 km.  from the core zone of the World Heritage property.

Illustrative material  see page https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/129/

Conservation issues presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2005

In July 2004 the World Heritage Centre was informed by the Inter-American Development Bank of the project to build an airport in the region of Copan, within the framework of the “Mundo Maya” Programme, which aims to provide tourist facilities for visitors in the Maya region in Central America.  The World Heritage Centre visited the areas of La Estanzuela, Rio Amarillo and Copan Ruins in December 2004 to inform the Government of Honduras of the Committee’s concern about the development of an airport facility in the vicinity of the property.  With the same objective, an ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the property took place from 13 to 20 March 2005.  The missions reported that:

a)   The existing airstrip of La Estanzuela (2 km.  from the Copan Ruins) continues to be used, in spite of the recommendation of ICOMOS in 2003.  187 aircraft landed in 2004;

b)   Construction in the vicinity ofthe property of Rio Amarillo (17 km.  from Copan Ruins) was discouraged in 2003 because of the importance of the property, being the second outstanding archaeological property within the valley of Copan;

c)   The property of La Entrada (70 km.  from Copan Ruins) has been disregarded by the authorities as it is considered to be a location without tourist attractions nearby, and could therefore not be profitable –as stated by the Government– in commercial terms.  However, one to two hours travel by road is a regular travel distance for visitors in the Mundo Maya region from its main points of entry;

d)   Additionally, there is a helicopter landing strip in the core zone of the property, used primarily by Government.  23 helicopters landed in 2004.

Although an estimation of the foreseen airport operations was repeatedly requested, no official figures have been obtained from the Government.  The Minister of Tourism informed the World Heritage Centre mission that the plan foresees using planes carrying 50 passengers, but no indication was given concerning the number of planes per day.

Staff from the Istituto Hondureno de Antropologia e Historia (IHAH) developed a survey in the area of Rio Amarillo and due to the significance of the archaeological remains made a clear statement, by official judgmentNo.  070-dia-2004,recommending to look for another location to install the airport facility.  The World Heritage Centre draws the attention of the Committee to the importance of the Valley of Copan, reason why the national cultural heritage law provides special protection to the Valley as a whole.  ICOMOS adds to this that the properties of Piedras Negras, Rio Blanco and Rio Amarillo must be protected due to their important scientific value for the overall understanding of the the cultural system of Copan and its potential role as a state.

Concerning La Estanzuela airstrip and the planned Rio Amarillo airport facility the World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS missions concluded, in line with the 2003 ICOMOS recommendations, that:

a)   A no-fly zone over the core area of Copan Ruins needs to be established and strongly enforced;

b)  Operations of the Estanzuela airstrip must be halted;

c)   Plans for construction of the Rio Amarillo airport facility need to be reconsidered.  The project threatens the conservation and presentation of significant archaeological remains, critical to the understanding of Copan.  It will also create environmental problems and affect diverse social groups and their quality of life.  Consideration should be given to other properties for investment that would serve not only tourism purposes, but would also strengthen commercial and industrial activities in the region, which could end the relative isolation of the western part of Honduras.

Analysis and Conclusions of the World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS and ICCROM


Decision Adopted: 29 COM 7B.90

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Document WHC-05/29.COM/7B.Rev and the Draft Decision 29 COM 7B.90.Rev,29 COM 7B.90.Rev,

2. Recalling its Decision 27 COM 7B.93, adopted at its 27th Session (UNESCO, 2003),

3. Takes note of the decision of the State Party of Honduras to cease operations at the airstrip of La Estanzuela and to create a reserved air space over the archaeological Park of Copan;

4. Encourages the State Party to reconsider the plans for the Rio Amarillo airport facility construction in view of the archaeological importance of the Copan Valley, with a view to its possible consideration as an extension to the current World Heritage property, and to consider relocation of this airport to La Entrada (70 km away from the property);

5. Requests the State Party, in case it decides to build the airport facility in Rio Amarillo, to conduct previously an environmental impact study examining the impact on the archaeological remains, as well as a comprehensive Public Use Plan for the World Heritage property to mitigate any negative effects that could occur at the World Heritage property of Copan as a result of the foreseen tourist development and to submit this Plan to the World Heritage Centre for consultation;

6. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2006 a progress report, for examination by the Committee at its 30th session (Vilnius, 2006).