Climbing The Ancient Mayan Ruins Of Coba Like Indiana Jones

Coba Ruins Mexico
The Ancient Mayan Ruins of Coba
Coba, Mexico

From the top of Coba’s ancient pyramid, the jungle looks like a living green carpet. The Mayan Ruins of Coba are one of my favorite archaeological sites in Mexico’s Yucatan.

Archaeologists believe the Mayan ruins of Coba were an incredibly important city for the Maya people.

However, due to its remote location, the site is not as popular with tourists as other ruins in Mexico.

But there are many reasons to visit the city of white roads.

Because Coba doesn’t see as much tourism as places like Chichen Itza or the ruins of Tulum, so you can actually still climb some of the structures for a totally different and unique perspective.

Coba Ruins Church
Coba’s La Iglesia Structure
Coba Ruins Bike Rental
Rent a Bicycle to Ride the Sacbes

Exploring Mayan Ruins Of Coba

Coba’s claim to fame is the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world, called sacbes (white roads). Over 50 of these roads have been discovered at the site, with 16 of them open to the public.

The raised stone pathways connect clusters of residential areas to the main pyramid area of Nohoch Mul and small lakes used as a water supply nearby. There are three ways to explore the ruins along these roads.

You can walk, hire a bici taxi, or my personal favorite, rent a bicycle.

Mysteriously no one really knows how the Maya transported goods along these roads. While scientists believe the Maya knew about the existence of the wheel, there’s no evidence they actually used them.

One of my favorite reasons to visit Coba is that it isn’t as excavated as other sites in Mexico, so you feel like you’re wandering through a forest, with many structures still covered in trees.

Coba Ruins Pyramid
Climbing the Pyramid
Coba Ruins Pyramid View
View from the Top!

Climbing The Pyramid

The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, part of the Nohoch Mul group of buildings. The pyramid is 42 meters (138 feet) tall and was the heart of the city. Unlike other Maya sites, you can still climb this one, if you dare!

The 120 stone steps are much steeper than they look…

This is why there’s a thick rope in the middle for safety. But the view from the top is totally worth the climb. A light breeze cools you off from the summit while gazing at the lush jungle landscape stretching out in all directions.

Plus, there aren’t many places where you can climb a Mayan pyramid anymore. As a site gets more popular and tourism increases, authorities eventually restrict climbing to preserve structures and reduce accidents.

Be careful climbing down the pyramid, it’s more difficult than going up!

Coba Structures Mexico
Coba is a Huge Mayan Site
Coba Trails and Paths
Trees Growing from Stone Walls

History Of Coba

Coba is estimated to have had a population of over 50,000 at its peak. There are many tall stone carved monuments at the complex, called stelae. Some stelae here depict women, suggesting the city had many female rulers.

There are two well-preserved ball courts on the site too, used for playing ōllamaliztli, a traditional Mayan ballgame.

Specific rules differ depending on the time period, but basically players attempted to bounce a heavy rubber ball through stone rings using their hips.

Sometimes the captain of the winning team was ritually sacrificed to the gods.

The Mayan City of Coba was first inhabited around 100 AD and was eventually abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550 AD.

However, the city was once the most powerful in the region, controlling farmland, trading routes, and important water sources.

Coba Cenote Mexico
Beautiful Cenote Choo-Ha
Coba Cenote Swimming
Tranquil Cenote Multun-Ha

Swimming In Cenotes

Speaking of water sources, no visit to Coba would be complete without taking a dip in the refreshing limestone cenotes nearby. Cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water, found all over and known as the best ruins in Yucatan.

There are 3 cenotes just a 10-minute drive away from the ruins.

Cenote Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote with crystal blue water and many stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. My personal favorite of the three.

Cenote Tamcach-Ha is a deep underground cavern with two fun jumping platforms at 5 & 10 meters (15 & 30 feet) high. Cenote Multun-Ha is a bit further away in the jungle and boasts a large wooden deck.

The entrance fee for each cenote is 55 pesos ($3 USD). They are a wonderful way to cool off after a hot day exploring the Mayan ruins of Coba!

Painting Complex Coba
Pyramid of the Painted Lintel
Coba Ruins Trees
Overgrown Ancient Ruins

Where To Stay Near Coba

While there are a few hotels around Coba itself, most people base themselves in the larger towns of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Valladolid. Tulum is the closest, only about 40 minutes away from Coba.

If you’re wondering where to stay near Coba, here are my recommendations:


Best Accommodation near Coba


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Tips For Visiting Coba

  • The ruins of Coba are about 44 kilometers (45 minutes) from Tulum, or 109 kilometers (90 minutes) from Playa del Carmen.
  • You can get to the site via ADO Bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. Colectivos (taxi vans) are also an option, however you’ll have to change vans in Tulum.
  • Discover Cars searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.
  • Hire a local guide to explain the history, or just wander on your own. It’s also possible (and recommended) to rent an old bicycle for 45 pesos to get around the site.
  • Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated! I’m a big fan of this eco-friendly filtered water bottle.
  • Visit early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. While Coba isn’t as popular as Chichen Itza or Tulum, it can still get busy.

Travel Video: Mayan Ruins Of Coba


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(Click to watch Mayan Ruins Of Coba – Mexico on YouTube)
Travel Planning Resources For Coba
Coba Entry Fee: $65 MXN ($4 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm
Motorcycle Rental: Harley Adventures

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Find cheap flights on Skyscanner. This is my favorite search engine to find deals on airlines. Also make sure to read how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent apartments from locals on Airbnb. Read more about how I book cheap hotels online.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Maya: Ancient Peoples & Places

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The Mayan Ruins Of Coba. More at ExpertVagabond.com
The Mayan Ruins Of Coba. More at ExpertVagabond.com

READ MORE MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on the Ancient Mayan Ruins of Coba! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:

Have any questions about the Mayan ruins of Coba? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 10 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel with crazy stories, photography, and money-saving travel tips.
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Comments (70)

  1. We went to Coba a few years ago and arrived before closing but it was later and they charged us more than the $4. I can’t remember what time this change occurs and I can’t find it anywhere online. Can you help?

  2. Enjoyed your text and tips, but as for “stalagmites hanging from the ceiling”, if they’re hanging from the ceiling are called stalactites.

  3. Hello i am deaf. In the coba site is there a taxi stop to return from coba to tulum? Price? Where it will take the taxi?
    Awaiting your response
    Thanks

  4. We’ve just come back Aug 2019. Myself hubby 14 and 12 year old daughters climbed it and what a view when you reach the top… amazing xx the cenotes are beautiful for a dip too xxx

    • Hello Julie, we also have the same aged kids. Is the water very deep, do we need life jackets? Do we need snorkelling masks?

  5. My family took a trip to Coba and Tulum back in 1991 and my dad and I climbed to the top of Ixmoja. The view was absolutely stunning and something I haven’t forgotten 28 years later. Love your photos and hope to visit Coba again someday.

  6. My fiance and I got engaged on top of Ixmoja in June 2017. Beautiful spot! Even had a turquoise-browed motmot, a native Mayan bird, sit by us in the doorway of the ruins. Very beautiful place!

  7. I remember learning about Coba in school. Glad to see you can still climb it. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in Mexico. Nice article and photos as usual!

  8. planning a trip to the area next winter….same questions….can I climb it?
    off the beaten path….so less people and souvenir hawkers? travel recommendations from Cancun? thankyou

    • We were just there last week & climbed it. Amazing view of the jungle from the top. Look for the little black dog @ the top, in the door portal.

  9. So excited to read your review. We climbed Coba when I was pregnant with our first born who is now 8. We are hoping to return with our 2 adventurous boys at the end of March this year and return to these ruins. Do you know if they are still allowing people to climb?

  10. Hi there! Thanks so much for writing this post! It really helped guide us on our way to Coba recently.

    We wrote a post as well, with up to date pricing as of February 2018 and more details about taking public buses.

    We heard competing stories about who was sacrificed after the ball game during our visits to multiple sites — the winning team captain (as an honor), the losing captain, and prisoners…

    Thanks! Kayla

    • For anyone who’s been to Coba recently (since the start of 2018), are visitors still allowed to climb the ruins? Please include this in your posts. Truly appreciate the updates!

      • i just climbed on 7/10/18. I herd that they are stoping the climb later this year due to preservation. And, it rained like hell with thunder and lighting! we had bikes and it was amazing! the lime stone got very slippery as the rain fell and we needed to hurry. Lots of fun!

  11. Real nice piece. I was there in 1993 and took a shore excursion to the ruins and the ruins don’t look any different now than they did then. Maybe a little more uncovered. I would recommend a visit to these ruins to anyone interested in Mayan history.

  12. hi Mat from Portugal :), tks 4 sharing your tour info. we are going to xcaret occidental playa del carmen next week and want to visit the Coba spot. do you recommend the Vans or ADO bus? we can pick vans at 307 main street or we have to go to playa del carmen center (6km)?

  13. I am planning on renting a car and driving to Chichen Itza, Rio Lagartos and Coba ruins. Is it easier to go to these places from Tulum?

    • Rio Lagartos is a long drive from Tulum. I’d recommend spending one night in Rio Lagartos rather than trying to drive back to Tulum the same day. But yes it’s possible depending on how many days you have. I’d recommend at least 3 or 4 days if you wanted to do all that.

  14. We just visited Coba and a couple of people we talked to said they were going to stop allowing people to climb the pyramid in January 2018. Have you heard this?

  15. Do they rent bikes for kids to cruise the ruins? We have a 4 year old and 7 year old. Our older child can ride an adult bike, but the younger would need a smaller frame.

  16. Nice article. We really wanted to go to Coba after reading this article but ended up missing it due to kind of poor planning. We went to Ek’ Balam which is bit of unique looking and you can climb the ruins as well.

  17. How long approximately would it take to climb to top of coba if you are in reasonable good health. I am thinking of taking tour with my wife and they said you have abut 45 minutes of free time there.

    • The climb up the pyramid only takes 5 minutes or so. But it’s a LONG walk from the entrance to the pyramid itself, so renting a bike or hiring a bike taxi will get you there faster.

  18. Beautiful pictures! Coba is one of the most outstanding maya city in Quintana Roo state, definately one of my favorite!
    Tip: Paying an extra fee, you can access the site before (6-8am) or after (5-7pm) the regular opening time (8:30am-5pm).
    In Coba you will have a chance to enjoy both sunrise and sunset with a stunning view over the jungle

    Thanks! Saludos!

    • Fantastic Tom, that is exactly what I want to do – do I just contact Coba directly for the extra fee and times to go 6-8 am or 5-7pm?

  19. Great article, captures the essence of a day trip. Our guide said they sacrificed the ball game winners not the losers. To give the gods the losers would be an insult. We did both Coba and Xel-Ha snorkeling etc in the same day. I would recommend them.

  20. This was a very useful site for my preparation to visit Coba. Thank you. We were staying in Playa Del Carmen. We wanted to good to a place a bit more rustic and less manicured.
    We rented a car, 2 kids, Wife, Aunt, and GrandMother. The site was lovely and a great experience for everyone. We tried to get there as early as possible to catch the animal that like to feed in the area early in the morning when it was cooler.
    It’s a good idea to wear sensible walking shoes if you plan to walk to and up the pyramid. It was an exhilarating experience.

  21. One of the many really nice things about Playa, is that it ISNT ruined by excessive noise from jets overhead, or poorly muffled motorcycles, like most Harleys are, for instance. Harleys ruin the peace wherever they go (Listen to me!!!! Look at me!!!!) and I really feel that they have a needlessly negative impact wherever people show up on them. Bikes – for sure – noisy Harleys – not cool IMHO. Happy, and peaceful, travels.

  22. Great post! Are there limited hours of operation and entrance fees required? We are looking for a cool spot for night photography. Also, is it safe at night?

  23. That day was really the best possible way to kick off my central american trip :D

    Aaah, cannot wait to go back in December. Gonna have to grill you about all the best cenotes..

  24. Matt: I figured you got comped on the motorcycles but what is the day rate for one there? When I went there and visited the ruins I wished I had some kind of transport myself, as I just hired a taxi driver for the day to take me to the ones I wanted to see. It was about $40 and I picked 3-4 cenotes and ruins.

    Or even better a moped, which I assume will be cheaper. Loved doing that while in India because I could get a moped with fuel for about $5-$7 USD per-day.

    • The Sportster Jeremy is riding was $95 per day. But if you just want transportation on a budget, you can rent a small car down here with insurance for about $30 per day through Orbitz. I think mopeds cost like $25 a day, but they’re better for around town. Generally not fast enough for the highway.

  25. Hey Matt,

    How much are you looking at for bike rental around there? Love getting in the saddle on excursions like this!

    James

  26. Matthew, that’s a nice post about this amazing location. Cobá is worth to visit if you are doing vacation at the Mayan riviera. I’ve been there a couple of years before and saw that many people had problems to get down again. Good shows are recommended. Other pyramids to climb can be found in Ek Balam, north of Valladolid and in Toniná in Chiapas. And some of the pyramids in Tikal (on wooden stairs at the side) and Palenque are open to climb up as well.

  27. Wow!!! This one is surely in my Bucket list for this year. The way you have put the post makes me go there this moment. And the images are so gorgeous and eye pleasing. From the images I feel climbing the Pyramid won’t be troublesome, descending from the same route would be a humongous task.

    • It is often easier to go down on your butt rather than trying to walk down. If you do, wear durable pants! We did that at Structure 2 at Calakmul a few years ago. BTW does anyone know if the pyramids at Calakmul can still be climbed? They are awe inspiring!

  28. What a great adventure, we did these ruins years ago! It would be something to see if things have changed at Coba. In your photos everything looks the same. Travel on!

    • This is why I enjoy the ruins of Coba so much, they haven’t been completely excavated. Did you make it to any of the cenotes David?

  29. The Mayan ruins are still uncrossed on my bucket list. Very interesting. Thank you very much for the info. I love the photos, too.

  30. I remember learning about Coba in school. Glad to see you can still climb it. I’ll have to check it out next time I’m in Mexico. Nice article and photos as usual!

    • Thanks Sheri, yeah I hope they don’t close off the pyramid at Coba anytime soon. Really helps make the site unique to other Mayan ruins.

  31. This is great – I love the photos! I’m excited to visit my first Mayan ruins this year – Tikal. I figure its a great place to start. Those cenotes though, WOW.

  32. I love the first photo-the sky is SO blue!! Great video, too! Is this where you took Lindsay and Jake on their Adventure Day?

  33. That looks amazing, I didn’t realize that it was forbidden to climb the other pyramids in the more popular destinations. Coba looks like a beautiful abandoned city, it seems easy to imagine it as a once bustling Mayan hub.

    • Not all of them, but many are starting to get closed to climbing. In fact I’ve heard that the government wants to close off this pyramid eventually too.

      • Until I asked Matt on FB, I had thought it was closed. Was there in 2008 and was told that was the last year they would allow it.