Climbing The Ancient Mayan Ruins Of Coba

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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 Tulum, so you can actually still climb some of the structures for a totally different and unique perspective.

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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, 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 the 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:

BUDGET
Tulum Budget Hotel
Tubo Tulum Hostel
Relaxing backpacker hostel with cheap bike rentals. Between town and beach.

Check Prices

BUDGET
Tulum Budget Hotel
Itour Mexico Tulum
Located in town with free bike rentals and easy access to the ruins.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

MID-RANGE
Tulum Mid-Range Hotel
Azucar Hotel Tulum
Fun place right on the beach! Basic, but great value for Tulum.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

LUXURY
Tulum Luxury Hotel
Nomade Tulum
Beautiful eco-resort right on the beach. Romantic place for couples.

Check Prices / Read Reviews

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Motorcycle Road Trip Coba

Renting Harley’s in Mexico

Tips For Visiting Coba

The ruins of Coba are about 44 kilometers (28 miles) from Tulum, or 109 kilometers (68 miles) from Playa del Carmen. For the budget minded, you can get to the site via ADO Bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.

Colectivos (public taxi vans) are also an option, however you’ll have to change vans in Tulum.

RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.

Or, if you’re a fan of motorcycles, you can rent a Harley Davidson in Playa del Carmen like I did with my friends Evelina & Jeremy.

At the ruins, you can hire a guide to explain the history, or just wander on your own. Renting an old bicycle for 45 pesos and riding around enables you to see the most in the shortest period of time.

Whatever you decide, remember to bring sunscreen & water because it can get hot! Plus sturdy shoes if you plan to climb the main pyramid. ★

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EXTRA INFORMATION
Location: Coba, Mexico
Cost: 65 pesos ($4 USD) entry fee
Motorcycle Rental: Harley Adventures
Useful Notes: It gets hot during the day at Coba, so visiting early morning or late afternoon is best. Less people too. You can explore on foot but I highly recommend renting a bicycle. The complex is very large!
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

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

61 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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

    1. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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

    1. 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!

      1. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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)?

  7. 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?

    1. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

    1. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

  24. 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.

      1. 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.

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