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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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:
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 Car Hire 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.
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