Coba ruins: Climbing a sacred Maya pyramid, Mexico

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Thousands of years ago, in what is now the Quintana Roo region in Mexico, once lay Coba. The Maya called it “waters stirred by the wind”, but we know it today by its Spanish name. Scientists believe that the Coba ruins were once one of the most important sites of the Maya world

Coba ruins Mexico: If you do not know it, the Coba ruins are an ancient Maya city in the middle of the jungle in Mexico. Due to its remote location, this site is not as popular as other Mayan ruins. The ruins of Coba are neither as excavated nor reconstructed as other famous sites. But they are one of the top attractions on the Yucatan peninsula.

Did you know you can find more than 4,400 Mayan sites in Central America? Many of them are in Mexico. The Coba ruins hidden in the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula are one of them

 

If you do not know it, the Coba ruins are an ancient Maya city in the middle of the jungle. Due to its remote location, this site is not as popular as other ruins in Mexico. The ruins of Coba are neither as excavated nor reconstructed as other famous sites (Chichen Itza or Tulum). 

In reality, what you see in Coba isn’t even 5 % of what it once was. Only a tiny part of Coba has been excavated and is waiting for rediscovery. Many structures are still lost in the jungle, covered by vegetation. If you decide to explore the ruins of Coba, you will feel like Indiana Jones. 

Coba ruins: The Coba ruins in Mexico were once one of the most important sites of the Maya world. Coba in Mexico may have once had one of the largest populations of all the ancient Mayan cities. This is similar to the number of people who used to live in Chichen Itza at its peak.

 

It is hard to imagine that Coba may have once had one of the largest populations of all the ancient Mayan cities. This is similar to the number of people who used to live in Chichen Itza at its peak. 

 

Are the Coba ruins worth visiting?

Why are the Coba ruins worth visiting? Because Coba is one of the most beautiful Mayan sites in the Yucatan. It offers to explore the history and culture of the ancient Mayans. Also, Coba is one of the few sites where you can climb the pyramid and enjoy beautiful views.

 

Why Coba in Mexico became one of the most important Maya cities?

A lakeside location, an essential variety of plant life, and different animal species helped Coba to become one of the most important Maya cities. Five natural lagoons and numerous cenotes surrounded by jungle were very valuable for the Maya community. It is a rare find in the Yucatan.

Why are the Coba ruins worth visiting? Because Coba is one of the most beautiful Mayan sites in the Yucatan. It offers to explore the history and culture of the ancient Mayans. Also, Coba is one of the few sites where you can climb the pyramid and enjoy beautiful views.

The Coba ruins are unique because they are not a single site (like Chichen Itza or Tulum). It is a large group of sites connected by white roads. Coba has the largest network of stone causeways in the ancient Maya world, and you can still climb its pyramid.

 

Surprising facts about the Coba ruins

 

The Coba ruins are world-famous for several reasons:

  • Coba is one of the largest and most important Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico. The area of the ruins of Coba covers around 70 km2.
  • Coba Mayan ruins are unique because only a few of its estimated 6,500 structures have been uncovered (only 5 % have been excavated). Hills, which you can see, are, in fact, unexcavated buildings.
  • Nohoch Mul, the largest temple pyramid at Coba, is the tallest ancient Maya structure in the Yucatan peninsula. The temple pyramid is taller than the pyramid at Chichen Itza. 
  • The temple pyramid is one of the few sites you can still climb.
  • This site has a unique network of white roads (sacbe) connecting various parts of the Coba ruins. They are an engineering marvel of the Mayan civilization.
  • Coba gets fewer visitors than either Chichen Itza or Tulum, giving you more tranquillity that the other sites do not have.

 

Overall, the Coba ruins are famous for their historical significance and impressive architecture. This beautiful site is home to ancient Mayan roads and the highest pyramid in the Yucatan (which you can still climb). Coba Mayan ruins are, in fact, a fascinating destination for everyone interested in the Maya civilization.

 

coba history

 

A short history of Coba Mayan ruins

It is hard to believe, but the history of Coba goes back more than a thousand years. At the height of its powerCoba dominated the area and was one of the largest Mayan cities of the Classic period. 50,000 people called Coba their home. Some even claim that up to 100,000 people lived here at some point. 

You are quite right to think that Coba was once an incredible metropolis. This gorgeous city had numerous towering templesball courts and other buildings. However, the Maya people deserted this famous city at the time when the Spanish conquered the Yucatan peninsula

The jungle swallowed the ruins of Coba. They remained safe for hundreds of years until its recent rediscovery. 

 

 

Nohoch Mul Pyramid, the Coba ruins, Mexico

 

Coba ruins: No trip to the Coba ruins in Mexico is complete without a visit to its temple pyramid. The Ixmoja temple pyramid is one of the most impressive structures in the Coba Mayan ruins archaeological site. This towering pyramid is, in fact, one of the tallest ancient Mayan structures in the Yucatan peninsula.

Ixmoja temple pyramid is a part of the Nohoch Mul group in Coba. It was only restored on one side

 

No trip to the Coba ruins is complete without a visit to its temple pyramid. The Ixmoja temple pyramid is one of the most impressive structures in the Coba ruins archaeological site. This towering pyramid is, in fact, one of the tallest ancient Mayan structures in the Yucatan peninsula.

Ixmoja temple pyramid is a part of the “Nohoch Mul” complex. Because of that, many refer to it as the Nohoch Mul pyramid. The pyramid has multiple levels and a small temple at the top. We do not know much about it, but the Maya probably dedicated this temple to the god Venus. They most likely used it for religious ceremonies, including offerings and sacrifices to the Maya gods.

Ixmoja, or the Nohoch Mul pyramid, is the main reason why everyone wants to visit the Coba Mayan ruins in Mexico. It is because the Nohoch Mul pyramid is the largest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula which you can still climb.

Ixmoja temple pyramid is the main reason why everyone wants to visit the Coba Mayan ruins.

 

At first glance, the pyramid is practically invisible until you are right in front of it. It is because this pyramid is mostly an unexcavated structure. The 42 metres high (137 feet) pyramid is a constant reminder that Coba was once swallowed by the jungle vegetation. The views from the top of the pyramid are incredible.

Today this pyramid is one of the main attractions when exploring the Coba ruins in Mexico. It is because the Nohoch Mul pyramid is the largest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula which you can still climb.

GOOD TO KNOW:

Of the ancient Maya pyramids, only the pyramids at Tikal (in Guatemala) and Calakmul are taller than the temple pyramid of Nohoch Mul. This is the only tall pyramid in Yucatan that you can still climb. Touristy Chichen Itza is only 24 m high, and you can’t climb it.

 

Climbing the pyramid at Coba

climbing the pyramid in Coba, Mexico: Despite the risks, climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid is one of the best things to do in Coba, Mexico. This unique experience is a highlight of the trip to the Coba ruins. If you are physically able to climb the pyramid, give it a try.

The 120-stone steps are much steeper than they look.

As you already know, there are only a few places where you can still climb the Mayan pyramids. Surprisingly, it is possible to climb the pyramid in Coba, Mexico. It is probably because the Coba ruins do not see as many tourists as places like Chichen Itza or Tulum. To access the top of the pyramid, you need to conquer 120 stairs.  It provides a unique perspective and gorgeous views of the surrounding jungle and other structures.  Climbing the pyramid at Coba is one of the best things to do when exploring the Coba ruins.

 

TIP:

Even though it looks easy, it is a physically demanding activity. Going down is more complicated than going up. There is a significant drop-off at the top of the pyramid. Hence be very careful! Steps can be slippery and are also uneven. Hence, wear non-slip shoes.

Despite the risks, climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid is one of the best things to do in Coba, Mexico. This unique experience is a highlight of the trip to the Coba ruins. If you are physically able to climb the pyramid, give it a try.

coba climb

GOOD TO KNOW:

Due to the roughness of the stones, a thick rope runs from the ground level of the temple pyramid up to the top. You should know you cannot take any bags or backpacks to the top of the pyramid anymore.

Also, follow any regulations to ensure the preservation of the Coba ruins for future generations.

 

Other things to do in Coba, Mexico

Here are a few reasons why visiting the Coba ruins in Mexico is one of the best things to do in the Yucatan. Bear in mind that there are endless trails to explore the ruins. If possible, starts your Indiana Jones adventure with “the Coba group” attractions. It is a complex of structures near the main entrance of the site. In this area, you can find the Iglesia (the church) as well as a ball court.

 

1. La Iglesia (the church) at Coba

ruins of Coba: It is easy to see why finding La Iglesia is one of the top things to do in Coba, Mexico. It is because la Iglesia is the second tallest pyramid at the ruins of Coba. La Iglesia was also a place where the Maya hold religious ceremonies.

La Iglesia (the church) at Coba

On any list of the top things to see in Coba, la Iglesia should not be far from the top. La Iglesia, in Spanish, means the church. As the name suggests, the Mayan people used this large pyramid-shaped temple for religious ceremonies and rituals.

You are right to think La Iglesia in Coba is an impressive example of Mayan architecture. If you do not know it, La Iglesia is the second tallest pyramid from all the ruins of Coba. La Iglesia is hidden in the jungle and is overgrown with vegetation

La Iglesia is a place where the Maya hold religious ceremonies. Scholars believe the Mayan people built this 20-metre-tall temple between 600 and 900 AD. Next to La Iglesia temple are two smaller buildings, which the locals used most likely for administrative or ceremonial purposes.

La Iglesia is a place where the Maya hold religious ceremonies.

Scholars believe the Mayan people built this 20-metre tall temple between 600 and 900 AD. Next to this temple are two smaller buildings, which the locals used most likely for administrative or ceremonial purposes.



2. Sacred ball game courts at Mayan ruins in Coba, Mexico

ball game courts at Mayan ruins in Coba, Mexico are more than 1500 years old

Pay attention to a small circular-shaped ring at the top of the Maya ball court.

Before you reach the famous temple pyramid, you will see a few more unique sites in Coba, Mexico. There are several Mayan structures, but two ball game courts are the most impressive. But why are those two ball courts in Coba famous? Many years ago, the Maya people used to play the ancient ritual ball game. The name of this game was Juego de Pelota or Pok-Ta-Pok in the Maya language. 

Both ball courts you can see when exploring Coba ruins are in good shape. It is hard to believe, but these well-preserved ball courts are about 1500 years old. The Coba ruins are home to two ball courts. One near the site entrance is the larger and more impressive one. However, in terms of size, they are tiny compared to the court in Chichen Itza.

 

ruins of Coba: If you do not know, the Juego de Pelota game was a central part of Mayan culture and religion. The locals used to play this game as a form of ritual competition in the ball courts. Because of that, the ball courts are one of the top attractions when exploring the ruins of Coba, Mexico.

If you do not know, the Juego de Pelota game was a central part of Mayan cultureand religion. The locals used to play this game as a form of ritual competition. Because of that, the ball courts are one of the top attractions when exploring the ruins of Coba, Mexico

The rules of the Mayan ball game slightly varied depending on the region and period. However, the basic idea was to pass a heavy rubber ball through a stone ring on the court walls. 

 

FUN FACT:

Scoring a point was very difficult because athletes could not use their hands or feet. For this reason, they could use only their hips to forward the ball. Often this Sacred Ball Game would extend for hours and sometimes days.

According to Maya’s belief, their Gods enjoyed watching the game and admired the winners. Hence, the Maya people ritually sacrificed the captain of the winning team at the end of the game. To give the Gods the losers would be an insult.

 

3. Maya Calendar stone, Coba Mayan ruins

Maya Calendar stone: All the rumours about the end of the world in 2012 were based on information from this stone. However, ancient Maya people don`t believe the world is coming to an end. The year 2012 was only the end of the calendar cycle.

Maya calendar stone

 

The Maya civilization used several different calendars to track time. They marked significant events and tracked cycles of time lasting over 5,000 years. The Maya even used the solar calendar, based on the sun’s movement. Yes, that is right, the Maya civilization kept track of the passing days, months and millennia. Many associate their fascinating calendar system with prophecies.

Do you remember all the rumours about the end of the world in 2012? They were based on information from this particular stone in Coba, Mexico. However, ancient Maya people did not believe the world is coming to an end. The year 2012 was only the end of the calendar cycle.

 

4. Sacbes at Coba, Mexico

Coba ruins: Not many would consider sacbes one of the top things to see when exploring the Coba ruins in Mexico. Did you know that Coba is home to one of the most extensive sacbe networks in the Mayan world? This network of roads has more than 50 miles of raised roads.

Sacbe

 

Not many would consider sacbes one of the top things to see when exploring the Coba ruins in Mexico, but it would be a mistake. Did you know that Coba is home to one of the most extensive sacbe networks in the Mayan world? Yes, that is right, this network of roads has more than 50 miles of raised roads. These white roads once linked Coba with other important settlements, including Tulum.

Because of that, some people call Coba the City of White Roads. Until now, the locals have discovered over 50 white roads (16 are open to the public). The main sacbe goes almost 100 km west, almost to Chichen Itza. The Maya built this road before Chichen Itza existed.

 

What did the Mayans use to build roads?

The Maya levelled the terrain and built these roads with limestone blocks. After that, they plastered limestone with a layer of white stucco. This gave them a smooth layer and a distinctive appearance. Also, these white roads reflected the moonlight, and the Maya could see people approaching even at night.

The purpose of sacbes in Coba in Mexico and the Maya world is mysterious. What we know is that the sacbe network played an important role in the Maya economy. These iconic paths connected temples and plazas inside of cities. They also linked other cities and helped the locals with the movement of goods. This civilization had no wheeled transport, but scientists believe the Maya knew about the wheel’s existence. However, there is no such as evidence.

 

5. Stelae at Coba, Mexico

things to do in Coba

Stelae

You might be surprised to hear that the Coba ruins are home to many artefacts. When you visit Coba Mayan ruins, you can find numerous Stelae here. 

If you do not know what Stelae is, it is a collection of ancient flat stone monuments with detailed drawings and writings. The Maya civilization created them, and they commemorate important events or individuals in Maya history. These large carved stone slabs are two to three metres tall. Detailed designs and hieroglyphs tell stories of the Maya gods, rulers and other crucial moments from life in Coba. Because of that, they are very valuable. Many of them were, however, damaged or destroyed over the centuries. 

 

6. Xaibe, the Coba ruins

Coba ruins, Mexico: Also, do not miss Xaibe when exploring the Coba ruins in Mexico. Scholars believe that this large pyramid-shaped building was once a watchtower. The Maya used this semi-circular building as a lookout point. Today visiting Xaibe is one of the best things to do in Coba, Mexico.

Xaibe, the Crossroads Pyramid at Coba

Also, do not miss Xaibe when exploring the Coba ruins in Mexico. Scholars believe that this large pyramid-shaped building was once a watchtower. Xaibe has a steep stairway leading up to the top. The Maya used this semi-circular building as a lookout point. They kept an eye on the surrounding landscape from it.

Xaibe stands at the intersection of four major sacbe and is one of the popular places to visit in Coba, Mexico.

 

7. Swimming in cenotes near the Coba ruins

nearby cenotes

 

After exploring the Coba ruins, consider visiting one of the nearby cenotes. Swimming in the refreshing limestone sinkholes is one of the best things to do in Coba. If you do not know, cenotes are underground sinkholes filled with fresh water. There is a vast network of cenotes all around the Yucatan peninsula. They are perfect for cooling off after a cycle ride through the Coba ruins.

 

You can find three cenotes in just a 10-minute drive away from the Coba ruins:

  • Cenote Choo-Ha
  • Cenote Tankach Ha 
  • and also cenote Multum-Ha.

 

GOOD TO KNOW:

Cenotes near the Coba ruins are usually on privately owned land. As a result, expect to pay the entrance fee to each cenote.

 

Cenote Choo-Ha

Cenote Choo-Ha is a shallow water cenote popular for its clear, turquoise water and many stalactites and stalagmites hanging from the ceiling. If you decide to visit cenote Choo-Ha, expect to pay 100 MXN or 5 USD for an entry fee for an adult

 

Cenote Tankach Ha

Cenote Tankach Ha is another famous cenote near the Coba ruins. This beautiful cave cenote is a popular attraction for its deep water and breathtaking rock formation. This sinkhole has two jumping platforms (5 and 10 metres). The entrance fee for Cenote Tankach-Ha is 100 MXN or 5 USD for an adult.

 

Cenote Multum-Ha

Cenote Multum-Ha is also another famous cenote near the ruins of Coba. This cave cenote with a large wooden deck has a massive platform for jumping into the water. The entrance fee for Cenote Multum-Ha is 100 MXN per person (5 USD).

 

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE COBA RUINS, MEXICO

 

  • COBA OPENING TIMES: open daily from 8 am to 4.30 pm. You need to enter the Coba ruins before 3.30 pm. Otherwise, you won’t have time to exit the ruins at closing time.
  • COBA PARKING COST: MXN 50 per car
  • COBA ADMISSION: The entrance fee is MXN 100 (as of 2022). Entrance to the Coba ruins and other Mexican sights is free for residents with ID and nationals on Sundays. Bicycle rentals are MXN 60, and tricycle taxis are MXN 180 to rent a bici-taxi.
  • COBA GUIDED TOURS: Prices for guides are not set, but they are usually between MXN 500 – 700 for a group. It also depends on group size, your negotiation ability, and how busy Coba is that day. Many official tour guides speak several languages, including the Maya language.
  • VISITING TIME REQUIRED: 2, 5 hours up to ½ day.

 

Where are the Coba Ruins located?

The Maya ruins of Coba lie in the heart of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the Quintana Roo state, 44 km (28 miles) northwest of Tulum. The geographical coordinates of the Coba Ruins (main entrance for the site) are North 19° 29.6′ and West 87° 43.7′.

You can visit the Coba Mayan ruins easily on a day trip from Playa del Carmen or Cancun.

 

GOOD TO KNOW:

  • Coba’s Address: Carretera Federal 307 Cancún-Chetumal, 77793 Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico
  • Zona Arqueológica de Coba is about 173 km (108 mi) south of Cancun, 105 km (66 mi) from Playa del Carmen and 70 km (44 mi) from Akumal.

 

How to get to the Coba ruins, Mexico

how to get to Coba all important information

 

  • RENT A CAR

If you love freedom and don’t want to worry about bus schedules, rent a car. Driving a vehicle is the most comfortable way of transport because it is not difficult to reach Coba. If you drive to Coba, you can beat the crowds and explore the ruins at your own pace. Plus, renting a car gives you a chance to visit cenotes near the ruins of Coba. This is not possible if you arrive in Coba by public transport.

 

  • BOOK A TOUR

If renting a car isn’t an option, consider booking an organized guided tour of the Coba Mayan ruins. You can book trips to Coba through most hotels or tour agencies. They are available departing from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other cities. Along with a visit to the Coba ruins, tours include a visit to the Tulum ruinscenotes, or other guided activities

TIP:

Booking an organized tour is an excellent option for those who find travelling independently confusing. It’s also an excellent option for those who stay in distant Cancun (160 km from Coba). Taking an organized tour might save you energy and money. However, at the same time, you might find the ruins more crowded.

 

  • ADO BUS

Alternatively, budget-minded travellers can travel to Coba via ADO Buses from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. If you take Colectivos (public taxi vans) or ADO buses, you have to change vans in Tulum, though. The second-class bus (Mayah) leaves from the ADO terminal in Tulum every day at 7.20 am. Expect to pay 50 MXN for about a one-hour-long ride.

 

  • TAXI

Last but not least, those who like a more comfortable way of travel and don’t mind spending more money can take a taxi from Tulum to the ruins of Coba. The most expensive transport is worth using when travelling in a group of four. Regardless of your group size, don’t forget to negotiate the price!

However, you should know that taxi prices in Tulum are among the highest in the world. They skyrocket out of control in Tulum because they have no competition (no Ubers). Also, the drivers usually do not negotiate with English-speaking tourists. 

 

Getting around the Coba ruins, Mexico

getting around the site

The budget-friendly cycling is a perfect way to get around the Coba ruins.

 

When exploring the Coba ruins, you should know that this archaeological park is a pretty large site. The main pyramid temple is about 2 km from the entrance, and the other sights are even further.

Here are some ways to get around the Coba ruins:

  • Walking: Walking around the Coba ruins is the cheapest way of getting around the site. However, walking in the heat can be exhausting and takes a lot of time. If you arrive here on a bus tour, you will not cover much if you decide to walk.
  • Cycling: Renting a bike is one of the popular options for getting around the Coba ruins. Cycling lets you get away from where the tour bus crowds go. You can rent a bike at the entrance of the ruins. Expect to pay around 60 pesos (3.27 USD) for a bike.
  • Tricycles: The bici-taxi is also a popular option for families with small children or for older people. Renting a tricycle driven by a local guide is a perfect option if you do not want to bike around the site. The locals will take you to various ruins and temples, and you can enjoy the peaceful environment of the surrounding jungle. Expect to pay around 180 pesos (under 10 USD) for a tricycle ride.

 

Tips for visiting the Coba ruins, Mexico

 

  • arrive at the ruins in the morning. If you want to view the surroundings peacefully without tons of tour groups, come close to their opening times.
  • use the toilets before entering the ruins, as there are none once you get inside the site
  • opt for the bike rental or take the “Maya Taxi” (a pedicab) in Coba, Mexico. The Coba ruins are a vast archaeological site, and having the bicycle will speed up the journey. It also allows you to see more in a shorter amount of time.
  • take a bottle of water and a snack. Aside from a few small shops around the parking lot, there are no amenities within the park.
  • pack a mosquito repellent with 50% DEET for better protection
  • wear a hatsunglasses, and sunscreen
  • comfortable walking shoes are a must
  • rucksack – make sure you do not take a handbag. Otherwise, you are going to struggle to ride your bike.
  • don’t forget to bring enough cash. We could not see any ATMs at the ruins site or in the village of Coba.
  • a swimsuit and a towel for a dip in one of the nearby cenotes
  • hire local English or Spanish-speaking guide at the entrance to explain the history of the Coba ruins.

 

We hired a local English-speaking guide at the entrance as there are not many storyboards describing what you can see. Our tour guide was outstanding. He provided us with a lot of little facts and insight that we would never have gotten if we had toured alone. He made the tour so much more enriching. Hiring a guide at the ruins of Coba also gives jobs to the local people. Most importantly, it helps to keep the Maya history and culture alive.

 

Free Travel Planner for your next holidays to Coba Ruins

 

Where to stay near Coba

The village of Coba has a small cheap hotel, several simple restaurants, and a luxury Club Med hotel. As tourism is the only income for locals, it is essential to support the Maya restaurants and to try local Maya specialities.

Most visitors base themselves in larger towns (Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Valladolid). They arrive on a day trip to Coba and return to their hotel. Tulum is the closest town, located only about 45 minutes drive away from the ruins of Coba.

The popular accommodation near Coba Mayan ruins is a luxury Nomade Tulum. If you are looking for a mid-range hotel Azucar Hotel Tulum is a perfect option. Budget travellers might prefer Tubo Tulum Hostel.

 

Why you should visit Coba Mayan Ruins

Going to Coba is one of those moments that you will never forget. Discovering the sacred ruins of Coba and its surreal landscape feels almost as if you’ve travelled back to ancient Maya times. The ruins of Coba are perfect for a fantasy-inspired getaway. They have jaw-dropping stunning temples and views to die for. Once you set eyes on these ruins, you will understand why the Maya did fall in love with this place.

 

Now you know what to do in Coba in Mexico!

visiting Coba Maya ruins on a day trip from Cancun or Riviera Maya

 

Have you been to the Coba ruins in Mexico? What did you think? What are your favourite ruins to visit? We would love to hear from you in the comment box below.

 

Pin Ruins of Coba in Mexico for later!

 

READ MORE ABOUT MEXICO:

Chichen Itza day trip from Coba

Cancun must visit places and attractions

 
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