A Guide To The Mayan Ruins

Exploring the Mayan ruins of Coba is a different experience than visiting its more famous neighbors, Chichen Itza or Tulum.

You can climb the highest pyramid in Coba for incredible panoramic views of the surrounding rainforest.

Indeed, nature is half the attraction in Coba. The huge site lies deep in the jungle, where you can see huge vine-covered Ceiba trees, sunbathing iguanas, and countless tropical birds. You might even get lucky and see a spider monkey or an ocelot.

Several groups of pyramids and temples are connected by long paths through dense leaves. With the option of renting a bike and seeing the site on two wheels, a day in the ruins of Coba includes much more than just sightseeing.

Coba was one of the first Mayan archaeological sites I visited during my first trip to Yucatan over a decade ago. Many years and pyramids after, this is still one of my favorites — especially for the chance to ride a bike through an ancient city overgrown with jungle.

There are many great places to see and visit ruins in Mexico. Learn everything you need to know about Coba in this article.

History of the Mayan ruins of Coba

Coba was first inhabited between 100 and 300 CE, and from 300 to 600 CE gained importance in the region as an important political and economic center.

Its peak of development was from 800 to 1100 CE, at which time Coba may have had the largest population in the ancient Mayan world.

At that time, Coba began a long power struggle with Chichen Itza in the North, eventually losing importance as Chichen Itza dominated the region and coastal cities such as Tulum flourished.

By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Yucatan at the beginning of the 16th century, Coba was already left, lost, and overgrown.

One of the main features of the archaeological site of Coba is the elevated stone roads called sacbeob, singular sacabe, which means “white road”.”They connected the central part of the city with the surrounding areas where ordinary citizens lived.

There are over 50 sacbeob near Coba, and a number cross the site in almost straight lines. The longest goes over 100 kilometres (62 MI) to the ruins of Yaxuna near Chichen Itza.

The ruins of Coba also have many stelae, which are carved stone monuments depicting important events in the life of the ruling class. They can be seen in the archaeological site of Coba, often at the base of pyramids and temples.

Like other archaeological sites in Yucatan, Coba’s biggest attraction is the high pyramids, including Nohoch Mul, one of the tallest in the Mayan world.

A bit lumpy and uneven, they don’t have the straight lines and perfect angles of other ruins like Tikal or Chichen Itza, looking for a little irregular stone staircase to the sky.

Other interesting structures include an astronomical observatory, two ball fields and several temples.

Pyramids and temples of Coba to visit absolutely

The archaeological site of Coba includes several different areas, including the Coba group, the pinturas Group (paintings), The D group, the Nohoch Mul group and the Macanxoc Group.

The Coba Group

The Coba group has the most structures and is closest to the entrance. It was built next to Lake Macanxoc, one of the five lakes in the region that supplied water to the Old City.

The Coba group includes a ball field, several stelae and the Iglesia (church), one of the tallest pyramids in Coba.

Group A and Group D

Group A and Group D, which contain the other ball field, are located roughly between the other three groups.

The most recent structures in the city were made in the pinturas group, including the pinturas temple, which contains 13 small altars.

Nohoch Mul Group

The Nohoch Mul Group owes its name to the largest pyramid in Coba, which at 42 metres (137 ft) high is also one of the tallest on the Yucatan Peninsula.

At the top of the pyramid is a temple with sculptures of the descending God, an important Mayan deity.

Also in the Nohoch Mul group is Xaibé, a semicircular astronomical observatory with four levels representing the seasons and 20 steps representing the days of the month of the Mayan calendar.

The Macanxoc Group

The Macanxoc group contains eight stelae and several ceremonial altars, suggesting that it was an important spiritual center for the city.

What to do at Coba ruins

You have three options to explore the ruins of Coba: hiking, renting a bike or hiring a guide who will let you pedal a large tricycle.

The longest path stretches for two kilometres (1.2 mi) from the entrance to the furthest excavated structures in Coba.

Because it is so large, it takes at least two hours to visit the ruins of Coba, even by bike.

If you prefer not to play sports in the heat, check out the prices for the tricycle. It is the same vehicle used by tamal vendors and other street vendors in Mexico.

The driver pedals in the back, and there’s a seat for two in the front where smoking tamales would normally be.

Outside the archaeological site, you can visit the restaurants and souvenir shops of the small town on Lake Coba. The lake has an observation deck where you can look for the crocodiles.

If you feel like adrenaline, go to the zipline tower, also in the city.

There are several cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) near Coba, such as the Choo Ha Cenote just a 10-minute drive from the entrance and the Tanach Ha Cenote a little further.

Tankach Ha means “deep water”, and with a depth of up to 35 meters, it is one of the deepest cenotes in the region.

Another nearby is the Multun Ha Cenote, which is distinguished by a pile of rocks under the water resembling a Mayan pyramid.

Where are the ruins of Coba?

The Mayan ruins of Coba are located about 50 kilometers northwest of Tulum. You can get there in about 45 minutes by car or an hour by public bus.

Buses depart from Tulum ADO bus station in the center of the city. You can check the ADO website for timetables and to buy tickets online (often at a discount), or stop a day or two before your trip to buy tickets in advance.

If you prefer, this affordable tour offers round-trip transportation from your hotel in Tulum, visiting the ruins of Coba and two cenotes. You will also have a lot of free time.

Inexpensive Coba Hotels-getting the best deal

The weather is beautiful and sunny all year round on the Yucatan Peninsula. The rainy season begins in after spring and lasts until autumn, and it is much warmer in summer, especially due to the Inland Coba.

Something to keep in mind is that the ruins can be extremely crowded during high season and Mexican holidays.

The peak season in Mexico runs from after December to early January (with the busiest period between Christmas and New Year), and from after July to early August.

Another time to definitely avoid is Semana Santa( Holy Week), the week before Easter, when many Mexicans travel.

In addition, since the archaeological site of Coba is free for Mexican citizens and foreign residents of Mexico on Sundays, it can also be crowded.

Try to get to the ruins as soon as they open in the morning.

Not only do you have a few hours of exploring (and biking) for the hottest part of the day in the early afternoon, but you also get a head start on the big tour groups that start arriving around 11am.

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