Preparing for the slam dunk? You’re in the jungle now baby. This is the site of the Mayan ruins of Coba and it is unlike any other Mayan complex on the Yucatan Peninsula. The shaded walks guide you through ancient villages, ceremonial centers and the tallest pyramid around.
Coba is an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula, located in what is now northeastern Quintana Roo, Mexico. The complex is the center of the longest and most detailed network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world. Located between Tulum in the state of Quintana Roo, and Valladolid in the state of Yucatan, Coba means ‘waters stirred by the wind’, and is surrounded by two large lagoons and dense forest. Coming from Cancun, Play del Carmen, or Tulum, it’s an easy day trip and a truly unique experience.
Coba was estimated to have had over 50,000 inhabitants at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a large agricultural population by the 1st century. Most of Coba’s construction appears to have been built in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900 AD, with most of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions from the 7th century . Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until the 14th century and Spanish introduction.
The Coba site was set up with multiple areas that included about fifteen houses per cluster. These are connected by elevated walkways called sacbes. The three main areas that can be viewed in the Coba Ruins are the Nohoch Mul structures (main pyramid), Conjunto Pinturas (spiritual area) and Macanxoc structures (close to the lagoon that bears the same name). Click here for a site map from Loco Gringo.
What To See At The Mayan Ruins of Coba
- Coba Group: This is a group of of structures close to the entrance that include the Iglesia (the Church) and one of two ball courts located on this site.
- Conjunto de Pinturas: The focus of this area is the Pyramid of the Painted Lintel where visitors can see actual paintings on the top temple.
- Macanxoc Group: This area has numerous stelaes and altars. The many stelaes show that this area was of spiritual significance to the region.
- Coba Stelae: These monuments offer insight into various components of Cobá life, including fashion, rituals, and the roles and power of both men and women in ceremonial activities. Women are figures of authority in many of the scenes depicted and inscriptions contain additional information about the social organization and dates of major historical events.
- Cenotes: Today, visitors can explore nearby natural wells, Choo Ha and Tamchaha that are a short ten minute drive from the ruins’ main entrance. The cenotes are located to the west of Coba where contemporary Maya continue to thrive.
- Nohoch Mul: Meaning “large hill”, this ancient pyramid is one of the main attractions to visitors of Coba and the highest pyramid in the Yucatan. Unlike many preserved Mayan structures it is still open to the public, so get ready to endure the 120 steps for the panoramic view of the surrounding region. I suggest you get there and get on it, because it’s not going to be open forever. Many other pyramids in the region can no longer be climbed due to obvious protection concerns. The first time my father took my friend Troy and I there in 1987 the site was virtually empty. One one could still climb up the east side of the pyramid, which was still covered in plants and trees and I still remember him kicking ants and dirt in my face as he climbed above and ahead of me. Can you believe he took two high-school hard tails to a deserted Mayan ruin in the middle of the jungle when we were fifteen? Points for the old man.
- Sacbe: The site is covered with elevated white roads lead away from the main pyramid in all four cardinal directions. Over fifty sacbes have been discovered with sixteen open to the public. The limestone powder allows them stand out from the surrounding foliage and some of the roads go as far as 100km to Yaxuna near Chichen Itza.
The exploring at Coba can last up to three hours if you walk the site or half that if you take advantage of the Coba bicycle rentals or a chauffeured tricycle where you just kick back and enjoy the sites. So fancy. There are nearby hotels, campsites, restaurants and craft shops littering the site and nearby vicinity. My advice is to get there early, before all the other tourists get there. Walking through the foggy paths alone in silence, you just may hear the ghost song a forgotten Mayan hero.