Coba is the largest Mayan ruin in Mexico
Many people have heard of Chichén Itzá, the famous Mayan ruin in Mexico, and want to visit the ruins when they visit Playa del Carmen, but what they don’t know is that although tourists can walk around Chichén Itzá, the stairs and climb have been closed to tourists since 2006 when a woman fell down the stairs and died. Other Mayan sites have followed suit, roping off their pyramid temples, with the exception of Coba. Coba is the largest Mayan ruin in Mexico and has the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Nohoch Mul pyramid, which is 135 feet high, 120 steps. Chichen Itza is a bit smaller with 91 steps leading up to the top of the Kulkulkan Pyramid. The entire Coba site spreads over more than 30 square miles or 80 square kilometers with many yet-t0-be uncovered buildings.
Coba is the largest Mayan ruin in Mexico
archeologists first learned about the site in the mid 1800′s, but dense jungle, the Caste War and lack of funds made this site a difficult area to penetrate. This Mayan site is still largely unexcavated (only about 5% has become open to the public) making it a true wonder in the Yucatan. Visitors can enjoy shaded walkways that are the original sacbe (white roads), three settlements that show the architecture and vast area of this once large city, 2 ball courts and climb the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan, Nohoch Mul. Cobá was finally opened to the public as an archeological site in1973. Archeologists have estimated that 6,000 structures exist, but only three settlements are for public viewing.
What makes this site different from Chichen Itza is its accessibility and that Coba is not a single site but a large group of sites connected to the central pyramid, connected by over 16 Mayan ceremonial “white roads” (sacbéob). 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). Although more than 50 sacbes (white roads) have been discovered within the Coba settlement, only 16 are open to the public.
A day at Coba can last up to 2.5 hours if you walk the site, 1.5 hours if you take advantage of the Coba bicycle rentals or an hour if you opt for the Mayan limo, a chauffeured tricycle where you just sit and take in the sights. Both bicycle options are inexpensive and super fun! Add the cenotes (see below) where you can swim, snorkel and/or dive in underground caves, and make it a day trip!
Scrambling up the 42-meter (138-foot) Nohoch Mol pyramid is not for the faint of heart. The steps are steep and uneven. They can be slippery, even when grabbing onto the fixed safety rope that extends from the bottom to the top. The decline is particularly tricky, and many visitors resort to going down the steps, crab-like, on their bottoms.
At the top, where animals were once sacrificed to the gods, intrepid climbers are rewarded with a spectacular view of the jungle that surrounds the site and the nearby lakes from which Cobá takes its name. You can also see other ruins peeking up above the trees and undergrowth, remnants of this former commercial hub whose estimated 6,500 structures cover about mostly still unexcavated 70 square kilometres.
Three cenotes (a unique type of cave that has been carved out by water) have opened for tourism in Coba and are owned by the local Mayan community and tourism supports the local people.
The cenotes are about 6k from the ruins. Previously this was a bumpy ride down an old road. Now there has been significant investment to open this area a little more to tourism. The cenotes also have added shower and changing areas, bathrooms and parking lots.
The three cenotes are Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha, and Multun-Ha. All three of the cenotes are underground caves with water, as opposed to some cenotes where the roof collapses and they are open pools. The entrance to each cenote is about 55 pesos ($5US). For additional information, please click here.
Getting to Coba
Cobá is about a 90-minute easy drive from our condo/hotels, and Playa del Carmen. Cobá is much closer and not nearly as crowded as Chichén Itzá. You can rent a car and drive, go with a tour group, or hire a driver for the day and go at your own speed (about $100). Our guests at El Taj Ocean, Magia Beachside, Porto Playa, Maya Villa, and El Taj Beach can make arrangements through our concierge! Let me know if you need help and please post your pictures and comments below if you visit Coba. Let the world know what an awesome place it is!