Coba is an ancient Mayan city on the Yucatan Peninsula. The Coba Ruins are the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world.
They contain many engraved and sculpted stories that document ceremonial life and important events of Mesoamerican civilization.
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The adjacent city of Coba is a modern village reporting a population of 1,278 inhabitants, and bears the same name as the ancient ruins.
Mayan Ruins of Coba: The History
At its peak, Coba is thought to have had a population of over 50,000 inhabitants at its highest point. Many tall stone monuments at the complex, called stelae, are carved into the ruins. Many of them depict women, suggesting that the city was far ahead of its time, and had many female rulers.
Further to this, there are two really well-preserved ball courts on the site. It’s thought that these were used to play ōllamaliztli, which is a traditional Mayan ballgame that’s been played since around 1650BC. The pre-Colombian people of Ancient Mesoamerica played different versions of the sport during the millennia. A newer, more modern version of the game is called ulama, and is still played by different groups in some areas.
Basically, this sport has players attempt to bounce a heavy rubber ball through stone rings using their hips. So basically, a combination of hula hooping, Bacci, and dodgeball?
The Mayan City of Coba was first inhabited around 100AD. It was eventually abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550AD. The city was once thought to be the most powerful in the region. It controlled farmland, trading routes, and other crucial elements like important water sources.
Visiting Coba Ruins
There are a few hotels around Coba itself, but most people choose to stay in the larger towns of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Valladolid. If you want to stay the closest you can to the ruins, then you’ll want to stay in Tulum, as it is only 45 minutes away from Coba.
Coba’s claim to fame is the largest collection of stone causeways in the ancient Mayan world. They are remarkable, and are called sacbes, which translates to ‘white roads’. There have been over 50 of these roads discovered. However, there are only 16 which are available to the public for hiking and photographs and general tourism.
These stone pathways connect different residential areas to the main pyramid area, which is called Nohoch Mul. There are small lakes used as a water supply nearby.
You can explore the ruins along these roads, and there are three ways that you can do so:
- Hire a bici-taxi
- Rent a bicycle
No one really knows how the ancient Mayans used these roads to transport their goods. Scientists believe that the ancient Mayans knew about the existence of the wheel. However, they have yet to find any evidence that the wheel was actually used in the process of building the pyramids or the roads.
Coba Ruins will cost you $75MXN which is about $4. If you are bringing a big video camera rig or a GoPro, you’ll officially need to pay an additional $35MXN.
If you do arrive by bike, you can park for free, but if you arrive by car, you’ll need to pay a small parking fee.
Climbing The Steps of the Coba Pyramid
The 120 stone steps of the largest pyramid at Coba are much steeper than they look!
The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, and is a part of the Nohoch Mul group of ancient buildings on the site. The pyramid itself is 138 feet tall. Back in its day, it was the heart of the city.
If you dare, you can still climb this ancient ruin, but be careful! It may be worth it, because it’s unlike other Mayan sites in that you can still climb it, and it hasn’t been shut down to hikers and tourists to conserve its integrity.
There are thick ropes in the middle of the stairways for safety if you do decide to climb them. It’s amazing to still have this opportunity, so definitely take it if you’re up to it. The view from the top is apparently just breathtaking.
When you reach the summit, it’s common for a cool breeze to help with the heat. As you gaze at lush jungle landscape, you’ll for sure appreciate the effort that it took to get up to the top of this incredible site.
Tourism and Its Effect on Ancient Sites
As a site gets more and more popular with tourism, and as visitors increase, authorities eventually restrict climbing. The intention behind this is to preserve sacred structures.
There are also, of course, accidents that can happen with hiking of this nature. Authorizes make these decision to close down the sites for both preservation as well as reducing accidents.
Having accidents at a historic site is not only bad for the person having the accident (it can be very dangerous and hard to get an ambulance there). It’s also important for tourism that these sites are seen as safe. Tourism is a leading revenue generator for many different industries around ancient sites in Mexico.
Coba Ruins vs Tulum Ruins
When you consider whether to hike or visit the Coba Ruins vs the Tulum Ruins, there are a few things to take into your decision.
Coba is much bigger than Tulum. The Tulum ruins are actually a rather small archaeological site. You can wander through Tulum in just 30 minutes. Coba, alternatively, is more than 50 times bigger than Tulum!
Most people don’t realize this because Tulum is such a popular spot and there is so much hype about it.
Instead of trying to decide whether to visit Tulum or Coba, why not do them both. It’s possible to visit both epic archaeological sites in one day. If you have limited time, or a set tour is not your thing, this can be an option for you.
Guided tours are not cheap, so visiting Coba and Tulum by yourself in your own way is much more affordable.
How To Get to Coba Ruins
While it’s not difficult to get there, you’ll want to make sure that you can either drive, hire a driver, or go on a tour with a tour guide who is familiar with the area. A rental car is the most accessible option.
The best place to book your car is said to be Discover Cars.
Because they search both local and international car rental companies, they can help you find the best possible price. This seems to be the single best way to rent a car in Mexico, especially for this particular adventure.
You can also choose to take a bus or a taxi to the Coba Ruins. The town at Coba is tiny, and the closest larger town is Tulane. You can hire a taxi to take you from Tulum to Coba.
Alternatively, there’s a bus that leaves the ADO bus terminal in Tulum every day early in the morning. A ticket will only cost you $50MXN and the ride will only take you one hour.
Swimming In Cenotes
If you visit Coba, you must take a refreshing dip in the limestone cenotes nearby. These underground sinkholes are filled with fresh water, and are found all over the Yucatan Peninsula in select spots that attract tourists and locals alike.
Just ten short minutes away, you’ll find these three cenotes. They are very close to the ruins at Coba. These areas are well worth the trip that you’ll take to get there. They provide a very unique experience and will be something you’ll remember forever.