Away from the tourist buses and crowds of the world famous Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, or those of nearby Tulum on the coast, there is the opportunity to explore the lesser known, but intriguing ruins of Cobá. Located only 44 kilometers (27 miles) northwest of Tulum, it’s an easy drive inland. The ruins are surrounded by lush jungle and inhabited by various birdlife and butterflies – you get the sense of being in an Indiana Jones movie.
The city of Cobá covered an area of about 70 kilometers, and had a unique complex system of raised pathways (sacbeobs) which connected it to other settlements and made it an important trading hub. In fact, one of these Sacbés was 100 kms (62 miles) long and reached the site of Yaxuná near Chichén Itzá.
Cobá means “water stirred by the wind” in Mayan, an apropos name as the city is situated between two lakes, Cobá and Macanxoc, an ideal location for a flourishing population. At its peak in the 8th century, it’s estimated that it had approximately 55,000 residents. After the rise of other cities like Chichen Itza, Cobá’s dominance waned, however it remained an important site and new temples were built and old ones repaired until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.
After having revisited the over-commercialized and crowded ruins of lovely Tulum on the previous day, I was hoping for a much more tranquil experience in Cobá, and that’s exactly what we got.
My husband and I were staying in Tulum and had rented a basic car for a few days to do independent day trips, so we drove to Cobá – the road is straight until you approach Cobá Pueblo, and then you see the signs for the archaeological site. Unless you’re extremely directionally challenged, you really can’t get lost! The road is lined on either side with tropical vegetation, and there are some homes and artisan shops along the way. The biggest challenge are the “Topes” (speed bumps) which most of the time are well marked, but sometimes hidden by vegetation which can make for an uncomfortable jolt!
After purchasing tickets and entering the site, we checked out the map (below). Because of the distance between the ruins (several kms), rather than walking, most folks choose to either rent bicycles or hire a guide and ‘tricycle’ (it would be called a rickshaw in Asia). We chose to rent bicycles, and headed off to the Nohoch Mul Group first, then slowly made our way back to the Cobá Group and entrance area.
Grupo Nohoch Mul
Climbing the tallest pyramid, Ixmoja, part of the Nohoch Mul Group, is the highlight of a visit to Cobá.With the second highest pyramid in the Yucatán Peninsula (42 m / 138 ft), Cobá’s archaeology is said to resemble that of Petén in Guatemala more than that of the Northern Yucatán.
It’s best to take your time when climbing the pyramid. Bring a hat, sunscreen, insect repellent and lots of water.
Although, they do have a drink stand in the Nohoch Mul area, if you run out of liquids.
As they say in climbing, “If you make it to the top you’re only half way there!”
Archaeologists have named this structure Xaibé, the Mayan word for crossroads, as it’s near the intersection of four major sacbeobs. They think it may have served as a watchtower.
One of the two Ball Courts at the site, this one located between the Nohoch Mul and Cobá Groups.
The jungle is overtaking the ruins.
La Iglesia (The Church), the pyramid of the Cobá Group, rises 22.5 m / 74 ft.
Know Before You Go
The Ticket booth. (I made sure the doggie was ok!). Open from 8:00 am – 4:30 pm daily.
Admission ticket: $70 pesos (at the time, about $3.70 US).
They also have “special visits” from 4:30 pm to 7:00 pm. These were $225 Pesos, about $12 US.
Mastercard and Visa credit cards are accepted.
The booth where you rent bicycles or hire a guide and ‘tricycle’.
Bicycles are $50 pesos per bicycle which was about $2.60 US at the time.
A tricycle with a driver is $125.00 Pesos (about $6.60 US) for 1 hour and 20 minutes and he will take you to: Palacio Maya, Segundo Juego De Pelota, and Xaay Be and Nojoch Muul.
For $200 Pesos (about $10.50 US), 2 hours, he will take you to: Palacio Maya, Segundo Juego De Pelota, Xaay Be Y Nojoch Muul Pinturas and Makan Xooc
One way drop offs are $75 Pesos (about $4.00 US)
Guide with a ‘tricycle’. They remind me of rickshaws in Southeast Asia.
Choose your bicycle.
After our visit to Cobá, we were in desperate need of cold drinks and a snack, and as much as we don’t like eating at tourist spots
this restaurant on the premises was rather convenient.
Should you want to relax your tired feet, from all of that climbing and pedaling, there is a fish spa next to the restaurant!
The obligatory “human sacrifice” photo!