Coba Mayan ruin has grown in popularity recent years, predominately due to its proximity to the Mexican Riviera Maya. Its claim to fame is the 137 foot high Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which is technically the tallest Maya pyramid in
Mexico (there are taller Maya pyramids in other countries, and there are taller pyramids in Mexico, just not Mayan ones). What is equally attractive is that you can still climb this pyramid.
Coba is a sprawling site and once housed more than 50,000 people. 70 square kilometers of the city has been identified with an estimated 6,500 structures. Less than 5% is excavated to date. Coba was founded between 50 BC and 100 AD. By 201, it must have dominated the entire region with extensive farmlands and a vast trade network including the site of Tulum. After 600, it started losing influence to the Puuc culture (e.g. Uxmal) and eventually lost most of its dominance about 1000 to Chichen Itza. But Coba continued to be inhabited up until about the time the Spanish conquered the Yucatan around 1550.
Coba was connected to the other influential cities and trade ports (like Tulum) via sacbes, which are raised pathways usually of stone that were mostly travelled at night for the cooler temperatures where the light colored stones would be easy to see in moonlight.
Because of the great distances between the structures in Coba, you have to plan on how to cover the distances – it is 3 km from the entrance to the Nohoch Mul pyramid. The path is more like a dirt road and there are three options available to you to traverse it. One is to walk, another is to rent bicycles and the final is to hire a pedicab which includes a driver and seats two.
As you journey through the jungle, you come to structures intermittently. The most impressive is the Temple Conjunto de Pinturas, which has rounded sides and actual Mayan paintings on the temple top. Another highlight is a nice ball court, which is in good shape.
The Nohoch Mul Pyramid will be the terminus of your walk/ride. Many pyramids have become off-limits to climbing due to wear-and-tear and injuries – a San Diego woman died in on Chichen Itza’s Temple of Kukulkan in 2006 when she slipped and fell down the stairs. While steep, the stairs up Nohoch Mul Pyramid are open, and offer a view of the surroundings that is memorable. Climb it now before the opportunity disappears forever, as it inevitably will.
The stairs are much steeper than the ones you are used to, and being of stone, falling would be injurious. There is a heavy rope attached to the center of the stairs all the way up that provides a helpful grip. There will be others on the stairs, perhaps a pretty good crowd depending on the time you arrive. Take the climb if you are able, it is worth it. The view from the top is nice, revealing the Yucatan jungle all about. You can also see the other three sides of the pyramid, still overgrown with plants and covered with dirt – you can easily see why it takes so much effort to restore ancient ruins to good shape. Even after removing all the foliage, the stones have to be put back together like a giant puzzle and cemented in place with materials similar to the ones the Maya would have used.
Read my helpful tips on how to see Coba here.
You can see a hi-res gallery of pictures from my trip here.
A ranked list of my favorite Mayan ruins is here.