Coba & The Jungle

The Secret of Coba

The inscriptions on the walls, stelae and stone panels of this archaeological site hide the secrets of this ancient Mayan city. Archaeologists have deciphered the meaning of its name, Coba, is the place of “chopped water”, or the “humidity of water”. The reason for its name is that this archaeological site is surrounded by 5 lagoons and is deeply immersed in the jungle. The beauty of Coba lies in its elusive and narrow paths that make their way, like a labyrinth, through dense undergrowth and lead, to surprising discoveries. Its pyramids, among them the highest in the Yucatan Peninsula, have been little intervened, they preserve the traces of the passage of time and their intimate relationship with nature. Coba tastes of discovery and hides spectacular views.

Coba's trails.

The Ancient Mayan City

The Mayan city of Coba prospered among 5 great lakes, which were an essential source of its greatness. By the year 600 A.D., the city extended over 70km2 and was connected with other cities and regions by paths of seashells that were illuminated by the moonlight, known by the Mayas as sacbé (white road), these illuminated streets were used at night to avoid the heat of the day. One of them, 100km long, flowed all the way into Chichen Itza. With 50,000 inhabitants, Coba became the most important economic and political center of the neighboring villages, there came to be a network of more than 50 roads. The city acquired its imperial dimensions between 600 and 1000 A.D., communication networks were built, buildings and relations were strengthened with the populations in the Gulf Coast, Coba came to dominate the entire northern Yucatan Peninsula and had links with Teotihuacan in central Mexico.

The city prospered thanks to the control of inter-regional trade (said to control the port of Xel-Há) and ample access to abundant water resources. However, it declined from A.D. 1000 onwards as a result of a frontal dispute with Chichen Itza over regional preponderance; eventually, Coba would be defeated. The political importance of this city of lakes declined, but it remained an important spiritual center.

At the arrival of the Spanish invasion in Yucatan, circa 1550, Coba had already been abandoned. The city was rediscovered in 1843, but it was not until 1972 that the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) began developing the area to facilitate access for visitors and researchers. Coba is one of the main cities of the ancient Mayan empire in Yucatan, but it is still hidden in the jungle, offering everyone who visits it the opportunity to rediscover it for the first time.

Discovering Coba

Today Coba attracts more and more visitors eager to climb the highest pyramid in the Riviera Maya, to explore the jungle and look at the lagoons of the ancient city; Lake Coba, full of crocodiles, can be visited and crossed by zip-line! Just 47km from Tulum, it is now an accessible site and within walking distance of spectacular cenotes, several tour services offer tours to the ruins and cenotes, it is a perfect combination. Also, very close by, you can visit a nature reserve where it is possible to see spider monkeys.

Coba differs from other archaeological sites because the visit here is more intimate and enigmatic, the jungle immersion is total, and can be done by bicycle! (by biketaxi, better known as the Mayan Limousine, or pedaling on your own). The narrow dirt roads, bordered by the jungle, lead to the main temples, to the Astronomical Observatory (where the Mayas studied the sky with a precision unmatched for the time) and to the Nohoch Mul pyramid, the highest in the peninsula (42m, 20m higher than the Kukulkan pyramid in Chichen Itza), one of the few that can still be climbed, and from where, after climbing its 120 steps, you will have an spectacular panoramic view; the Riviera Maya is flat, so there are no obstacles on the horizon (Read our blog about cenotes and subterranean rivers to find out why there are no mountains on the Yucatan Peninsula: link).

Birds of diverse plumage can be spotted on the trails, and if you’re lucky, you can see spider monkeys hanging relaxed from the branches. On the way you have to let yourself be surprised, be attentive to the fauna of the jungle and the ancient structures and stelae that appear among the undergrowth, there are more than 6,000 structures devoured by the relentless passage of the years and the extension of the jungle. Also, framed by large trees you will find the Ball Games; The Church, the second highest structure in the city (24m high); and the Conjunto las Pinturas, one of the last structures built in Cobá, where you can still be seen traces of the original paintings at the entrance to the altar.

Pro tip: The best place to see spider monkeys is Punta Laguna, an ecological reserve 20 min. from the archaeological site of Coba.

More than 1,000 inhabitants of Mayan origin still live in and around Coba. In the town of Tres Reyes there is an ecological village (Pac Chen) that can be visited. Here the past and the present come together on the shores of a lagoon and several cenotes that you can also explore. Coba is an adventure like no other archeological site in the Riviera Maya, the proximity and freshness of the jungle accompany you in the search for ancient treasures, if you pay enough attention, you can steal from the jungle a glimpse of that imperial city that we are still discovering today.

Pro tip: When you visit Coba, start your day at dawn, arrive when the doors open and enjoy the freshness of the jungle intimately, without people, and after visiting the site refresh yourself in a cenote. After 11am the temperature and humidity can be overwhelming.

Information for Your Visit to Coba

Regular schedule: Monday to Sunday from 08:00 to 17:00 hours

Price: 75 pesos

Special Hours: You can enter the site before 08:00, from 06:00, and after 17:00, until 19:00 by paying an entrance ticket of $252.

How to Get There: ADO has trucks departing from Tulum ($95) and Playa del Carmen ($160). For the more adventurous there are colectivos ($30-$60) that depart from the Plaza Municipal of Tulum, they can also be taken from Playa Del Carmen and Cancun (From Cancun, will make stops in Playa del Carmen and Tulum). If you rented a car you can arrive through the federal highway 109 that you take from Tulum, and you must turn left at the first roundabout (the parking lot is worth $40). Another option is to take a private tour, usually include transportation to the ruins from any city on the Riviera, guide and other activities, is the best option to discover hidden places.