Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Coba, Mexico

Katie and I visited the Myana ruins of Tulum and Chichén Itzá on our last trip to Mexico, so we decided it would be fun to visit Cobá this time. Cobá is about a 90 minute taxi ride from Playa Del Carmen. We were able to rent a taxi for the day for 1300 pesos, but one could also book a tour bus or take the public ADO bus (like Greyhound in the US).

We left our resort at Playa Del Carmen at 7 AM Monday morning and arrived at Cobá by 8:30 AM. There were very few others there when we arrived, which is what we were counting on. I am not a big fan of crowds. The entrance fee was 57 pesos per person.

From Cobá interpretive sign, "The city of Cobá covers an area of around 70 kms., and the principal groups of buildings are situated near the lakes of Cobá and Macanxoc. It has an important network of white roads (sacbeoob) of varying lengths, which connect it with other building groups and prehispanic settlements. The most notable example is Sacbé 1, which is 100 kms. long and reaches the site of Yaxuná near Chichén Itzá. The major roads or causeways were built between 600 and 800 A.D. During this same period of time, the stelae of Cobá were erected. These were sculptured stone monuments on which the basic events of the ruling class were registered. The inhabitants, who did not belong to this social class, lived on the outskirts of the central zone and their dwellings did not differ much from the ones inhabited by present day Mayans. It is estimated that the population of Cobá in the 8th century was approximately 55,000 inhabitants. Between 800 and 1100 A.D., construction development reached its peak. The classical architectural style of Cobá resembles more that of the Petén of Guatemala than that of northern Yucatán. By the time of the Post-Classic period, Cobá lost its superior force and other cities from along the coast, such as Tulum, Xcaret, Tankah, and El Rey, began to flourish."

Entrance Signs at Cobá Ruins     Map of Cobá, Mexico

At the entrance, you can rent bicycles or taxied tricycles, but we chose to walk around the ruins. There are several miles of trails that lead to and from the various groups of ruins.

The first complex of ruins we explored was the Cobá group. From the interpretive sign, "Lying between Cobá and Macanxoc lakes, this is the largest concentration of buildings in all of Cobá. It comprises 43 structures, various courtyards, vaulted rooms, a grand plaza, a Ball Court and several stelae. Six sacbeoob branch out from this group. The building known as the Church (Iglesia) (1) is formed by nine, round-cornered bodies, which reaches a height of 24 meters. It has various construction stages, each built upon the preceding one. Construction began in the Early Classic period (300-600 A.D.) and the last modification was made during the Post-Classic period (1000-1450 A.D.). At the foot of the Church stands Stele 11 (2) with circular altar. The Ball Court (3) is of the open kind and consists of two parallel buildings."

Cobá Group of Ruins Sign     Cobá Ruins
Ball Court at Cobá Ruins     Cobá Ruins
Katie at Cobá Ruins     Cobá Ruins
Sacbe (the white road) at Cobá Ruins     Stele with Drawings and Glyphs at Cobá Ruins
Cobá Ruins     Large Ant Nest in Tree

The next complex of ruins we explored was the Conjunto Pinturas group. Being at Cobá early in the day was proving to be real advantageous with almost no crowds.

From the interpretive sign, "This group of buildings mostly corresponds to the last period of occupation in Cobá. Building I (1) has a temple on its upper part whose frieze and lintel were richly painted on their interior side, as well as with a stele. Structure III (3) probably had a roof made out of perishable materials and in front of it are 13 small altars, suggesting the ritual character of the complex. Two other stelae, 26 (4) and 28 (5) are found in their respective sanctuaries at the extremes of the complex. this group of buildings belongs to the last period of occupation of the cit of Cobá. Its architectural style pertains to what is called the east coast style, which corresponds to the Post-Classic period (1100-1450 A.D.)."

Conjunto Pinturas Group of Ruins Sign     Cobá Ruins
Cobá Ruins     Jason on Cobá Ruins
Katie on Cobá Ruins     Looking up through the Trees
Katie Having Fun at Cobá Ruins     Cobá Ruins
Another Ball Court at Cobá Ruins     Stelae with Drawings and Glyphs at Cobá Ruins
Flowers at Cobá Ruins     Well at Cobá Ruins

The Nohoch Mul group of ruins is about 1 km from the major intersection. This is where the famous Nohoch Mul pyramid that can be climbed is located. We were excited to climb the steps (Katie counted about 120 in all) to the top.

From the interpretive sign, "This group covers an area of 2,400 sq. mts. and was built atop a natural elevation. It boasts the tallest structure in northern Yucatán (42 mts). This building, known as Nohoch-Mul (1), coming from the Maya nohoch meaning big, and mul meaning mound, is comprised of seven bodies with rounded corners and two stairways on the southern side. The upper temple corresponds to the Post-Classic period (1100-1450 A.D.) and in the niches of the facade one can observe a descending god. The Grand Platform (2), which is the most voluminous structure in Cobá, is apparently an unfinished structure. In front of building X (3), stands Stele 30, the best preserved of all those found in Cobá to date, which is inscribed with the date November 30, 780 A.D."

Nohoch Mul Group of Ruins Sign     Nohoch Mul Pyramid at Cobá
Bird Near Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Looking Down the Side of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
View from Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Building on Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Jason and Katie on Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Jason and Katie on Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Katie on Steps of Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Katie Climbing Down Nohoch Mul Pyramid

After going up the steps to the top of the pyramid and then back down, I wanted a little more adventure. The sides of the Nohoch Mul pyramid do not have stairs and make for a fun way to the top. The right side was not roped off, so I figured it was okay to climb. It was nothing hard, but definitely more fun than the steps. I found a couple short vertical pitches and scaled the pyramid to the top. About three quarters of the way up I heard one of the local guides say, "En este lado no señor!" which means don't go up that side. It was too late by then and I assume he was just concerned for my safety. He didn't give me any problems when I came back down the steps.

Looking up the Side of Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Jason Climbing up the Side of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Jason High up the Side of Nohoch Mul Pyramid     Jason Almost to the Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid

The last group of ruins we explored was the Macanxoc group located about 1 km from the major intersection. By the time we arrived at this last group, we were getting tired from the heat and humidity of the jungle. Luckily there were no mosquitoes this time of year. Unfortunately we didn't see any monkeys either.

From the interpretive sign, "One reaches this group by taking Sacbé 9, which is 20 mts. wide and leads directly to Stele 1. This stele is sculpted on all four sides and has 313 hieroglyphs. The group was built upon a large terrace and its buildings, unlike others in Cobá, lack a careful distribution. There are eight sculptured stelae and numerous other monolithic altars unassociated to them. The large concentration of stelae concentrated here suggests that the group had a very important civic-ceremonial use."

Macanxoe Group of Ruins Sign     Stele with Drawings and Glyphs at Cobá Ruins
Stele with Drawings and Glyphs at Cobá Ruins     Cobá Ruins

As we were hiking back toward the entrance, we began to see hoards of tourists. Our timing was perfect. Back at the entrance the parking lot was nearly full of cars, vans, taxis, and tour buses. We ate at one of the restaurants near the entrance before heading back to Playa Del Carmen. Cobá is a great place to visit for those who have already seen the other more popular ruins. We recommend getting there as early as possible as it adds to the more primitive feel of the site.


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