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How to visit Coba Ruins: the best itinerary and practical tips [2022]

In this post, you will learn everything you need to know about the Coba ruins, from practical tips to interesting and fun facts about this ancient city.


We will share the best itinerary and how to make the most of your time in this incredible Mayan city.

The Cobá ruins are one of those places that hold many surprises and can leave a mark if you know about their secrets. 

Let’s find them out so that you can enjoy the place as much as we do.

Cobá is located very close to the Riviera Maya and it is one of the most visited archaeological sites in this area after Tulum. 

Its strategic location allowed it to be the commercial capital of the place for many years during the Mayan civilization. 

Cobá is a very attractive area for visitors because you can climb the tallest structure in Quintana Roo, you can ride a bicycle and you can see animals such as ocellated turkeys and monkeys (if you get there early in the morning). It is a beautiful walk through the Cobá jungle.

We are going to find out the importance of Cobá, its secrets, and significant details that will help you enjoy the site with the eyes of an explorer. 

Curiosity is what makes us enjoy these places the most. 

COBA RUINS AND LAGOON

SOME HISTORY OF THE COBÁ MAYAN SETTLEMENT

There are three reasons why Coba is so important:

✔ the network of roads that connects Cobá both internally and externally 

✔ the many stela that have been found 

✔ its 42-meter-high structure. 

These three factors undoubtedly reveal the importance of the place. Let’s take a closer look at each of them. 


1. PATHWAYS IN COBÁ

In the Mayan language, a path is called sacbé (the plural, paths, is sacbeoob).

In Cobá there are up to 50 paths. Two of these roads reached places like Ixil, 20 kilometers away, and Yaxuná, the great road 100 kilometers away.

Others lead to nearby places between 2 and 6 kilometers away.

These roads undoubtedly allowed them to have control over other groups and to have a large network of trade routes.

At first, Cobá was more connected with the Petén and later with the gulf of Mexico.

The widest sacbé is 20 meters (known as sacbé 9) and leads to the well-known group of Macanxoc, where the stelae are found.

The huge width of this road indicates the great importance of Macanxoc.

sacbe coba paths
1930 photo of the sacbe. INAH Media library

2. STELA OF COBÁ

The Macanxoc group, the least visited of Cobá, preserves true treasures in the form of stelae and altars. The stelae and altars basically narrate important events such as conquests or coming to power. 

They are accounts of governors and are dated, which allows us to have chronological information on events and governors. 

The most significant one in Cobá is Stela 1, since to date it is the only one that has been found to have four Long Count dates inscribed on it (we leave the complex Mayan calendar for another occasion).

One of these dates on Stela 1 refers to the Mayan era that ends on December 21, 2012, a day that has been interpreted as the “end of time” of a cycle (misunderstood by many as the End of the World according to the Mayan, which in fact, has nothing to do with it).

We believe that it is worth visiting this group of Macanxoc and its illustrious stelae, even if we don’t know much about it.

You will be in front of open books of ancient Mayans, so exciting! 

estela 1 coba
The emotion of being in front of stela 1 of coba 🙏

3. NOHOCH MUL

The highlight of Cobá is climbing the structure of Nohoch Mul (great mound), which is the highest in the state of Quintana Roo.

Its 42 meters high and give us an incredible view of the jungle. Don’t miss these incredible views. The structure is 100 meters per side.

Nohoch mul coba
coba ruins

As it appears, Cobá was one of the most important Mayan cities in the northern lowlands, as well as the one that lasted longer.

Without a doubt, its strategic position and its good commercial relationship were vital in its tremendous development. 

Let’s see its chronology and development by stages in Cobá.


CHRONOLOGY 

  • ✔ CHRONOLOGY: 100 a. C.- 1450 d.C 
  • ✔ APOGEE: Middle Preclassic to Late Postclassic 800 BC – 1000 BC

MAYA PHOTO CHRONOLOGY

100 BC to 300 AD

There is evidence of settlements in the 5 Lakes area, which consisted of villages dedicated to gathering and hunting.

300 AD to 600 A.D

Growth of economic and political power 

600 AD to 800 AD

During this period a great network of roads was built, as well as the stelae. Stelae are essential in history as they indicate names, events, and dates. The stelae of Cobá provide us with priceless information.

800 AD to 1000 AD

Once the road network was expanded, new structures were erected and commercial relations with the Gulf were strengthened. During previous years, the greatest economic link was with the Petén.

1000 AD to 1450 AD

Its hegemony begins to weaken. Its great rival was Chichén Itzá, which eventually defeated it, even though Cobá stayed occupied for longer than Chichén. In fact, it continued to exist as a religious center and commercial station.


Did you know?

✔ Cobá is the only archaeological zone that you can visit by bike

✔ You will be able to climb the tallest structure in Quintana Roo, the 42-meter-high Nohoch Mul temple

✔ Cobá is one of the few pre-Hispanic settlements that maintain its original name.

✔ Stela 20, the best preserved at the site, has the latest date from Cobá: November 30, 780 AD. 


The Mayan architectural style of Cobá Ruins

In Coba architecture, we can clearly find the influences of the Petén architectural style but with an evident local imprint. Cobá was also influenced by many different places even far away. 


Meaning of Cobá

Coba means “chopped water”. Its location amongst 5 lagoons (Cobá, Macanxoc, Sacalpuc, Yaxlaguna, and Xcanhá) was basic for the name of the city. 

It is one of the few ancient Mayan cities that retained its name, as the stelae show us.

These lagoons were vital for the development of intensive agriculture in this area and its expansion. 

coba ruins aerial view

COBÁ EXPLORATION HISTORY

Since before the arrival of the conquerors, Cobá remained abandoned for 3 centuries until the explorer John Lloyd Stephens gave written notice about Cobá in 1842.

He was traveling with his companions Frederick Catherwood and Samuel Cabot from Chichén Itzá to Tulum and learned of Cobá on the way to Tulum thanks to the priest of Chemax.

He did not get to visit it, because Tulum was his priority, although he left a written report in his famous book Viaje a Yucatán 1841 – 1842.

Forty more years would pass before a visitor reported on Cobá (1882). It was Juan Peón Contreras, who was director of the Yucatan Museum, who made some sketches of the place.

Nine years later, in 1891, Teobert Maler left as a legacy the first photograph of the place, the only surviving one from his visit.

In 1926, the Carnegie Institution of Washington began a series of expeditions with noted archaeologists and epigraphers that produced valuable work published in 1932.

Among them are Thomas Gann, M.D, Alfred Kidder, Eric Thompson, Jean Charlot, Sylvanus Morley, Harry, and Pollock.

Cobá is widely documented, and it was an important place for many archaeologists and epigraphers.

Other researchers passed through Cobá until 1972 when the INAH took over the place for exploration, mapping, consolidation, and rescue works until the site was opened to the public.

If you want to learn more about the history of Cobá we recommend this site.

teobert maler coba 1981
Teobert Maler Coba 1981. INAH media library

An interesting fact about Cobá that not many know

The documented stelae give us evidence that 2 women, Ixic Yopaat and Ixic K’Awaiil Ajaw, were part of the Mayan rulers of Cobá. T

They are part of the dynasty of 14 governors that existed in Cobá. During the mandate of Ixic K’Awaiil, in the first half of the seventh century, Cobá reached a level of authority and power comparable to what Tikal and Calakmul were at the time.

That gives you another reason why we love Cobá as girls! 😉

estela 1 coba

HOW TO GET TO COBÁ

From Cancún, take the federal highway number 307 south to the town of Tulum, where you take highway 109 towards Cobá. From the detour to Tulum it is 47 km.

MEXICO STATE: Quintana Roo


How to get Cobá by car

Coba Ruins are located:

► 176 km (109 miles) south of Cancun (2 hr 30 min by car)

► 110 km (68 miles) south of Playa del Carmen (1 hr 30 min by car)

► 47 km (29 miles) from Tulum town (50 minutes).

► 60 Km (37 miles), 50 minutes by car from Valladolid

Renting a car on the Riviera Maya is something you would want to do if you want to be free to move around and discover all the amazing sites in the region.

It’s a relatively safe place to drive, the roads are good and the sites are well marked. Therefore traveling by car is a very good option.

However, remember, if you decide to get a car rental, make sure you include full insurance with 0 deductible so you will drive with no stress.  

When renting a car in Mexico we recommend Discover Cars because on their website you can compare different companies and their prices and you can choose between their car insurance or the ones offered by the car rental directly, or both.


How to get Coba by local bus

Big coach bus: from the ADO bus terminal in Tulum and Playa del Carmen buses leave for Cobá. Schedules change, so it’s always best to go to the terminal to get the correct information.  Or you can check on the ADO website 

Mini van (collective): buses leave from Tulum Main street right in front of the Municipal Palace of Tulum. Not many leave and sometimes it is difficult to return by bus from Cobá.


How to get Coba by taxi

A taxi is the most comfortable way to get to Cobá from Tulum for sure, but also the most expensive one.

Taxi drivers have fixed official rates, though, so before agreeing make sure they show you their price list.

You should also arrange with the taxi driver to come and pick you up at a certain time.  

From Tulum then it is easy to move around by large bus to Playa del Carmen or Cancun.

COBÁ MAP

There are several ways to explore the main structures of Cobá, we will explain the itinerary that we like to do make the most of it with few people, and cover everything. 

The main structures in Cobá: 

✔ La Iglesia 

✔ Grupo Cobá

✔Juego de pelota

✔ Grupo Nohoch Mul

✔ Estela 20

✔ Gran Plataforma

✔ one more Juego de Pelota 

✔ Templo de los Frescos

✔ Grupo de las Pinturas

✔ Estela 1 

✔ Grupo Macanxoc

mapa coba inah
Coba INAH’s map

Coba ruins suggested itinerary

We love to arrive early to visit Cobá: from the entrance, we walk almost 2 kilometers to the main temple, Nohoch Mul, so we can enjoy the views in peace and tranquillity.

On this 2-kilometer road, there are several structures such as the Ball Game. 

We will visit them on the way back when you can appreciate several mounds on the sides that have yet to be cleaned up. 

You will see a detour through sacbé number 9 (the widest in the area) towards the Temple of the Frescoes and the Group of Paintings (look in the upper temple for the remains of beautiful blue, yellow and red paintings).

Then we’ll continue to the Macanxoc Group. Here we enjoy the trails and the history that has been written in stones. This is a very beautiful walk. 

We will leave the best for the last as we visit what is known as Grupo Cobá and the Church, which are located at the entrance of the Cobá ruins.

This set is the one with the most structures, and it makes a very beautiful ending to our tour.

Nohoch Mul
Coba ruins ball game
Juego de Pelota
Coba temple la iglesia
Temple La Iglesia
Stela

PRACTICAL INFORMATION OF THE COBA RUINS

Coba ruins Facilities

  • bathrooms
  • souvenirs shops
  • certified guide service
  • bike rental and tricitaxi rental at entrance (a driver will take you). 

Cobá ruins opening hours

Open every day from 8 am to 5 pm. Last access at 3:30 pm


Cobá ruins entrance fee

85 MXN (4 USD) per person

✔ On Sundays, the entrance is free for Mexican and foreigners with permanent residence. 

✔ Access to the Mayan ruins is open every day for kids up to 12 ys old, students, teachers, and seniors (must show ID).

✔ Parking is 100 mxn per car (5 USD) 


Tips for visiting Cobá

✅ Use comfortable light clothing and shoes (very important to climb the big temple, flip flops are not a good idea to climb).

✅ Sunshades, hat.

✅ Bring a bottle of water and keep in mind that you cannot walk in with food or alcoholic drinks.

✅ Big backpacks are not permitted

✅ You can hire a certified guide at the entrance


How much time do you need to visit Cobá Ruins?

It depends a lot if you go to the Maxcanxoc Group because this detour means about 30-40 minutes more on the route. It also varies if you ride a bike or walk. If you are going to do everything on foot, calculate between 2 hours and 3 hours. 

The simple route lasts between 1 hour and 1 hour and 30 minutes.

We usually take a lot of time, as we like to observe things well, take pictures and enjoy the trails.

INSIDER TIPS – If you go early in the morning it is very likely that you will see ocellated turkeys (a beautiful bird endemic to the Peninsula) and spider monkeys. Our recommendation is that you sleep in the town of Cobá.  We love the place and there is much to discover.

coba ruins aerial view

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE ABOUT COBA RUINS

Coba mayan site is very close to the Riviera Maya and it is a very popular place for organized tours. After 10 am it gets very crowded. The good thing is that the groups of tourists do not cover all of Cobá, the Macanxoc group is very rarely visited.


WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT COBA RUINS

We like many things about Cobá: its interesting history, the walk through the shade of the trees, observing animals, the possibility of cycling around the site, the trails, and of course the views.


THE HIGHLIGHTS OF COBA

The main highlight is going up to Nohoch Mul, the 42-meter-high temple. It’s incredible 

Seeing the green carpet of the jungle from above is amazing. Several other hills can be seen that stand out from the flat terrain: they are other archaeological remains in the area that haven’t been brought to light yet.

Enjoy the landscape of the heights in Cobá

Nohoch Mul Pyramid close

WHAT YOU CAN VISIT NEARBY COBÁ

In the town of Cobá, there are several cenotes that you can visit, and from Tulum, there are many other great attractions from beaches, cenotes, and other archaeological sites.

Also on the Tulum-Cobá highway, there are several Coba cenotes.

Here is our pick: