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Protected Stele at Coba

Protected Stele at Coba


The Mayan ruins of Coba are located inland from the coast of the Riviera Maya and are easily accessible from either Cancun or Tulum. Coba gets many fewer visitors than either Tulum or Chichen Itza, giving it a tranquility that the other sites do not have.

Coba is located between two lakes and is close to three others. Surface water is not common in the Yucatan peninsula and the presence of the lakes is certainly part of the reason the Maya chose this spot to build their city. The name "Coba" means something akin to "ruffled waters" a name which fits a place close to so much water.

A Large and Largely Unexcavated Site

Coba was once home to around 50,000 people. This is similar to the number of people who lived in Chichen Itza at its peak. Coba was a Late Classic period settlement (600 ad - 900 ad) but also experienced a building boom in the Early Post Classic period (925 ad - 1200 ad) after the Toltec arrived and established a presence there.

Corbel Arch under La Iglesia, Coba

Corbel Arch under La Iglesia, Coba

Of the 6500 buildings which have been found at Coba only 2% have been excavated. If you peer into the woods at Coba you will see many "hills" which are actually unexcavated buildings. There are 20,000 platforms at Coba upon which were once the thatched roof homes of Coba's residents

Recent Excavations

During excavations at Coba in 2004 archaeologists found a stele that is unique in the Mayan world, it is covered in hieroglyphics and has no pictographs at all. Archaeologists still do not know the full significance of this find.

During these same excavations archaeologists restored the second practice ball court. At Coba the ball game was played by important people, and not by slaves as many people think. However, bloodletting rituals traditionally followed Mayan ball games at Coba; slaves were forced to participate in these. This differs from what was practiced at the later site of Chichen Itza where the captain of the winning team was beheaded after the game.

Toltec Arrival

Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Prior to the arrival of the Toltec in 975 ad the Maya at Coba did not practice human sacrifice, but afterwards they did. The Toltec arrival also meant that the usage of some buildings at Coba was changed. Some new structures were built after the Toltec arrival as well.

Nohoch Mul Pyramid

The largest pyramid at Coba is called Nohoch Mul, which means "large hill". It is 42m high and is the tallest ancient Mayan structure in the Yucatan, taller even than the pyramid at Chichen Itza. Of the ancient Mayan pyramids only the pyramid at Tikal, in Guatemala, is taller than Nohoch Mul. Visitors cannot climb the pyramid at Tikal, but they can climb this one. The view from on top of this pyramid is precious, and unbroken expanse of jungle in all directions that is full of birds.

Many buildings in the Mayan world had other structures built over them, often 52-year cycles. This regular adding on explains the grand sizes that many of these structures reached. Some structures at Coba have up to 7 building layers.

White "Security" Roads

Xaibe: The Lookout Tower

Xaibe: The Lookout Tower

Coba has a large building called Xaibe that was used as a lookout tower. This immense building is interesting in that it a square-ish shape but has rounded corners. This building has sacbeob, which are the raised roads the Maya built, going out in 4 directions from it (the singular of sacbeob is sacbe). These roads were kept clear of trees and because they were made with white limestone one could see a long way down these paths, even at night. The main sacbe goes almost 100 km to the west, almost to Chichen Itza. This road was built before Chichen Itza existed; it goes to the ancient Maya ruin of Yaxuna. Part of this sacbe has been restored at Yaxuna. Of the other sacbeob at Xaibe one goes east to Pole (which is now Xcaret) and another goes south to the site of Muyil, southwest of Tulum.

Bicycles and Bici-Taxis for Rent

The excavated buildings at Coba are somewhat spread out, making walking between them a time-consuming prospect. The management at Coba has remedied this problem by providing inexpensive bicycle rentals to those that want them (they even have kids bikes). They also have bicycle taxis for hire by anyone who doesn't wish to ride his, or her, own bike.


Mexicans and Mexican residents get into all Mexican Archaeological sites for free on Sundays.


Getting There

Coba is located only about 44 kilometers (28 miles) inland from the shores of the Riviera Maya. It's a direct shot to get there from Tulum but from Cancun or Playa del Carmen you need to take a less than direct route.

Biking at Coba

Biking at Coba

From Cancún

Coba is 131 kilometers (about 108 miles) from Cancun. To get there take Avenida Lopez-Portillo going west, this becomes the Cancun-Merida Road. We always take the Libre (freeway) at the edge of Cancún, rather than the faster Cuota (tollway). When you reach the town of Nuevo Xcan, take the marked left towards Coba. The road is narrow but in good condition. Coba is about two hours from Cancun via the Libre.

From Tulum

Coba is 44 kilometers (about 28 miles) from Tulum. To get there take the well-marked road to Coba from the light in Tulum. The road travels northwest. The road is in good shape and this trip takes just half an hour.


Parking at Coba is $15 pesos (less than $1.50 usd).

What to Bring

What’s Nearby

Close to the entrance to Coba are some small souvenir shops and a couple of little restaurants. The town of Coba is not large but does have a few restaurants and some hotels.

Suggested Reading

Errors and Omissions

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