archeological site of Pre-Columbian Maya

Cobá (pronounced koh-BAH, with the stress on the second syllable) is a large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It is about 90 km east of the Maya site of Chichen Itza, about 40 km west of the Caribbean Sea, and 44 km northwest of the site of Tulum, with which it is connected by a modern road.

Nohuch Mul pyramid

Cobá is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by about 300 BC. The bulk of Cobá's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900, with most of the dated hieroglypic inscriptions from the 7th century. However Cobá remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish. It was a transportation hub, the center of a network of roads called sacbeob connecting it to other Maya cities.

Cobá, like all archaeological sites in Mexico open to the public via INAH, is free to Mexican citizens on Sundays and national holidays.

Understand edit

Carved stellae, like this one, tell the tale

Cobá is a well-explored and documented but lightly developed archaeological site deep in the Yucatan jungle. Temperatures are usually hot and humidity is often very high. Snack bars, shops, and a restaurant are located near the site entrance. Limited tourist services are available once inside the site, so plan to bring water, mosquito repellant, a hat, and sturdy shoes because the trails are not paved and the site is big.

Get in edit

You can drive to Cobá from Tulum (approx. 45 minutes). The 2-lane road passes through several small Mexican villages where you can stop for a bite to eat or to buy some local handicrafts. From Cancún or Playa del Carmen, take highway 307 south to Tulum, and then turn inland where marked.

There are several ADO buses every morning to Cobá from Cancún (3 hr), Playa del Carmen (2 hr) and Tulum (1 hr), and two each afternoon out again at 13:30 and 15:30. One direct bus to Tulum leaves at 15:11. Buses stop directly outside the park,a little restaurant besides the park entrance which doubles as the bus ticket office. From there the entrance is across the car park. In lake Coba you may see crocodiles on the lake shore, well below the road. The bus from Tulum to Cobá with Oriente leaves daily at 08:36, 11:36, 15:36, 18:37 for M$61 from ADO bus station.

Entrance to the park is M$100. Only cash is accepted, but there are ATMs and exchange offices on the square in front of the entrance.

Get around edit

Rent a bike to get around the Coba archaeological site

The distance from the entrance to the main pyramid is over 2 km. Bicycles are available for rent for M$65 (July 2022), and bicycle rickshaws and drivers are available to take you throughout the site; using one or the other is a good idea. Note that tall visitors may have difficulty finding a bicycle of suitable height. Bicycles are not allowed onto the ruins themselves, so walking a short distance at each group of buildings is inevitable.

Local guides are available for walking or biking, and are extremely knowledgeable.

See edit


The site consists of a large complex of ruins, only a small portion of which have been cleared from the jungle and restored by archaeologists. The Nohuch Mul pyramid is 42 m (138 feet) high, and is the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan. There are several other buildings of interest including several temples, an ancient gallery of carved stellae, an astronomical observatory, and at least two ball courts.

The Iglesia is one of the first structures you come to as you hike (or bike) into the site. It is partially restored and visitors were once able to climb up its 75 steep stone steps, though since 2020, climbing the pyramids has been prohibited. The Iglesia had a platform at the top for ceremonial offerings and once had stucco friezes along the walls and staircases, though only traces of the painted stucco surfaces remain.

Rounded corners on a pyramid at Coba

Architecturally, the site resembles some of the structures of Peten sites such as Tikal, particularly the high towers of the Nohuch Mul temple. Some of the temples show rounded corners, arches and elements that are reminiscent of sites such as Uxmal.

One of the most archaeologically interesting features of Cobá is the network of elevated roads that emanate out from the city towards other Mayan cities. These roads, called sacbeob ('sacbe' sing.), are thought to have been equivalent to an interstate highway system, enabling easy transportation throughout the Mayan world.

Buildings at Cobá are clustered in groups, such as the Grupo Cobá, Grupo Nohuch Mul, and Grupo las Pinturas.

The entrance fee for the site is M$100 (November 2022) There is a special visit on offer in the evenings for M$225.

Do edit

It is no longer permitted to climb the structures in the area.

Cenotes edit

Cenote Choo-Ha

Three cenotes are located about 3 km from the archaelogical site. Stop and take a swim in the underground pools for a refreshing Mayan way to cool off. Each cenote charges a nominal entrance fee. Rest rooms and changing areas are provided. Showers are required before swimming in the cenotes. The three cenotes are:

  • Multum-Ha
  • Tankach-Ha
  • Choo-Ha

Buy edit

There is a small pueblo near the ruins, with some restaurants and small shops selling local crafts. The Yucatan Maya are best known for their woven handcrafts, including hats, baskets, birdcages, and furniture. Small towns between Coba and Tulum have large numbers of weaving workshops that welcome visitors to see how weaving is done and to see the best selection of merchandise.

The best spot for artesanias on the road between Coba and Tulum is the small Mayan village of Francisco Uh May. The town has dozens of artisan workshops, most specializing in woven furniture and baskets, but several with carved wood decorative arts and locally woven cloth. There are also some spas, restaurants, and guest houses if you wanted to stay off the beaten path.

Eat edit

At the entrance to the ruins and at the Nohoc Mul group, cold beverages and snacks can be purchased.

  • El Bocadillo Restaurant in Cobá pueblo that also functions as bus station. Simple menu with tasty local dishes. Prices remarkably low given the advantage offered by ADO patronage at a tourist location.

Drink edit

Sleep edit

Several small hotels are available in the local pueblo, some within walking distance of the archaeological site.

  • 1 Coqui Coqui Coba Residences & Spa (Papolchac), Carretera Costera Laguna Lado Sur, +52 984 168 1600. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Upscale luxury hotel for the demanding guest. Rustic ambiance with stone walls, walkways, and patios. Some rooms have fireplaces, some have his and her bathtubs. Gourmet dining in the restaurant or served in your room. Parking available, WiFi. M$5000.
  • 2 Hotel Itza Coba, Calle 7, esquina con Calle 6, +52 984 160 9947. Check-in: 15:00, check-out: 12:00. Comfortable moderate hotel with modern amenities and spacious rooms. Breakfast is available. Hammocks available in rooms. Swimming pool on site. WiFi available. M$1000 (Jan 2024).

Go next edit

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