A Guide to the Cobá Ruins in Tulum

The Coba ruins are one of the most important archeological sites of the Mayan world in Mexico, and they’re only a 50-minute drive from Tulum. The site still remains mostly unexcavated with an estimated 6,000 structures still mostly hidden in the thick jungle.

This is one of the few pyramids in Mexico that you’re actually allowed to climb. The site of the Coba ruins is such a large area that it would take around 2-3 hours to explore the whole place. They have bicycles for rent which allows you to explore much faster and is more enjoyable.

In our opinion, this ancient site is one of the best day trips you can do from Tulum. Now let’s get into some history of the Coba ruins and some tips and advice for when you get there.

History of the Cobá Ruins

The name actually means “water stirred by the winds”, due to its proximity to two large lagoons and the layout of the landscape creating a windy environment. First discovered in the 1800s, it was mostly forgotten about and ignored due to the difficulty of accessing the ruins in the lush jungle and harsh terrain.

The ancient city of Coba was founded around the 1st century AD and at its peak had an estimated 50,000 inhabitants living in several connected settlements stretching over 80km squared.

Visitors climbing the Nohoch Mul pyramid

It is the site of the largest network of stone causeways in the Maya world, connecting many different sites even hundreds of kilometers away. The Coba ruins are home to the second largest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula, Ixmoja at 42 meters, only surpassed by the ancient site of Calakmul in Campeche to the southwest.

Coba remained an important site for the Maya, even up until the Spanish arrived in the 15th century. Coba shows influences of Teotihuacan architecture and also must have had close ties to the city-states of Calakmul, Tikal, and Dzibanche. It is thought Coba lost most of its power and influence due to the rival Chichen Itza around 1000 AD.

Cobá Ruins Tips and Advice

First off, we recommend renting a bicycle to get around the ruins, which you can find right at the entrance to the site. Because the place is so big, it can easily take over an hour to explore this place, even on a bike. Some come prepared, bring water, sunscreen and snacks.

The ruins are open from 8 am to 4 pm every day. The cost to enter is 80 pesos, and parking is 50 pesos.

Be sure to arrive early in the morning as it can get really hot and very busy later on in the day.

What to do at the Cobá Ruins

The main thing to do of course is to climb the main 42 meter (137 feet) pyramid known as ‘Ixmoja’ or Nohoch Mul, which means ‘large hill’. This is one of the tallest pyramids in the Yucatan peninsula, second only after Campeche.

With 120 steps to the top, this is one of the only pyramids that you can climb in Mexico, of course, this is a must-do to enjoy the view of the Mayan jungle all around you.

The view from the top of Nohoch Mul

With a rope in going up the middle of the path to help you climb up, it’s actually quite easy although you may get really hot. The view from the top is definitely worth it.

Biking around the Coba ruins you’ll realize how big the place actually is. Notice how it’s connected by a series of around 50 white roads, known as ‘sacbes’. These range from 10 to 30 feet and were important for trade and commerce, illuminating at night under the moon to allow travellers and merchants to find their way.

There are 4 separate groups of pyramid complexes, you will easily see them all if you have time. But a must-visit is Xaibé, which is thought to be an ancient astronomical observatory. Meaning “crossroads” in Maya, it’s connected by several white roads.

The ancient astronomical observatory of Xaibé

Don’t miss the ball court, where the old Mayan game of “pok-ta-pok” was played. This court has two parallel walls with ball rings, and also panels on the wall of prisoners.

East of Coba is Lake Macanxoc and the Macanxoc group of ancient structures which have largely been unexplored and unexcavated.

Interesting Mayan skull carvings found around the site

After exploring this amazing Maya site, feel free to cool off in the nearby cenotes of Choo-Ha. Tankach-Ha and Multum-Ha. Choo-Ha is the closest and probably the nicest: it’s a shallow water, crystal clear blue open-air cenote.

How to get to the Cobá Ruins

Getting to the Coba ruins is quite easy from Tulum, following the “Coba road” from the first intersection in Tulum. As always, we recommend renting a car that will allow you to stop at many sites along the way, such as the many beautiful cenotes surrounding Tulum and this site.

If renting a car isn’t within your budget, you can take a colectivo from Tulum which is located on the corner of Tulum Ave (main highway) and Calle Osiris Norte. You will see Coba-Tulum written on the side of the minivan. The times and prices seem to differ, but it runs from early morning until the evening.

Another option is an ADO bus from the main ADO Tulum terminal. We recommend taking the early 7:20 am bus to avoid the crowds at the site. The cost is around 50 pesos and takes about an hour to arrive.

The most expensive and easiest option is, of course, a taxi which will run you about 400-500 pesos each way. You can find taxis all over Tulum, simply wave them down on the main streets.

To return to Tulum from the Coba ruins, you can take a taxi or ADO bus again. You can find ADO tickets near the parking lot entrance, you won’t miss the massive sign. The price was around 90 pesos and leaves at 3:15 pm, you can also take the Mayab buses from 5-7 pm. You can also wait for a colectivo on the main road and wave it down, but this may take a while and is not a guarantee.

If you love ancient archeological sites, check out our extensive guide here for the best ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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