We knew we wanted to take the kids to a Mayan Ruin during our trip to Mexico, so after visiting Punta Laguna nearby, we stopped at Cobá in the afternoon. Coba covers a large area and has the largest Mayan Pyramid (at an impressive 137′ tall) – plus, you can climb the pyramid – all factors that drew us to visit the site.
Coba is about 2 to 2.5 hours south of Cancun, and there are plenty of signs to guide you there. We also used Google Maps and had no problems finding it. There is a large parking lot (free), which accommodates plenty of tour buses as well.
We paid for entry at the ticket counter (very cheap), and entered the park. One thing about these sites is that you are not provided a map, so we ended up hiring a guide, “Atila”. (There usually are signs at the different structures, but hard to navigate or understand the history around the ruins).
The tour wasn’t cheap (I believe around $30 USD), but we would have been lost if it weren’t for having a source of information. It helped to have a guide to explain the basics of the pyramids, and Atila was prepared with lots of information, including laminated pictures to help us understand Coba better.
We walked around the “Coba” section of ruins with our guide, exploring the different structures there. The Coba Group consists of the structures closest to the entrance of the ruins, where you can see some ball courts and La Iglesia.
Cobá covers a very large area, and may have had the largest population out of all the ancient Mayan cities, with an estimated 100,000 residents.
This photo is the base of La Iglesia, by Stelae 11 (stelae are stone slabs which have drawings and glyphs that tell us about events and history of the ruins).
The Coba ruins date back to 600-900 A.D. I loved imagining the bustling city that once inhabited this area.
We visited the infamous ball courts, where players had to pass a hard, rubbery ball through a small circle.
The “VIP” tunnel, as Atila called it – for the leaders to enter important events (such as games and other performances).
The observatory is a neat place, as we hadn’t seen other rounded structures at ruins, and is a very interesting part of Mayan architecture.
Once we were done with our guide and the first Coba section of the ruins, we had to make a decision as far as getting to the next section, Nohoch Mul. You can walk, rent a bike, or rent a bike taxi. The walk is a couple miles round trip, and while I could have managed it if I were on my own, we had two very tired kids who had spent the entire morning swimming, and the afternoon was winding down, so we opted for the bike taxi. The taxis were about $9 USD each (if I remember correctly). A big part is that I think it was a great experience for the kids. And in hindsight, we were all tired, so I appreciated not having to walk another couple miles!
The ride was fun, with our guides biking as fast as they could through the jungle, passing one another and dodging around people who were walking along the trail. (I would have considered walking if it was just my husband and I, and we were not on a time budget. The path did seem to have adequate shade and would have made for a relaxing walk under other circumstances!)
Our taxis stopped about halfway to the main pyramid so that we could check out some of the buildings along the way. In late November, days are short and the taxi ride made it possible for us to see more of the ruins before it got dark.
The Ixmoja Pyramid is impressive, with 120 stairs leading to the top. We walked up slowly, with our 8 and 10 year old, and had no problems making it to the top. Keep in mind that not only is this one of the largest pyramids, it is a great experience to be able to actually climb it, because for instance, you cannot climb the large “El Castillo” pyramid at Chichen-Itza. (Interesting story – we got married in 2003, and back then, you could climb the temple at Chichen-Itza).
At 137′ high, the views out across the jungle are incredible. The area at the top is small, and was crowded, even though it was late afternoon and seemed like a lot of tourists had left.
You’ll want to take your time heading up and down the pyramid. There is a rope going down the center, and while it wasn’t as much about the physical intensity of going up and down the stairs, you need to be careful with all the tourists going up and down, watching your footing, and so on.
The rocks are very smooth going down, from years of people sliding down on their behinds. Add in a little powder from the ruins and it makes for a very slippery surface. I made sure the kids took their time.
After checking out the main Pyramid, we hopped back on the taxi and headed back to where we started.
We checked out some souvenirs and stopped by the bathrooms before heading back to our rental place in Tulum. There are a variety of places to eat and shop in Coba, and I had seen signs for coconuts for $1.50 USD, so we stopped for those as well. On the way in to Coba, we stopped for lunch at Restaurante Chile Picante, which was very nice.
We had a great time visiting Coba, and the late afternoon timing was great, as the crowds were thinning out. There is so much to see here, and the setting of walking or biking through the jungle and exploring the different structures are very nice. We could have easily spent much more time exploring Coba, but the kids got to see lots of neat things and it was getting dark out.
~ I think the best times to visit would be right when they open (before the large tourist buses arrive), or late afternoon (when we went).
~ Wear comfortable shoes for walking.
~ Bring money for bike rentals, bike taxis, souvenirs, food
~ We brought hats, but most of the ruins were in the shade.
Our other Mexico posts:
Our Mayan Riviera wedding
Aldea Zama condo rentals, Tulum
Avant Car Rental, Cancun
Cenotes Casa Tortuga, Tulum
Coba Ruins, Coba
Fiesta Americana Villas, Cancun
Muyil Ruins, Tulum
Hacienda Tres Rios, Playa del Carmen
Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, near Coba
Xcaret, Playa del Carmen
Yal Ku Lagoon, Akumal
Zazil Kin Beach, Tulum