The ancient city rises through the jungle
Coba is beautiful and mysterious - a visit here requires some effort but
is very worthwhile. Its name means "ruffled waters", derived from the five
lakes in the vicinity, and it is one of the oldest Mayan settlements on the
peninsular. It also has the highest pyramid in the area and the greatest
sacbeob (Mayan roads constructed from stone. Singular: sacbe) ,
both of which suggest a major city - yet the ruins were not discovered until
the late 19th century. Even today, only a small fraction of the many
structures in this vast site have been excavated and this, together with the
remoteness and jungle setting, contribute to the feeling of exploring new
Coba is one of the oldest settlements in the Yucatan. Its name means
There is a collection of wooden stalls selling artifacts and refreshments
around the entrance to the site. There are no other refreshments available
on the site, so stock up here and prepare for walking through the jungle
with good shoes and lots of insect repellent.
You will need to walk at least 3km to see the biggest pyramid; the main
routes are on wide, well signed paths but there are many smaller tracks
leading into the jungle which you may wish to investigate. Some are visibly
very short but for others a guide (there are usually several around the
gate) is advisable.
Allow at least half a day to see the main structures and try to avoid the
heat of the day. There are no crowds here, as Coba is not on the tour bus
routes, and any other travelers you meet will be of the serious kind rather
than the bikini-clad tourists at Tulum. Opening times are the usual 8.00am
to 5.00pm. Toilet facilities by the entrance are basic but clean, a small
fee is charged for their use.
Coba was a thriving city from around A.D.600, although it had been
settled for around a thousand years before this date. It is more similar to
Tikal in Guatemala than to its Mayan neighbors, and depictions of female
Tikal royalty on several stelae found here have led to speculation that
there was at least one marriage between the royalty of the two cities.
Bring a hat and imagine you're Indiana Jones...
Another interesting feature of Coba is the convergence of around forty
sacbeob, built by the Maya, one of which has been traced a distance of 60
miles (100 km). Each sacbe was constructed with stones to a height of one to
two meters and then covered with white mortar. Their purpose is puzzling as
this civilization had no wheeled transport and had yet to see the horse, but
may have been built for religious processions and pilgrimages
The first group of structures (Groupo Coba) is within view of the
entrance. Here is La Iglesia, a pyramid over 65 ft (20 m) high and
the second largest at Coba. The steps are steep and crumbling, and climbing
had been prohibited on our last visit.
The Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Back on the main path, follow the signs to Nohoch Mul, the
largest pyramid, over a mile (nearly 2 km) away. The walk is interesting as
there are several stelae, protected by palapa roofs, shown where they were
discovered and there are many more unexcavated mounds along the way. This is
also a good chance to observe the jungle life; butterflies, birds and
insects abound but the path is wide and foliage well cleared.
Nohoch Mul is a staggering 136 ft (42 m) high and towers above the
jungle. The steps are disintegrating in places (look for shell-like carvings
in others), but climbing the pyramid is not too difficult. Descending is
more so, but rest for a while at the top and admire the scenery - miles of
jungle, lakes and a good view of the site as a whole. The temple, which
crowns the pyramid, was added later and is similar in style to those at
Tulum; there is a carving of the descending god at the entrance.
On the way back from Nohoch Mul, another smaller path leads to
Conjunto Las Picturas (Temple of the Paintings) where fragments of
color can be seen in some murals at the top of a four tiered pyramid. As you
return, look for remains of sacbeob along the path and ponder the mysteries