Coba – Mayan Ruins & Cenote

Coba has the largest pyramid in the former largest Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula yet attracts few tourists. After exploring this fascinating ancient civilization, go for a refreshing swim at a cenote with the world’s second largest underwater cave system.

Share this
View MAP

1 Ixmoja Pyramid, Tallest Maya Temple in Northern Yucatán Peninsula

The Mayan civilization lasted more than 2,500 years and left behind over 4,000 archeological sites. The two most famous and visited ancient cities in the northern Yucatán Peninsula are Chichén Itzá and Tulum. However, the tallest pyramid in the region at 138 feet is Ixmoja at Coba, Mexico. Also called Nohoch Mul, this stepped pyramid measures almost 200 feet at the base. The surrounding ruins provide hints of what this city looked like when it was populated by 50,000 people.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

2 Ixmoja or Nohoch Mul Pyramid History at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

The centerpiece at the Mayan Ruins in Coba is Ixmoja or the Nohoch Mul pyramid. The base is believed to have been constructed during the Early Classic period (250 – 550 AD) and the temple on top during the Late Post Classic period (1200 – 1539). Its name means large hill or great mound. But some archeologists distinguish between the mound at right, which they call the Great Platform or the Monjas, and the Great Temple on the left built on this hill of stones.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

3 People Climbing Ixmoja Pyramid at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Ixmoja, also called Nohoch Mul, is one of the few Mayan pyramids you can climb. So it is a magnet for adventurous tourists. But a word of caution: the 120 steps are narrow and treacherous. It is best to slump over and brace against the stairs on the way up or to hang onto the rope. Your reward is a spectacular view of the ruins, dense jungle and nearby lakes. Getting down is best accomplished by the seat of your pants.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

4 Stela 20 of Ruler D at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Stela 20 is the depiction of an unnamed Myan king known among archeologists as Ruler D. He is standing on the backs of two captives with ropes around their wrists. Kneeling at his feet are two additional slaves with their hands behind their backs. Stela 20 is located in the Nohoch Mul Group in the X structure. It dates back to 684 AD.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

5 Xaibe Lookout Tower at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

The pyramid-shaped Xaibe is fascinating because it was used as a watch tower. It stands at the intersection of four major streets called sacbeob. These “white roads” were paved with limestone that reflected the moonlight. This made it easy for sentries to see people approaching at night. It also illuminated the path for travelers who wanted to avoid walking during the heat of the day. One of these sacbe stretches for over 60 miles.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

6 Sacred Ball Game Court at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

This is half of a sports court (alley) where the ancient game of Pok-A-Tok or Pitz was played. Two teams of seven athletes would compete in this vicious yet ritualistic game. According to Mayan beliefs, their deities enjoyed watching and admired the victors. So at the end of the game, the winning captain was honored by being beheaded. His reward was an immediate place in Tamoanchan (Mayan heaven). This sacrificial ceremony was common at Chichén Itzá (about 70 miles away) but perhaps not in Coba.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

7 Sacred Ball Game Hoop at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

During the Sacred Ball Game, Mayan athletes would try to hurtle a nine pound rubber ball towards this hoop. Scoring a point was incredibly difficult because they could not use their hands. Instead, they primarily used their hips to forward the ball. Often the game of Pok-A-Tok, which was also called Pitz or Ōllamalizti, would extend for hours and sometimes days. It was common for contestants to die during the competition. Some historians believe the sport dates back 3,000 years. This is Juego de Pelota, one of two courts you will see at Coba.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

8 Architectural Platforms at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

An element of Mayan architecture is the platform. On their pyramids, a temple was typically built on the top platform where religious ceremonies were conducted. Palaces were built for nobles, their leaders and the socially elite. They often had a tall platform at their base like this one. Wooden and thatched homes were constructed outside of the core city on small stone foundations. It is estimated there are 20,000 residential platforms surrounding Coba.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

9 Most Famous Stela 1 at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Over 30 Mayan stelae have been excavated at Coba. The most famous is Stela 1. It dates from the Late Classic period (550 – 830 AD) and was discovered in 1926. On each side are fading images of different kings. These carved slabs were used to record historical events and facts about rulers and their dynasties.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

10 Temple of Paintings at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Templo Las Pinturas is named after the frescos and paintings located inside. Unfortunately the Temple of Paintings is roped off to visitors. It was common in Mayan architecture to build massive pyramids like this for their temples. But then on the top platform they constructed a small stone or wooden building covered by a thatched roof. These were called triadic groups. The Temple of Paintings was built between 1,100 and 1,450 AD in the Post Classic period.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

11 Mayan Language and Stela 4 at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

The name “Coba” in Mayan means “water stirred by wind.” This seems appropriate because the city is located near lakes and lagoons. There are approximately 21 dialects of the Mayan language. During the pre-Columbian period of Mesoamerican history, the most common language in the Yucatán Peninsula was Mayan hieroglyphic script. Linguists have learned a great deal by studying the writing on stone slabs such as Stela 4 located in the Macanxoc Group.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

12 Excavation of Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Coba was first explored and documented by Juan Peón Contreras in 1882 while he was the director of the Museo de Yucatán. After over 130 years, you would think this Mayan civilization would have been well explored by archeologists. However, of the 6,500 identified buildings, only about 5% to 10% have been excavated.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

13 Corbel Arch at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Mayan pre-Columbian architecture did not use keystones to support their spans and vaults. Instead they constructed corbel arches. This resulted in small and narrow entryways. Most require you to bend over as you walk through in order to prevent hitting your head on the stone apex.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

14 Size of Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

The entire Mayan ruins at Coba extends for 27 miles. It consists of four major excavation groups. The most popular is Groupo Coba. So if you have limited time, then focus on it. The major landmarks at Coba are spread out among long roads cut through a dense jungle. If you want to accelerate your pace, consider renting a bicycle for as modest fee. You can also hire a driver of a tricycle to transport you from site to site.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

15 La Iglesia, Second Tallest Pyramid at Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

The second tallest building at Coba is La Iglesia at 74 feet. It is assumed this nine-level pyramid was constructed during the Late Classic period. This dates it from 550 to 900 AD. This was a temple where religious ceremonies were held. Stela 11 stands below a protective thatched roof at the base of the temple facing the plaza.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

16 Historical Timeline of Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Coba was established between 50 BC and 100 AD. At its peak during the Late Classic Period (550 to 900 AD), archeologists speculate it was a capital and home to 50,000 people. This makes it the largest city in today’s Quintana Roo state of Mexico. Historically, only two Mayan cities were larger: Tikal in Guatemala (about 100,000) and Caracol in Belize (about 140,000). Coba was abandoned during the Contact period (1511 – 1697) when Spaniards conquered the Yucatán Peninsula. In the background is the Pyramid Iglesia which is also called The Church.

Carretera Federal Tulum no. 307 Km. 47, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

17 Near Entrance to Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Unlike most major tourist attractions on the Yucatán Peninsula, no major paved road lead to the Coba Mayan ruins until the 1980s. Today the 27 mile ride from Tulum is fairly easy. But when you arrive, you may be surprised by its undeveloped appearance. But this remoteness is also a plus. You’ll encounter far less tourists than you do at other Mayan sites.

Coba Sunset, Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango 77780 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

18 Zip Line Tower Near Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Near the entrance to the Mayan ruins at Coba is this wooden tower for zip lining. You are hurdled 500 feet across a lagoon. Zip line rides are a popular tourist attraction in Mexico. But I am not sure why you would travel so far to see an ancient civilization and then take the time to go zip lining.

Coba Sunset, Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango 77780 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

19 Lago Macanxoc At Mayan Ruins in Coba, Mexico

Lakes are rare on the Yucatán Peninsula so many of the Mayan cities relied on cenotes. These sink holes gave them access to fresh ground water. The Mayan civilization at Coba, however, was surrounded by five lakes. This led to success in agriculture, allowing them to actively trade their crops with neighboring villages and even other countries. Lago Macanxoc is near the entrance of the Coba Group. Today this large lake is home to turtles and several species of birds including toucans.

Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango - Coba 175, Q. R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

20 The Town of Cobá, Mexico

The town of Cobá is a short walk from the Mayan ruins. It is very small with a population of less than 1,300 people. There is not much to see unless you want to get a bite to eat at a family-run restaurant. There are several that serve traditional Mexican food under their delightful thatched roofs.

Coba Sunset, Quintana Roo Nuevo Durango 77780 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

21 Cenote Options Around Gran Cenote Near Cobá, Mexico

There are an estimated 6,000 cenotes in Mexico so it easy to find one near you while on vacation. In the Tulum area there are nine. Some have intriguing names like the Temple of Doom and Carwash. This is the Gran Cenote which is one of the most popular. The Grand Cenote is located about four miles north of Tulum while on the road to the town of Cobá and the Mayan ruins.

QROO 109 Grand Cenote Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

22 Scuba Diving at Gran Cenote Near Cobá, Mexico

The Gran Cenote is one of best places for scuba divers because it has access to the world’s second largest underwater cave system. Sac Actun or White Cave reaches a depth of 70 feet and stretches for 110 miles! No wonder it is called “Grand.” 40 minute guided tours are available for certified divers.

QROO 109 Grand Cenote Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

23 Cenote Definition like Gran Cenote Near Cobá, Mexico

A cenote is formed when the earth’s bedrock collapses and exposes an underground well of groundwater. Over time, caves are created in the limestone with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and stalagmites rising from floor. The Mayans used cenotes for portable water. They also believed these sacred wells were doorways to the underworld.

QROO 109 Grand Cenote Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions

24 Woman Snorkeling at Gran Cenote Near Cobá, Mexico

Cobá, Mexico is hot all year with an average temperature of 88° Fahrenheit. So after spending most of your vacation swimming at the hotel pool or in the Caribbean, try a unique experience. A cenote. The water is clear, cool and refreshing. Plus the underwater caves are exciting to explore.

QROO 109 Grand Cenote Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Enlarge/Slideshow See On Map Directions
TOP