No trip to Mexico is complete without a visit to one of the famous Mayan ruins. Unlike the popular Chichen Itza or Tulum, the Coba ruins have a more authentic look, with trees and bushes growing from the pyramid stones. The remote location, fewer tourists, and access to the pyramid’s peak make Cobá one of Yucatan’s most beautiful Mayan sites. If you want to know more about exploring the Cobá ruins on your own, read the entire article!
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Short Info about Coba Ruins
Almost 2,000 years ago, deep in the heart of the jungle, the Mayans established the city of Coba. The proximity of two freshwater lagoons made the population grow and flourish. Soon, pyramids, homes, and plazas began to appear, estimating approximately 6,500 structures at the time. Home to almost 50,000 Mayans, the largest population of all the Mayan cities, Cobá ruins were an important trading center for the Mayan world.
Unfortunately, due to the ongoing war with the city of Chichen Itza, the city began to fall, and in the 14th century, when the Spanish conquered Mexico, it was abandoned. For centuries, Coba lay untouched until Mexican officials decided to reopen it as an archaeological site. Excavations of the site began in 1970, but barely a few of the structures have been uncovered. Only in 1980 did Cobá become a tourist destination.
Now, the Coba Archaeological Site is a popular tourist attraction and the perfect choice if you desire to glimpse the fascinating Mayan civilization without the crowds of Chichen Itza.
Getting to Coba Mayan Ruins
Renting a car is a pretty common way to discover the Yucatan Peninsula. Driving in the Yucatan Peninsula is safe and easy. The roads are in good condition, and you will always find a proper parking place. The rental prices are low compared to other places in the world, and the traffic is good. I would suggest doing that if you plan to do a lot of exploring on your own.
The best site to book a rental car in Mexico is Discover Cars. This easy-to-use booking platform compares car rental deals from many trusted companies, which enables them to secure the best car rental prices. This is the easiest way to rent a car in the Yucatan.
Tulum – Coba, 47 KM, 50 minutes
Valladolid – Coba, 60 KM, 55 minutes
Playa del Carmen – Coba, 110 KM, one hour and 30 minutes
Cancun – Coba, 130 KM, two hours
Book a tour
On the other hand, traveling around Yucatan is easy when you choose organized tours and you can get great prices when you book in advance. Exploring the Coba Ruins with a guide might be suited for you if you want someone else to do the job for you. Here is my selection to make it easier for you.
Check out this TOUR from Cancún: visit Cobá, a Cenote, Tulum and Playa del Carmen on a day trip. Discover the Mayan Riviera first-hand on a guided day trip from Cancún, with hotel pick-up and drop-off included. Swim in the clear waters of a sacred cenote, marvel at the old Mayan cities of Tulum and Cobá, and visit the coastal resort town of Playa del Carmen.
Check out this TOUR from Cancun and Riviera Maya: visit Tulum and Coba. Learn about Mayan history, archaeology, and culture. Explore the ancient Mayan cities of Tulum and Coba. Swim in the clear water of the cenote.
Check out this TOUR from Playa del Carmen: discover the two most important Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo: Coba and Tulum. Go for a swim in a sacred cenote of the Maya civilization. Enjoy Mayan culture with a local guide.
Colectivos are pretty common throughout the Yucatan Peninsula. The name comes from “vehiculos de transporte colectivo” (vehicles for collective transport”), reflecting their origin as shared taxis. It is safe, quick, and affordable.
Just make sure you know the Colectivo stations in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum. There is no schedule; the Colectivo will leave the station as soon as it fills up. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a Colectivo to leave a station.
Colectivo in Cancun. You will find the Colectivo terminal near the main ADO bus station in the parking lot next to Mega supermarket. It will take no more than 2 hours to reach the ruins.
Colectivo in Playa del Carmen. The Colectivo terminal is on Calle 2 Norte between Avenida 15 and 20 in Playa del Carmen. It takes around one hour and 30 minutes to reach the ruins.
Colectivo in Tulum. You can find the Colectivo station on Tulum Avenue’s corner (the main highway) and Calle Osiris Nte. The journey takes around one hour.
ADO is a reputable bus company that operates in Mexico. Their buses are clean and well-maintained. The Ado bus is a convenient, cost-effective way to reach many places in the Yucatan Peninsula, even the Coba ruins. Just make sure you know the stations in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum
Cancun. ADO bus terminal in Cancun is at Calle Pino. The journey takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Playa del Carmen. ADO bus terminal in Playa del Carmen is at the corner of Benito Juarez and Quinta Avenida. The journey takes no more than two hours.
Tulum. ADO bus terminal in Tulum is at Tulum Centro. The journey takes no more than one hour.
Best Time for Exploring the Coba Ruins
No matter what time of the year you plan on visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, the best thing is to go early. If possible, when the site opens ar 8 AM. Coba Ruins are popular, especially because of their proximity to Valladolid and Tulum, and many day visitors and tours come here daily.
Getting around Coba Mayan Ruins
One important thing to note is that the site is large, stretching across 50 kilometers. While the excavated areas are not very far from the main entrance, they are still pretty spread out—the main pyramid at Coba is over two kilometers from the main entrance.
What I loved the most was that the ruins were totally sunk into the jungle. The archaeological site is so different from the famous Chichen Itza or Tulum; it is less touristy and excavated, and you can even climb some of the pyramids. Exploring the Cobá ruins on your own in Yucatan is possible? Yes, and you can either walk, bike or hire a taxi-bike.
The Coba Archaeological Site is open between 8 am and 5 pm.
Entrance fee: 100 pesos ($5 USD).
Allow two to three hours for the visit.
Walk inside the Mayan Site
It took us around four hours to see it all without rushing. You can walk 2 kilometers to the main structure of Nohoch Mul and another 2 kilometers back as it’s easy to walk around.
Hire a bicitaxi
You can hire a bici taxi if you have mobility restrictions. The guide will peddle the tricycle, take you to different sites, and explain the history of the Mayan ruins. Prices may vary between 140 – 200 pesos, depending on the route.
Hire a bike
The most popular way to visit Cobá is by renting a bike. You will notice a bike stand near the entrance from where you can rent one. It’s easy to bike around and the best way to defeat the heat. Exploring the Coba Ruins on a bike makes a fun and pleasant experience—bike rental is around 40 pesos.
Hire a guide and walk or bike.
There is no printed information at any of the sites, so a guide approved by the Archaeological Park is money well spent.
TIP: If you want to make some savings, ask another person, couple, or family to join your tour guide and split the bill. Hiring a local guide will cost you around 800 pesos.
Exploring the Coba Mayan Ruins
Near the entrance, you’ll find some artisan stands with Mexican handicrafts, a convenience store, and bike taxis.
Right after, you’ll discover a group of structures. One is Iglesia, the Church, the second tallest building here, at 22 meters tall.
Another impressive structure is the Ball Court, which you’ll find pretty much at every archaeological site in Yucatan.
Nearly every Mayan site had a ball game court, and the story is usually the same: Two teams of seven players performed a popular Mayan ball game.
Players used to rebound a small rubber ball through stone rings using only their hips, knees, and elbows. The game was played for official reasons or just for fun, but it was always a way to interact with the gods. Most of the time, the winning captain was sacrificed to the gods.
The park is pretty big, and the first few buildings right after the entrance are beautiful and worth exploring. Depending on how much time you want to spend on the archaeological site, you can search each location, walk every path, and discover the tunnels and pyramids.
There are structures with visible remnants of paintings, numerous stelae depicting ceremonial activities, and much more.
Welcome to a Mayan path! No, you are not walking on a path made for tourists, but on a Sacbe, a paved road made hundreds of years ago by the Mayans. You will find many Sacbes as you walk around the complex(around 9), and you will be thankful for them as they are covered by vegetation, protecting you from the hot sun.
The most important point of interest in Cobá is the Nohoch Mul, the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayan population used this structure for religious purposes, such as bringing sacrifices to the gods.
You can even climb the 42-meter-tall pyramid in the heart of the Nohoch Mul area. For how long? Nobody knows, but maybe someday in the future, it will be forbidden. Or at least it was during the Covid pandemic.
The 125 stones up to the peak are smooth to climb. From the top of the summit, you can savor a gorgeous view of the mysterious jungle, which is so peaceful and green. Just be careful when climbing the pyramid and especially when descending. There is a rope in the middle that you can grab on your way up or down.
Relax at a Cenote nearby
Exploring the Coba Ruins is better combined with swimming in a cenote. Now it’s time to cool down at one of the three cenotes nearby: Tamcach-ha, Choo-ha, or Multum-ha.
Just rent a bike and hit the 7 kilometers to reach them. The first two are next to each other. If you come early to visit the Cobá ruins, you still have enough time to visit all three cenotes. Otherwise, consider visiting one maxim two.
Tamcach-ha is the most amazing one, enclosed, with two platforms to jump off, one at 5 meters and the other one at 10 meters.
Choo-ha is also enclosed but not too deep, therefore, jumping is not allowed.
Multum-ha is spectacular and the deepest of the three. It is the best choice if you want to avoid crowds and is also an amazing snorkeling spot.
Tips for Exploring the Coba Ruins on Your Own
Visit the area early in the morning or late in the afternoon if possible to miss the crowds.
Please bring plenty of water since it will be hot during the day. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
Use mosquito repellent to keep you away from the insects. Bring a rain poncho or an umbrella since rain showers can occur.
Forget the flip-flops and wear comfortable walking shoes, especially if you climb the main pyramid.
There is a small stand from where you can buy drinks at the foot of the main pyramid.
Bring a swimming suit if you want to swim in one of the cenotes near the Cobá ruins.