Tips for Exploring Coba and Its Ruins With allTOURnative Tours | Mayan Encounter | Part 1
When talking about Coba, most people think of the ruin in Quintana Roo just 30 minutes away from Tulum and 90 minutes from Playa Del Carmen. Sure, for the most part that’s correct, but Coba is actually the ancient Mayan community that at one point in time inhabited over 55,000 people during its peak time. Surrounded by the Mayan jungle, Coba spreads over 30 square miles to the Honduran border and several large lagoons of murky waters, the “Coba Lagoon”, which is located at the entrance of the park and “Macamxoc”, situated inside the park. The main pyramid in Coba is actually called Nohoch Mul, which I had the experience of climbing the ruin and exploring the many other archeological sights in the Mayan community with AllTOURnative Tours. The “ Exploring Coba” is just one small part of the Mayan Encounter tour that is offered by AllTOURnative tours. Keep reading for tips on touring below!
Coba meaning, “Waters stirred by wind or ruffled waters”, dates back to 50 AD and was believed to be an urban hub of many settlements that joined many Mayan communities connected by sacbes, meaning “wide roads”. The sacbe’s were roads that were used to transport goods for trade with other Mayan communities. The longest sacbe was over 100 kilometers (62 miles) west to the community of Yaxuna, a site near Chichen-Itza. All the sacbe’s or “wide roads”, begin at the main ruin of Nohoch Mul and lead the roads out to the other communities. Everything that was transported was done at night, as it was cooler and less humid. The moon light that reflected off the white limestone of the ruin served as a night light throughout the routes.
At one point, around 900 AD Coba was affected by a terrible drought, which caused everyone in the jungle to leave, seeking shelter and ways to survive in other cities. It was also over populated with not enough food and water, resulting in total abandonment of the ancient Mayan community. For many years, there were no humans in Coba, which caused the jungle to eat all the buildings and ruins in the city, burying them underneath all its green dense foliage. Pictured below.
In the 1920’s, Coba was studied by various archeologist and came upon the Mayan city buried underneath the dense jungle and discovered over 50 Sacbe’s (wide roads) to other Mayan cities or communities. Currently there’s only 16 sacbe’s open the public. In addition to sacbe’s, archeologist also uncovered “steale” with drawings and glyph’s carved on them documenting historical facts of the ancient Mayan past. Steale’s are stone slabs, like pictured below. These stone slabs are scattered throughout the entire park for you to look at and if your lucky enough to get a private tour guide, then you’ll have a detailed explanation of the meaning behinds each steale.
Below is a short YouTube video on my experience with AllTOURnative Tours and climbing the ruin of Nohoch Mul in Coba.
Tips for Exploring the Mayan City of Coba
Get a tour guide! Make sure you get a tour guide prior to arriving in Coba. Skip the guided tours that are offered at the entrance and make sure you hire one before hand. Although its not necessary to get a tour guide, doing the tour on your own will not give you the same appreciation for Coba. I can’t say enough of how important it is to hire a tour guide who is knowledgeable and recognized by “EarthCheck” as a company that supports sustainable development. A good guide will provide you with accurate history and also giving back to the local Mayan communities. AllTOURnative Tours also partners with Mayan communities to create Eco-tourism projects that help preserve the environment and the Mayan heritage. Read more HERE on their sustainable projects. In addition, many teenagers in the Mayan community are not able to finish school due to lack of educative resources and the need to assist their immediate family with income. With that, many children loose certain skills that are otherwise taught in school and AllTOURnative partners with the local Mayan community offering them employment opportunities. One of those is that of photography. Many teenagers in the community will get hired part time to assist in tours in serve as the photographer, so that tourist are able to set their phones and cameras down and enjoy the tour. Our photographer happen to be the son of our Shamam who gave us a blessing prior to entering the Mayan community. The price for the pictures is about $30-40 US dollars for the entire day.
The tour we took was called The Mayan Encounter, which included the $75 Mexican peso entrance fee for the Coba tour, a blessing with the Shamam, Kayaking in crocodile waters, zip-lining over the crocodile waters, swimming in a cenote and lastly, rappelling 17 meters down into a cenote (sinkhole). Part two of this blog post will be on the rest of the Mayan Encounter Tour and will be ready soon!
Pictured above are one of two ball courts where the Mayan used to play in order to have time go by or sometimes to sort out differences. The ball courts were used to play a game deep in ritualistic, religious, political, and cultural significance, known as Ulama (or simply the Mesoamerican Ballgame).
Arrive EARLY!!!!!! I can’t say that enough. Besides the fact that its very hot and humid, it’s very important you arrive early in order to beat the crowds of buses. Yes, even though Coba is not as popular as its neighboring ruin of Chichen-Itza, its still gets crowded and the climbing up the main ruin can get very scary with a lot of tourist. Click HERE to read my last article on Chichen-Itza. The top of Nohoch Mul, the main ruin has some of the best views of the jungles of Quintana Roo and trying to get the perfect picture with the least amount of tourist will be more difficult as the afternoon progresses. My recommendation is to climb the ruin first before exploring the rest of the park. Plan about one and half to two hours to explore the park.
Bring cash! Cash is important if you want to ride a bike or take a limo taxi to the main ruin or pyramid considering its about 1.5 miles from the entrance. One of the best and quickest ways to explore Coba is by biking or taking a limo taxi. My personal favorite is exploring the park by bike so that you can ride straight to the ruin and then take your time riding back, exploring the rest of the archeological structures. But you can also walk (about 20 minutes), which will take longer or you can take a limo taxi, but don’t forget to tip your driver!!! The cost is about $50 Mexican pesos for a bike rental or approximately $75 Mexican pesos for a limo taxi.
You can walk to the ruin, but in the summer months that 20 minutes walk can get very brutal with the heat. Once you walk past La Iglesia and the Ball Courts, you will come across a booth with bike and limo taxi rentals rentals. Remember that bike rentals and limo taxis are first come first serve, so make sure you arrive early to get a good size bike with a basket.
Bring water!!! Due to the heat, you want to make sure to drink lots of water so you stay hydrated. If you forget to bring a water bottle, outside of the park you can purchase snack and drinks to bring inside the park. But please remember to dispose all your trash in the proper bins and take care of our enviroment and Mayan community.
Use safety when climbing the ruin and bring a backpack! Nohoch Mul Ruin is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula so safety is important when climbing it, as its stands over 137 feet, taller than Chichen-Itza. There’s 120 steps to climb on the way up and 120 on your way down. Be most careful on your climb down, as its more difficult going down than going up. The steps are steep and slippery, so wearing good shoes and using the rope provided in the middle of the ruin is very important. I would say that I’m a pretty active person and healthy, but I still was out of breath climbing up and on the way down. The right side of the ruin is for going up and the left is for going down. Your backpack is important in order to have both your hands on the steps on the way up and on the rope on your way down. Remember, SAFETY first!
Stop half way up the ruin and take in the beautiful views of the dense jungle like in the picture below. The make sure you take your time at the top of the ruin and take in the panoramic views of the Quintana Roo jungle that crosses your entire eye span.
Each bump that you see popping up means there an undiscovered ruin buried by the dense Mayan jungle like in the picture below.
Check out the rest of the archeological structures after you climb the main ruin. The majority of yourist that come in from Cancun, Playa Del Carmen and Tulum arrive closer to noon, so the sooner you get to climb the ruin the better. My suggestion is to stop at all the other archeological sights after your climb and take your time taking pictures and the history.
Bring a SNACK! Believe me you will get hungry, especially if you decide to take a tour with AllTOURnative. They will feed you adn they will provide waters, but the lunch is n’t served until the end of the tour. I was so luckly I wiped out my mini fridge of all the snacks and brought them with me because I ate throughout the day. Especially when you burning all those calories! Remember that there are shops outside the park with water and snack for sale, including beer!
Bring biodegradable sunscreen and bug repellent! Yes, even during the day there were bugs out there biting the heck out of my legs.
If you bring any video equipment (GoPro or DLSR) make sure you hide it in your backpack. If the people at the entrance see you with a camera or video equipment, they will have to charge you an additional VA tax fee. Drones are not allowed in Coba.
Visiting ancient Mayan ruins is always something I enjoy doing. However, Coba has to be one of my favorites so far. Not only for its off beaten path, history, but also because its one of the only ruins that you can climb in the Yucantan Peninsula and its the tallest. Due to its unpopularity compared to Chichen-Itza, Coba has less visitors yearly and thus keeping the ruin more intact. Taking the tour with AllTOURnative was the best decision because it provided us with a very knowledgeable guide named Rebeca and it picked us up at the front of our hotel lobby in Playa Del Carmen early in the morning. The air conditioned tour bus accommodates approximately 14 passengers and the drive only took about two hours from our hotel in Playa del Carmen to Coba. The price for the entire Mayan Encounter tour with AllTOURnative was $112. Coba Park is open daily 8am to 5pm with a current entrance fee of approximately $5 U.S dollars.
***** This tour was sponsored by AllTOURnative Tours. A special thank you to the funniest and best tour guide Rebeca.