Visiting the ancient Maya ruins are on everyone’s “must-do” list when they visit the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. The first one people think of is Chichén Itzá— one of the “7 Wonders of the World”. Since it’s about 3 hours inland from Cancun, the visit is not always possible. Cobá is older than Chichén Itzá, much larger than Tulum, and you can still climb the pyramid! It’s only about a half-hour inland from Tulum and the road also has many cenotes (natural openings into underground rivers) you’ll want to explore on your way back. For people curious about the Maya calendar and its calculation that a new era began on Dec. 21, 2012, you’ll be pleased to know that Cobá has the stela (carved stone) with the Long Count inscription. It’s said that when the 5,200-year Long Count of the Maya calendar ended, the world experienced a “rebirth”.
Around 100 AD, the area around Cobá grew, and with it an increase in its social and political status making Cobá one of the biggest and most powerful city states in the Yucatan. Beginning around 900 AD, Cobá started a lengthy power struggle with Chichén Itzá, and after 1000 AD, Cobá lost most of its political weight among city states. It did, however, maintain some symbolic and religious importance and new buildings were constructed between 1200-1500 AD. Cobá was abandoned at the time the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550.
Unlike the flat expanse surrounding Chichén Itzá, or being along the Carribean like Tulum, Cobá is in the middle of a lush, green jungle. Bring mosquito repellant! The site is very spread out which also necessitates having good sneakers and lots of water. The Nohoch Mul Group of ruins contains El Castillo, which rises high above the canopy. Except for a pyramid in Campeche, over 200 miles inland, this is the tallest pyramid in Yucatan, outreaching El Castillo at Chichén Itzá. It takes about 50 minutes walking to get to El Castillo, or you can rent a bike at a stand just past the entrance. Another option is to hire a “triciclo” and driver to carry you around the site. Smart trike drivers also park at the pyramid to carry hot and tired passengers back to the entrance. If you’ve climbed to the top, you just might want that ride back!
The climb to the top of El Castillo is not for the faint of heart. The 120 steps are very steep and you might need to rest a few times on the way up, but the view at the top is worth it! There’s usually a nice breeze to cool you down also. Consider packing a picnic lunch and eat overlooking the jungle. The easiest way to get back down is backwards, like you would descend a ladder, holding the rope. It also helps that you’re not looking down!
Times: The site is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, sometimes longer.
Costs: Admission is $70 pesos, free for children younger than 12. Parking is about $50 pesos, and video camera permits are 41 pesos. To get to the pyramid, you can take Maya Taxi (similar to a rickshaw trike with a driver) for about $125 pesos for 2 people, or rent a bicycle for about $50 pesos per person.
Tours: There are many tours available which normally include a guide, transportation (either a large bus or a smaller 10-12 passenger bus), and often some side trip options like cenotes and a local village (from $40 USD pp-$130 pp USD). If you’d like to explore more on your own time frame, the guides at the front of the park are about 600 pesos for a one-hour tour.
Transportation: Cobá is also easily accessible by renting a car, using the public buses/collectivos, or hiring a taxi. There are three morning 1st class ADO busses that leave from Playa Del Carmen, stop at Tulum, and continue on to Cobá. The cost is 86 pesos each way and takes under 2 hours. From along main highway in the Riviera Maya, you can take a colectivo (11 passenger van) to the Tulum ADO station. From there, the ADO buses are 38 pesos one way to Cobá, and there are also 2nd class buses a bit cheaper. Taxis are available at Cobá for the return trip for more flexibility.
Tips: Get to Cobá as early as you can as the big tour buses start arriving around 10 am and you’ll avoid the hottest part of the day. Don’t forget to bring mosquito repellant and extra water and wear sturdy walking shoes! If you plan to go cenote hopping after the ruins, please use biodegradable bug spray and sunscreen to protect the delicate ecosystem.
by Denise Ackerly
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