Coba Mayan Ruins – “The Water Stirred by Wind”

The many ruins dotting the Mexican states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo are unsurprisingly popular due to their proximity to the resorts of the Mayan Riviera. Transportation and infrastructure are well developed, making day trips inland easy to arrange whether independently or as part of an organised excursion.  Chichen Itza in Mexico with its perfectly restored pyramid and Tulum with its unrivalled Caribbean cliff top setting receive thousands of visitors each year necessitating the instigation of measures to manage erosion and damage.  But so far, the Coba Mayan Ruins in Mexico, a lesser-known attraction less than an hour by car or two hours by public bus inland from Playa del Carmen, has escaped such management.

Partially restored pyramid in the Coba Mayan ruins Mexico
Partially restored pyramid in the Coba Mayan ruins in Mexico

The history of the Coba Mayan Ruins

Its history dates back around 2000 years, the peak of its dominance between 200 and 600AD. Coba, meaning “water stirred by wind” was a powerful city state controlling local trading routes and overseeing large areas of farmland.  The many female rulers established effective alliances with city states such as Tikal, in what’s now Guatemala, and ensured they had ample water supplies.  By 900AD, however, things had started to change and Chichen Itza, further inland, began to dominate local politics, leaving Coba to focus on symbolic and religious matters instead.  Eventually, around the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century, Coba was abandoned.

Coba Mayan ruins Mexico: Transport around the site
Transport around the site

Exploration leads to transportation

The Coba Mayan ruins site in Mexico was explored by archaeologists and explorers in the 1920s and 1930s but tourism really only took off after a road was built in the 1970s. Excavation work was begun in 1972 and by the 1980s a bus service was started.  Today it’s easy to reach the site by car, coach or by regular public bus.  The site is relatively large and under the heat of the Mexican sun, it’s advisable to hire a cycle rickshaw.  The cycle rickshaw rider will also double up as a guide, though it is possible to hire expert guides as well, should you wish.

Coba Mayan Ruins Mexico: The rope helps
The rope helps

A worthwhile climb

Cycling through Coba’s jungle setting , keep an eye (and ear!) open for howler monkeys and tropical birds. There are several interesting structures, including an observatory and a ball court.  Most visitors head for Nohuch Mul, a pyramid over 130 feet high.  Unlike Chichen Itza’s Kukulkan pyramid, it’s still possible to climb the one at Coba, so long as you have a good head for heights and can negotiate the uneven and narrow staircase to the top with only a rope to help prevent a disastrous fall.  The view from the top is worth the fear factor.

Hurrah for the sacbe

It’s also possible to see some of the “sacbe”, the ancient roads that criss-cross the area, radiating out from the Coba Mayan ruins, Mexico into the surrounding rainforest. What’s odd is that although they used the roads to assist with trade, the Mayans didn’t use the wheel to transport goods.  It makes you wonder why they built roads of such high quality, but the smoother the ride you get in your cycle rickshaw, the happier you’ll be that they did.

If you’re planning to visit, there are few hotels in Coba where you can stay.

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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