Location: Carretera Federal Tulum 307,
77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Hours: 8am-5pm Daily
Cost: $5 USD / Person
(without tour guides or bikes)
How to Get There: Drive, shuttle from certain hotels,
or take a tour buses.
What to Expect: Sprawling complex of crumbling ancient
Mayan pyramids, lakes, and hiking trails. In the spring and
summer temperatures can easily soar to 120+ degrees in
the humid jungle. We saw a few large snakes, so stay on
the trails unless you know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
What to Bring: 2L+ Water / Person, Money for Tickets, Appropriate Clothing, Camera.
What to Wear: Hat, Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Tall Socks, Sturdy Hiking Shoes.
*Note: all signs are in Spanish in Cobá, so download Google Translate before heading in if you can’t read Spanish
Visiting Coba was such an interesting and unique experience, and the ruins are absolutely beautiful. Cobá is an ancient Mayan city, which now lays mostly in ruin located in the Yucatán Peninsula in Quintana Roo, and home to the tallest Mayan Pyramid that can still be climbed. The ruins are much more degraded than those at the Parque Nacional in Tulum or Chichen Itzen, likely because for most of its history as a tourist destination, visitors were allowed to climb all over just about all of the ruins, however climbing is now limited to the tallest, main pyramid, and a few other smaller structures. At its height, this place was home to more than 50,000 Mayans, but is now mostly abandoned.
After parking our rental car in the parking lot, we walked about 1/3 mile up to the ticket booth and purchased our tickets for about $10 USD for the two of us. We didn’t bother to get a guide and instead opted to do a self-guided tour. Although we had left our hotel in Tulum around 8 and arrived by 9am, it was already nearly 100 degrees, and it was HOT. I highly recommend brining at least 2L of water per person if you’re going to be walking back to the main pyramid like we did, because inside the jungle it is hot, humid, and exhausting to walk the couple of miles back to the main, climbable pyramid and even to Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc. According to the thermometer on my backpack, it was 116 degrees back in the jungle, but it felt like we were sitting inside a hot car in the middle of summer. By the time we reached the pyramid, we had finished off our water (we had only brought about 1.5L total). We climbed to the top of the pyramid and took in the breathtaking surroundings (as pictured above), and we were thankful for a gentle breeze at the top. The climb back down was treacherous and definitely not something I’d attempt in a dress, skirt, flip flop, or heels. There is a rope that visitors can use to steady themselves, and I highly recommend hanging on to it, especially on the way down because the stones are smooth and slippery.
Once we were back on the ground, I could tell I was starting to go from heat exhaustion to dangerously close to heat stroke, because I was getting extremely dizzy, nauseous, and I had stopped sweating. I’m in pretty good shape and have never felt as tired and sick from doing something like I did that day. Thankfully, a couple of fellow tourists noticed how sick I was and came up to us and offered me a bottle of water. We sat and talked with them in the shade a bit while my new friend María fanned me with a guide book, and her husband told us about the history of the pyramid, and they said that they see people pass out here at least once whenever they visit, because they underestimate the heat. I was so thankful for their kindness, and that I had studied Spanish so long that I was able to talk to such interesting people for so long!
Like many other historical sites around the world, Cobá too has a dark history. Ancient Mayans practiced human sacrifice here for a few hundred years at the top of the tallest pyramid in Cobá, the very same one that can still be climbed by visitors today. While the view from the very top is absolutely incredible as you can see above, I don’t know that we would have chosen to climb it had we known that people had been sacrificed at the top platform of the pyramid, and had their heads thrown down the stairs from the top of it centuries ago. After talking to our new friends and learning this gruesome fact from them (and verifying it once we got back to our hotel), it felt a bit disrespectful to climb a place where people had been killed, so just be aware of that fact before adventuring to the top so you can make an informed decision.
In addition to hiking and exploring the ruins of Cobá, there are bike rentals at the front (or you can hire a rickshaw), plus there’s swimming, snorkeling, and diving in the lakes nearby. You could also pay a bit extra to take a ghost tour of the city to learn about the darker history of the area, but we skipped that too.
I hope this guide was helpful, and that you get the chance to visit this amazing archaeological site!
Farewell, fellow adventurers!
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