Coba ruins are among the most interesting Mayan sites in Mexico. The perfect place for a day trip from Tulum, they are incredibly spread out – a detail that I had not factored in when I visited. This is also the only Mayan site in the entire Yucatan Peninsula where climbing pyramids is still allowed – and as such, it’s a favorite of tourists who enjoy climbing up the pyramids for impressive jungle views.
If you are looking for information on visiting Coba Mayan ruins, you are in the right place! In this post, I will share all the information you need to visit the site, with facts about its history and unmissable sights and tips that will help you plan your visit, including how to get there from Tulum Pueblo and Cancun. Continue reading to find out more!
Make sure to read my posts The Best Day Trips From Tulum and The Best Things To Do In Tulum.
Everything You Must Know Before Visiting Coba Ruins
The history of the Coba Ruins
Coba was once an important city of the ancient Maya civilization – a very important city. In fact, it is thought to have once been home to over 50,000 inhabitants at its peak, between 600 and 900 AD.
The importance of Coba lies not only in the fact that it was once a great settlement, but also that many of the roads (called sacbe in the Mayan language) are well preserved. This gives experts and visitors alike an insight into the layout of the ancient streets of Coba where people once lived and worked.
The crowning glory of Coba is its step pyramid. This is the largest pyramid in Quintana Roo and the second largest in the entire Yucatan Peninsula.
The ruins are surrounded by thick jungle and are lesser trodden than sights such as Chichen Itza, so you certainly feel like you’re having a more Lara Croft experience than simply being on the tourist trail.
When you’re here, with all these large structures almost swallowed by the jungle, it’s hard to imagine how it could have ever been full of all the life that would have come with being one of the largest Mayan cities. Thankfully, however, there are numerous artefacts that have been left behind that tell the tales of what life in the city was like.
Top sights in Coba Ruins
Being the large archaeological site that it is, Coba can be hard to navigate at first. The key is understanding just what the top sights are. To give you a helping hand, here’s what you should be on the look-out for!
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Standing at over 32 meters (138 feet), the impressive Nohoch Mul is the centerpiece of Coba Ruins. This breath-taking structure was built using techniques characteristic of the Maya people in the Peten region of Guatemala. Alongside the multicultural architecture, there are stories that tell the tale of Coba’s queen marrying a priest from Tikal, thus explaining why both its pyramid and Coba’s are similar in structure.
Thankfully today, this towering monument can be climbed, and it’s not roped off like virtually all pyramids in Mexico. There are 120 crumbling stone steps that lead up to the top where you can get views of the surrounding canopy and just imagine what it all looked like 1,400 years ago. Climbing the pyramid is not for the faint of heart: the steps are very steep and I don’t recommend this if you get vertigo!
Conjunto de Pinturas
Conjunto de Pinturas, otherwise known as their archeological title “Group D”, is a collection of five structures and 13 altars that make up a group of ceremonial buildings. Most impressive of all is the Temple of the Frescoes, a pyramid named for the remains of murals at its peak.
There’s also another temple Xaibe, which means “crossroads” in Maya, due to the sacbeob (plural of sacbe) that converge near the building (this gives an inkling as to where this sat in the city’s plan). This structure is unusual in that it is made up of five circular portions with curved, sloping sides that meet at a cornice at the top.
Just past the Conjunto de Pinturas is the Macanxoc Group. Made up of eight stelae and various altars, this group is thought to have been purely a religious site, with no evidence of residential buildings in the vicinity. The stelae here were carved in the seventh century, and feature fascinating glyphs and depictions of life in the city.
Back in its heyday, Coba was practically an urban hub, and that shows in the ancient Mayan urban planning at work here. Raised roads called sacbeob linked up different areas of the city, as well as smaller settlements. Also known as “white roads” – due to the fact that there is evidence to suggest they were covered in limestone plaster – they range between 10 and 30 feet in width and were mainly built for commerce.
The longest sacbeob discovered range from 60 to 100 kilometers (between 37.2 and 62.1 miles), making them truly a part of long distance travel in the Mayan world. It’s amazingly interesting to see this part of the ancient world away from the static pyramids of the elite.
Stelae are a particularly important key to understanding Coba. These stone monuments, sort of like carved ancient signposts to document history, are made of tall, sculpted pieces of stone and are seen throughout the Mayan world. They often feature glyphs and imagery of life, historic events, and mythology.
In Coba, the stelae uncovered document interesting facts – for instance, the city had many female rulers, as many women depicted on its stelae seem to be in positions of power. Hieroglyphic inscriptions also tell the tale of major events through the city’s history, such as wars and marriages, as well as societal goings on.
Cenotes Near Coba
One of the perks of visiting Coba is that there are a few nearby cenotes. Public transportation unfortunately doesn’t get there, but if you have your own car, they are all within easy driving distance. Alternatively, you can get there by bike – you can rent it at the entrance of Coba. The following are the cenotes you will find near Coba.
A gorgeous cenote with shallow, transparent waters and stalagmites. .
An underground cenote with two fun jumping platforms and a large, circular pool.
The least visited of the three Coba cenotes as it is a bit further in the jungle. A spiral staircase will lead you directly to the water, but there also is a wooden deck.
You can buy a combined ticket fro Choo-Ha and Tankach-Ha for MXN 110 (little over $5 USD); whereas Multun-Ha admission fee is MXN 65 ($3.2 USD).
Practical Information For Visiting Coba Ruins
Once you know why it’s so interesting (and important) to visit the ruins at Coba, it’s time to figure out how to plan your trip. I’ve got all the information you’ll need to make sure your visit to these spectacular ruins goes smoothly.
Do you need a guide to visit Coba ruins?
No, but having a guide means that you’ll get much more insight as you explore the ruins. You can hire a local guide at the entrance, which means your visit will come packed with information about Mayan history from a local who knows their stuff.
Official guides will have a badge; they are usually available in a variety of languages.
Many people don’t opt to get a guide, however, and you can still learn a lot about the site from various signs dotted throughout the complex. In short, it isn’t an obligatory entrance requirement that you hire a guide, but it would be money well spent if you want to learn more. I must admit my friend and I didn’t hire a guide when we visited, and we somewhat regretted it.
Best Coba tours
As I have hinted, one of the best ways of visiting Coba Mayan ruins is by getting a guide at the entrance. Alternatively, you can consider joining a guided tour which will include transportation to and from the site from a variety of locations in the Riviera Maya.
Of course, guided tours have the disadvantage that they don’t allow much flexibility, and you will be going around in a group – but usually the advantages out-weight them.
I have selected the best Coba tours for you:
Tulum, Coba, & Cenote: Full-Day Tour – one of the best tours of Coba, it also includes a visit of Tulum ruins and of a nearby cenote. Pick up is from either Cancun or Playa del Carmen, and is also available from other locations along the Riviera. You can book it here.
From Cancún: Coba, Cenote, Tulum and Playa del Carmen Tour – This tour from Cancun is one of the most popular options. You can book it here.
How to explore the Coba Ruins
Get around on foot
Coba is easy to explore on foot, and it’s a pretty enjoyable way to see the ruins. The ancient city is scattered across a wide area, however, and that can be quite tiring – especially if you aren’t used to the heat. You will also need good walking shoes for that (I made the mistake of wearing flip-flops when I visited and it surely made walking all the more difficult).
If you want to take your time, however, it’s totally fine to go at your own pace. Just note that you may not be able to reach all of the attractions, some of which are several kilometers from the entrance (and each other).
If you are dead set on seeing everything there is to see, then it may be a good idea to take a mode of transport other than your own two feet.
Ride a bike
One of the best ways to get around Coba is by cycling. Thankfully, you can rent a bike at the entrance of the site for as little as MXN 50 ($2.50) per person for the full day. That means you’ll get to see a whole load of the Coba ruins, including some of the more far-flung and lesser-known structures.
Again, it can be tough-going, since you’ll be providing the pedal power (and it’s still hot, no matter how fast you can travel), but bikes are budget-friendly and popular with visitors.
Take a bicitaxi
Bicitaxi, which is basically like a rickshaw, enables you to get from A to B without breaking a sweat. Made for two people, but also ideal for a family with a small child, you simply sit down and get pedaled around.
While it’s ideal for getting from the main entrance to Mohoch Nul – which alone is a distance of around two kilometers (1.2 miles) – a bicitaxi just is not simply able to reach every part of the sight. It costs MXN150 ($7.50 USD) per cart, so if you want to conserve your energy for further wanderings, this could be a good option – and it’s fun, too.
How to get to from Tulum to Coba Ruins
Coba Ruins is just 47 kilometers (29.2 miles) from Tulum, which means it’s a short enough distance for an easy day trip from the seaside destination. Taking a trip in your own rented car is fairly straightforward – particularly because there are numerous options for car rental in Tulum itself.
Surprisingly, a lot of people actually do opt to drive themselves to Coba. Part of the reason for this is that it gives you greater flexibility and freedom, not least in allowing you to stop off at various sights along the way – cenotes, for example.
Car rental is value for money if you’re in a group, as you can split the cost per person. It’s also quick, being just 40 minutes if you choose to drive yourself.
You also have the option of catching Mayab second class buses from Tulum to Coba. Tickets cost just MXN 50 ($2.50 USD). The first bus leaves from ADO bus terminal at 7:20 am and takes about one hour to reach the site. There are later buses too but given how wide the site it, it’s better to get there nice and early to have plenty of time to explore
Buses back from Coba to Tulum Pueblo leave at at 5:00 pm (Mayab). Just make sure to double check the timetable at the bus station before departing, and buy your ticket there.
There may be additional ADO buses connecting Tulum and Coba, but you are better off asking locally as at the time of writing the website doesn’t report any.
Take a taxi
Of course, you can take a taxi from Tulum to Coba too. This is the most expensive option, costing up to MXN 450 ($22.6 USD). However, if you are traveling with friends you can share the costs. This also means you can travel at your own pace without having to worry about getting lost or missing the bus home. Just make sure you agree on a price before you head off so there are no unpleasant surprises! You may also want to make sure that you ask the taxi to pick you up at a specific time to take you back to Tulum.
Take the colectivo
The very cheapest option, by far, is hopping on a colectivo. Leaving from the corner of Tulum Avenue and Calle Osiris NTE, colectivos pass by here around every 15 minutes. They cost between MXN 50 ($2.50 USD) and MXN 80 ($4 USD) for the ride – just look out for one that has the sign “Coba – Tulum” in the dashboard.
Keep in mind that colectivos only leave when full – you never really wait around too long in peak season. Have the but timetable handy as for some reason colectivos don’t leave for the return journey from the parking lot outside the site but further along the road, and it’s easy to miss them!
How to get to Coba Ruins from Cancun
The easiest way to get to Coba from Cancun is by car. There are no direct buses from Cancun to Coba. To get there by bus, you will have to travel to Tulum Pueblo and change there. You also have the option of taking a colectivo to Tulum and then another colectivo to the site.
Alternatively, you can opt for a guided tour that takes care of all the logistics and also gives you the benefit of having a guide to take you around the site. You can book it here.
How to get to Coba Ruins from Playa del Carmen
Unless you have a car, you will need to take the ADO bus from Playa del Carmen to Tulum (there are several daily) and then change for another bus to Coba. You can also take a combination of colectivos to get there.
Finally, you can consider joining one of the many guided tours that take tourists from Playa del Carmen to Coba Mayan ruins daily. You can book it here.
How much is Coba entrance fee?
Coba entrance fee is MXN 80 for foreigners (that’s $4 USD). This allows you to see all of the site – of course, the price of a guide or a bicitaxi is separate from the entrance fee. In addition, it costs MXN 50 ($2.50 USD) to use the car park, in case you’re driving a rental car.
Opening hours for Coba Ruins
The opening hours for the ruins at Coba are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm – last admission is at 3:00 pm.
Best time to visit Coba ruins
To get the very best out of the Coba Ruins, it is best to plan your trip as early in the day as possible. You should consider timing your arrival for the opening of the archaeological site (9:00 in the morning). Not only will you miss crowds and tour groups that arrive later in the day, but you will also happily avoid the hottest part of the day too.
What to pack for a visit to the Coba Ruins
Don’t forget to bring these essential items with you:
- Water bottle – It’s important to keep hydrated, so bring a refillable bottle with a filter to save on plastic waste.
- Mosquito repellent – you’ll need this, as Coba is surrounded by jungle.
- Sunhat – keep harmful UV rays at bay.
- Good walking shoes – if you’re walking, you’ll need something comfortable and sturdy.
- Snacks – exploring on an empty stomach isn’t good!
The only toilets are located by the ticket counter. That’s where you’ll also find a few kiosks and a restaurant where you can buy water and snacks for the day.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Cenotes Near Tulum
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- What To Eat In Mexico
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico
- The Best Day Trips From Cancun
- What To Wear In Mexico