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Coba is in the jungle

Coba Great PyramidIf you have a chance to see Coba while it is still buried in the jungle do it. This group of ruins is all that is left of what could have been the largest of all Mayan cities. There are thought to be over 6,500 structures spread out over 50 square kilometers. During its hey day around 750 A.D. there may have lived as many as 50,000 Maya.

Archeologists have found many links to the great Guatemalan city of Tikal, including similar architecture and carvings or stelae. They believe that the royal females of Tikal may have married the Coba royalty and formed a relationship between the Guatemala Maya and those of the Yucatan.

Discovered in 1891 by archaeologist Teobert Maler after hearing rumors of a fabled lost city, Coba was not excavated until 1973 when the Mexican government started financing the project. Excavation is still under way, and visitors see 20 unexcavated ruins for every one that has been reconstructed.

Coba boasts the second tallest pyramid of the Mayan world. 42 meters high with 120 steps, Nohoch Mul, is worth the climb. Though sometimes windy at the top, the view is spectacular. This site also includes a well restored pelota court (ball court), and 20 some stelae that have been well preserved.

What happened?

For some unknown reason the people of Coba left town around the year 900. The archaeology resembles Tikal hundreds of miles away, and there is one of the most advanced systems of raised roads, or sacbeob, in the Yucatan. One of these perfectly straight sacbeob travels 60 miles to a Mayan village of Yaxuna. All these mysteries are being explored right now, and if you see Coba soon, you will have the experience of seeing archaeologists at work. This site is in complete contrast with Chichen Itza's well restored, well landscaped clean surroundings (so bring your bug spray).

Spend the whole day

Coba pyramidBe ready to do some walking, as this once great city was very spread out. Expect to walk three to four miles if you want to see most of the sites. A good tour should take between three and five hours.

Entrance to the ruins costs $4. Bringing in a video camera costs an extra $4. Guides are available to make your tour more interesting, look for their official badges. Even so, getting a licensed guide will not protect you from misinformation about the Mayans being aliens. Just enjoy the stories they tell, but don't take it as the final truth.

Getting there

The ruins are located about 50 km West of Tulum. You have the choice of renting a car and spending the day enjoying the ride, or taking one of the many buses to Coba from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Alltournative Expeditions runs a super tour to Coba with a morning at a Mayan village and swims in a cenote. Aerosaab will fly you over the ruins, but no stopping.

Take some water, the jungle is very hot, and wear some comfortable walking shoes or hiking boots. If you rent a car, make sure to eat the local food in the pueblo of Coba, the price is right and the food is authentic. Several restaurants facing the lake, service traditional Mayan food at a low price.

Stelae at CobaAfter lunch, you can stop for a dip in one of the many cenotes on the road to Coba. Car Wash is a nice one.

What if I can't get down?

Mayan pyramids are easy to climb, even with their steep crumbling stairs. Getting to the top is worth the effort. However, many people get up and are too afraid to come down. If you get up a Mayan pyramid and can't get down, first try walking down while keeping your eyes only on the step just in front of you. If this doesn't work, you will have to suffer the indignity of bumping down the stairs on your butt. Don't be shy because you won't be the only one. Chichen Itza has a superbly restored famous pyramid if your leg muscles can take more punishment..

Caribbean Coast Travel can set you up with tours and transportation to all the popular Mayan Riviera destinations.

Maya for Travelers and Students : A Guide to Language and Culture in Yucatan
Basic language instruction and vocabulary

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