White sandy beaches and a cold margarita are images that come to mind when you think about visiting the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. What you might not realize is that the area is teeming with historical sites that can get you off the resort and learning more about the local culture.
Dewey and I visited Coba with friends years ago. We remembered climbing to the top of the pyramid and the beautiful views. Since we brought the entire family on this trip, it was the first thing that popped to mind when we considered leaving the resort to explore. Cobá is a Pre-Columbia Mayan archeological site about 45 kilometres northwest of Tulum. Coba in Mayan means “water stirred (or ruffled) by the wind.”
Since we aren’t terribly efficient at getting up and out in the mornings, we decided to rent a car and venture to Coba on our own instead of going with a tour group. We rented a car from the rental agency at the resort next to ours for $85 for the day (group tours are usually around $75 per person but may include lunch). Our resort was just south of Cancun so it took us about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to get to Coba. Since there are few roads in this part of Mexico and they are well marked for tourists, finding Coba is very easy.
Upon arrival, you can park along the road way for free or you can park in the closer car park for a fee. To enter the park you have to pay approximately 60 pesos per person. We were charged for everyone though some websites (that I saw after we returned) say that children under 12 get in for free. IMPORTANT NOTE: Coba takes only cash and there are no ATMs anywhere near that we could find. Make sure you have enough cash for entry fees, lunch, snacks, souvenirs, etc that you might want to purchase.
As you enter, there is a group of tour guides that you can hire to show you through the area. Tours vary in price depending on the length of the tour. We did a 45 minute tour that included the front part of Coba only for $50. I would recommend the tours because otherwise you don’t really know what you are looking at (unless you have a guidebook). There are very few signs with historic information.
As I briefly mentioned above, the Coba site is broken in to two parts. The first part is a very short walk from the front gate. It includes a small pyramid and a Mayan ball court (remember the game played in the movie The Road to El Dorado? That kind of ball court.) Our tour guide did a fantastic job explaining the Mayan culture and how Chichen Itza (or as our guide joked “Chicken Pizza”) and Coba were trading partners in the Mayan world.
After exploring for a bit, we came to the end of the first part of the site. Our tour guide finished his tour and explained that it was approximately 2 kilometres to the large pyramid of Nohoch Mul. There are bicycles to rent or you can get a pedicab that holds two people. Again, everything is paid for in cash. The walk is beautiful and on mostly flat ground so I say go for it if you can.
Upon arrival at Nohoch Mul, you realize that this is what draws all the tourists to Coba. Standing at 130 feet tall, Nohoch Mul is an impressive structure. One of the few pyramids in the area that tourists can still climb, it can get very busy. Climbing the 120 steps is not an easy task as it is quite steep. However, I found that going back down was the bigger challenge. At some points on the way down, you can’t actually see the steps all the way to the ground. Thankfully, there is a rope to hold on to if you get a little squeamish. Views from the top are breathtaking and definitely worth the exertion.
Overall, our whole family (well….except for Evan who was in a MOOD that day) loved our visit to Coba. We all give it two thumbs up for a family adventure.
Things to Remember:
- Entry fees, food, drinks, etc in this area are cash only.
- The bathrooms are at the entrance to Coba. There are NONE in any other part of the park. Go before you enter the park. Trust me.
- Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, bug spray and wear comfortable shoes. This is the jungle and it is often HOT.
- There is a lot of walking. If you have trouble walking, you may not enjoy Coba very much. Though there are options for pedicabs, etc, there is still quite a bit of walking to get to where they are. Most areas are stroller accessible but everything is natural and unpaved so plan accordingly.
- Arriving in the morning will usually ensure a cooler and less humid visit. The afternoons can get quite hot in the blazing sun.