Mexico

Adventurous Coba: Mayan temples, jungle and cenotes

Cycling through an ancient Mayan city, climbing a huge pyramid, diving into an underground cenote, visiting a Mayan priest and spending the night in a small-scale jungle resort. That is just about a summary of our time in the mini-town of Coba. Let’s tell you more!

Climb an ancient Mayan pyramid and cycle in the jungle

The biggest attraction of Coba is without a doubt the ancient Mayan city in the village. Unlike the famous Chichen Itza, for example, you can climb the large pyramid Nohoch Mul in Coba. The view from the top above the treetops is spectacular!

Our main purpose of our visit to the ancient city was to have this view all to ourselves. For that you have to be at the gate early in the morning at the opening of the complex at 8 a.m. Even then there will probably be more travelers with the same idea. But unlike those visitors, we rented a bicycle and reached the pyramid in no time. The first half hour we had this special place in the Mexican jungle all to ourselves!

With a height of 42 meters, the pyramid is the highest in the Yucatan peninsula, second to the pyramid in Mayan city Calakmul (45 meters). From the top you have a view over the green jungle and you can clearly see the top of another Coba pyramid. The steep stairs of the Nohoch Mul can be a challenge. To help you up and down there is a thick rope in the middle for some support. We found a handy tool, but not really necessary for us. We mainly saw other visitors sliding down the stairs on their buttocks. Quite a nice sight from below!

But the Coba complex consists of more than just that big pyramid. The old town is not as big as, for example, Tikal in Guatemala or the gigantic Calakmul on the border with Guatemala. But it is big enough not to want to walk all distances yourself. You can hire a bicycle taxi for this. You will then be cycled through the park in pairs by a local. Or rent a bike like us!

The elevated roads, also called ‘sacbe’, are also something special in the old city of Coba. These roads connected not only the clusters of pyramids and residential buildings, but also connected Coba and neighboring cities. There were elevated roads from Coba to Chichen Itza! The roads were a golden find for archaeologists. They only had to follow these raised strips to discover the next pyramid. Also by bike you largely follow those ancient Mayan roads.

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Cycling between the Mayan temples through the jungle is an unforgettable experience and highly recommended. After the kick-off at the big pyramid we cycled through the entire park. We used the offline maps app maps.me to find the way through the complex, although you can’t really get lost without a map. Our route went passed other pyramids – unfortunately not to climb -, age-old structures and an impressive ball court.

After visiting eight other Mayan cities, the ball court is a well-known phenomenon for us. There is such a playing field for the infamous Mayan ball game in almost every city. According to the legends, the losers would be sacrificed to the gods, so there was quite a bit at stake. Don’t forget to take a close look at this ball court. Faces are chopped in the sloping walls and in the middle of the playing field you see a skull made of stone on the ground.

Practical: what does a visit to the ruins of Coba cost?

The parking costs 60 pesos and for an entrance ticket you pay 80 pesos. We paid 60 pesos for a bicycle, although we had heard in our hotel that a price of 30 pesos was common. It is also an option to see the sunset from the large pyramid. For that you have to buy a separate ticket of – don’t be afraid – 260Q pesos

Our hotel was also told that it is possible to be in the park before the opening at 8 a.m. You can then watch the sunrise from the large pyramid, how cool! You will have to buy a sunrise ticket for 260 pesos. Because the staff does not like to get out of bed so early to open the gate for you, this is not advertised. You could therefore only buy these tickets through a guide or a hotel in Coba, only with a group and also only the day before.

Coba Maya temples | The Orange Backpack
Cenote Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack

Visit the Coba cenotes in the afternoon

A visit to the Mayan ruins can be perfectly combined with a dive in one of the cenotes in the area of Coba. Cenotes are an underground water hole with bright blue water, fish and lots of mystery. Almost all of them are connected to each other underground, but that system has still not been properly mapped. We do understand why the Mayans saw these places as a gateway to the underworld and therefore as sacred places.

There are four in the area of Coba. The closest is a group of three cenotes: Multum Ha, Choo-Ha and Tamcach-Ha. We first swam in the underground lake of Multum Ha. After that we drove a bit further to Muul ichi Ts’ono’ot, also deep underground. We had both cenotes to ourselves almost all the time. That of course made the magical experience underground complete.

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Cenote Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Cenote Yucutan Mexico The Orange Backpack
Coba Maya temples | Aldea Coba | The Orange Backpack

Unique overnight stay in Coba

Of all the Mayan ruins, Coba is closest to well-known destinations such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. It is therefore a popular day trip from these cities. The best way to avoid those tourist crowds is to go to the ruins as early as possible. For that you need a place to sleep in Coba and we choose the small-scale jungle resort of Aldea Coba.

Aldea Coba has only six houses in a spacious complex. The cottages are made of natural materials and are situated around a particularly shaped deep blue swimming pool. There is a lot of greenery and small terraces with sun beds between the houses and the pool. In the evening, Aldea Coba is perhaps at its best when all the little lights turn on for a romantic atmosphere.

Extra fun: on the Aldea Coba site there is such an elevated, ancient Maya road. It was largely dug out by Aldea Coba, so you can also let your inner archaeologist go on an adventure here.

Sleeping in Coba is not only convenient for an early visit to the ruins. You also have the opportunity to watch the sun go down at the lake in the evening. That sunset is really beautiful sight, but unfortunately we no longer have the photos as proof. By the way, you should not swim here: if you look closely, you can see the crocodiles swimming.

Coba Maya temples | Aldea Coba | The Orange Backpack
Coba Maya temples | Aldea Coba | The Orange Backpack
Coba Maya temples | Aldea Coba | The Orange Backpack

Blessed by a Mayan priest

After an overnight stay at Aldea Coba you also have the unique opportunity to visit the village of a Mayan priest nearby. The priest taught us about ancient Mayan customs, herbs, calendar and instruments. We received a short cooking class from his family, visited his Malipona bees, and underwent a special blessing ceremony. A special glimpse into Mayan culture and really a must-do in Coba!

Aldea Coba

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