Into the Footsteps of Indiana Jones: Deep into The Ancient Mayan Ruins Of Coba in Mexico
Want to see ancient Mayan step pyramids which are still in their natural state? Want to be able to actually climb the ruins themselves rather than look at from afar?
If so, the Coba Ruins in Mexico are perhaps your best choice around. Less crowded than the better known Chichen Itzá, they have been left to withstand the rigors of time naturally. Plus, the huge site features many different options for getting yourself around. Walking through jungle paths, biking, canoeing and even zip lining – it all makes for a thrilling adventure.
What’s more, remember that this is all set amidst wondrously green jungle scenery, full of wildlife, with beautiful lakes and several nearby cenotes, the stunning water-filled sinkholes of the Yucatan Peninsula.
If you’ve ever wanted to really indulge your inner Indiana Jones, the ruins of Coba should almost certainly be a destination you add to your Mexico to-visit list.
What are the ruins of Coba like?
The ruins take up a truly impressive swathe of the jungle. All the more impressive for the fact that it’s estimated that the full site consisted of some 6500 ruins and only a few have really been revealed. Though most people think of Chichen Itzá when they think of Mayan ruins, Coba may have once been the most populous of all the ancient Mayan cities. As many as 100 000 people may once have lived here and nearly 50 ancient stone causeways (called sacbes) all lead to this spot, pointing the city’s past as a great trading hub.
The jungle surrounding the ruins are vital and filled with all kinds of animals, birds and butterflies. Monkeys can sometimes be seen jumping and running along the huge ceiba trees, hopping over to a section of ruined stone and then back again.
How to get to the Coba Ruins in Mexico
Sadly, unlike the often-maligned Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (that was the name of the fourth Indiana Jones film in case it slipped your mind!), no alien spaceships are available for the journey. But getting to the ruins of Coba is still relatively easy.
If you’re coming from Tulum, it’s a trip of around 27 miles (44 kilometers). It takes around 30 minutes and you can’t miss the signposts and parking lot when you arrive at the Coba archeological site – not to be confused with the adjacent modern village of the same name which you’ll need to pass through to get to the site’s car park.
If you’re coming from Playa del Carmen, the journey is a little longer (68 miles, or 109 kilometers) but you’ll find it quicker than getting to Chichen Itzá, for example.
Wherever you’re coming from, remember that the slightly more remote location means there will be far fewer tourists around than other, more famous sites. So that’s already one pretty big advantage!
3 secret reasons to visit
1) You can climb a Mayan pyramid (you can’t do that everywhere anymore!)
For good reason, many of the Mayan ruins in Mexico cannot be climbed by sightseers any longer. Coba, however, has a ziggurat you can climb – Ixmoja, which is part of the Nohoc Mul group. Plus – and it’s not like we’re keeping count or anything – but it is the tallest in the Yucatan, measuring 126 feet in height.
It’s a bit of a climb despite the handy guide rope – especially as the steps are quite narrow and not particularly even – but well worth it once you get to the top. You can look out over the vast green panorama of the surrounding jungle, seeing the stone tips and piles where the rest of Coba’s ruins still wait to be revealed beneath the trees.
2) You can take a Mayan taxi tour! (Or hire a bike)
Picture a vehicle like a bicycle-rickshaw, only the driver is positioned behind you and the seat leads the way. A little Coba ruins tour on one of the so-called Mayan taxis is a very relaxing way to see what is actually a very large area of archaeological interest. It also lets you save your energy for all those steps you’ll need to power up when you climb the side of the ruins!
You can also choose to hire a bike and do your own personal tour, which is highly recommended.
3) You can explore a little bit of Mayan culture
Though the ruins themselves are virtually untouched when it comes to restoration, there is an authentically crafted Mayan village at the site where you can learn a little bit about Mayan culture, experience a shaman ceremony, get some Coba facts and generally appreciate the natural beauty of the village’s environs.
4) The zip line! And the cenotes! And the lakes!
Yes, you can zip line around the ruins of Coba!
You can also rappel or climb down into the nearby cenotes – Multun-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Choo-Ha. These glorious water-filled caverns are one of the highlights of the peninsula. You can go cave diving, swimming and snorkeling in many of them and if you haven’t already included a visit to one or more of them on your Mexico trip itinerary, it’s time to add it.
You can also hire a canoe and go kayaking across the two beautiful nearby lakes, Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc.
Advice for your trip – bring the necessities
At the risk of transporting you back down to earth, when you’re visiting the ruins do be sure to bring all the necessities. These should probably include:
Sunscreen, plus a hat and/or sunglasses
Comfortable shoes (you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around and some of the terrain is not flip-flop-friendly)
Biological bug spray
Light wet-weather gear (if you’re a seasoned traveler you’ll already know that a tropical shower can crop up at any time of year)
Possibly some light snacks, as there’s plenty of energy-intensive activities to take part in
Stellae, jungle, and adventure – your Coba Ruins tour
If you’re a fan of history, and the Late Classic Period (AD 600-900) of Mesoamerica in particular, the stellae of Coba are some of the most intriguing examples of engraved ceremonial statuary you will find. You can also check out the ōllamaliztli courts. This is perhaps best summarized as a type of Mayan handball where the winning team ran the risk (or had the honor, depending on whether you hold to ancient Mayan beliefs or not) of being sacrificed to the Gods.
But whether it’s the history, the jungle, the ruins or the city itself that draw you here, there’s a little something for everyone.
And perhaps best of all, if you’ve always wanted to play at Indiana Jones and be zip lining through the jungle one minute then climbing stepped Mayan ziggurats the next, the Coba Ruins in Mexico are almost certainly the place for you.