The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is full of Mayan history and culture, including the incredible Coba Ruins. Conveniently located near Tulum, these ruins allow you to live out your best Indiana Jones life and get a glimpse into this fascinating ancient civilization—without all of the crowds of Chichen Itza. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Coba Ruins, from exactly what sites to see to the best cenotes to cool off in afterwards.
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What are the Coba Ruins?
Nestled deep in the heart of the jungle, the Mayans originally settled the city of Coba all the way back in the 2nd century (which makes the ruins almost two THOUSAND years old!).
Thanks to its proximity to two freshwater lagoons, its population thrived, grew, and built structures, like pyramids and plazas, until its peak in about 850 AD, when it’s believed that around 50,000 Mayans called Coba home.
It’s estimated that, just a decade later, Coba started to decline, which is actually several hundred years earlier than other surrounding Mayan settlements in the Yucatan began to fall. It’s believed that the main reason for Coba’s decline was an ongoing and brutal war with the neighboring city of Chichen Itza. By the 14th century, Coba was all but abandoned in the middle of the lush jungle.
Because of its remoteness, Coba sat largely untouched for several hundred years, until the Mexican government reopened it as an archeological site to the public in 1973. The ruins still have remained relatively undisturbed, though, with just a dozen or so buildings that have been excavated as compared to over 6,500 structures that are estimated to lie within its expansive footprint.
Today, the Coba Ruins, more formally known as the Coba Archaeological Site, is a popular tourist attraction, receiving about 700,000 visitors per year. Nevertheless, these numbers are just a fraction of the literal millions of visitors that flock to its neighbor (and former rival), Chichen Itza, North America’s only Wonder of the World. It’s pretty incredible to get to explore these ruins without fighting off swarms of other tourists!
How To Get to The Coba Ruins
There’s several ways that you can reach the Coba Ruins.
Reaching the Coba Ruins by Car
If you’re visiting the Yucatan Peninsula, I’d highly recommend renting a car– there’s so many cool things to do and see here and having a car to get around makes it SO much easier.
To drive to the ruins, it will take:
- 50 minutes from Tulum
- 55 minutes from Valladolid
- One hour and 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen
- Two hours from Cancun
Reaching the Coba Ruins by Taxi
If you don’t have a driver’s license or the budget for a rental car during your visit, there’s plenty of taxis in Tulum, Valladolid, Playa del Carmen, or the other main tourist destinations around the Yucatan that will eagerly provide roundtrip transportation to the ruins.
There’s usually taxis cruising around the most touristy parts of the city (for example, in Tulum, head to the central Beach Zone or in Valladolid, go to the main town square, Parque Principal Francisco Cantón Rosado), or, alternatively, your Airbnb or hotel should be able to arrange one for you.
Taxi drivers will drive you to the Coba Ruins, wait for you while you explore, and then take you back.
Be sure to agree on a price before getting into the taxi- a round trip taxi may cost you upwards of $1200 MXN (or $60 USD) from Tulum or Valladolid (and much more from destinations that are further away!). While this is a bit on the steep side, in my opinion, it can definitely be an affordable option if you’re traveling in a larger group!
Reaching the Coba Ruins by Tour
If you prefer to cram a lot of adventure in one day, going on a tour can be an excellent option—the guides usually do all of the work for you! There’s plenty of options to choose from, including several that also include Chichen Itza tours.
For example, if you’re staying in Tulum, check out:
- this tour to Coba, which also stops at Chichen Itza, Valladolid, and a stunning cenote, Cenote Saamal. It would be really neat to be able to see both Coba and Chichen Itza in one day, to see the mighty city that eventually led to the downfall of Coba.
- this private tour, if you wanna feel more like a VIP. On this Chichen Itza tour from Tulum, you’ll get private transport to and from your hotel, plus a tour around Mexico’s Wonder of the World AND Coba by your tour guide, who are all incredibly knowledgeable about Mayan history and culture.
If you’re coming from Playa del Carmen, check out:
- this small group tour, which will take you to Chichen Itza, Coba, and Cenote Ik Kil, a cenote that looks straight up otherworldly.
- this private tour, where you’ll be shown around Coba and Chichen Itza by your knowledgeable guide. Because it’s private, you can customize this tour, like adding stops to shop in downtown Tulum or at a neraby cenote—just reach out to the company beforehand!
And there’s several Chichen Itza tours from Cancun that include a stop at the Coba Ruins, including:
- this private tour that’s a dream come true for any history buff, with stops at the Tulum Ruins (the only Mayan ruins on a Caribbean beach!), the Coba ruins, and Chichen Itza
- this private tour that stops at Chichen Itza bright and early (so you beat the crowds!), the stunning Cenote Ik Kil, and ending the day at the Coba Ruins.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Coba Ruins?
One of my favorite things about the Coba Ruins is how affordable they are. Unlike Chichen Itza (which costs $614 MXN (or $31 USD)), the Coba Ruins are just $100 MXN ($5 USD) per person.
Be sure to have some spare pesos on hand if you’re driving here, though- parking is an additional $60 MXN (or $3 USD) per vehicle.
What to See at the Coba Ruins
One important thing to note about the Coba Ruins is that the site is quite large, stretching across a whopping 30 miles. While the excavated sites are located within a much smaller footprint, it’s still pretty spread out—in fact, the main pyramid at Coba is located over a mile from the main entrance.
Not to worry, though, if you don’t go with a guide—while the complex is pretty large, there’s plenty of maps around to help you navigate to the most important sites in the complex, which include:
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
The most popular attraction here is the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which holds the title of the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula, towering 137-feet above the jungle floor. This structure was most likely used by the Mayans for religious purposes, including making offerings and sacrifices to the gods.
When we visited Coba a few years ago, you were actually allowed to climb the 120 stairs to the top, which offered sweeping views of the surrounding jungle and lagoons.
Due to COVID, however, visitors were restricted from climbing it for a couple of years, but I had heard that this restriction was lifted in early 2023. However, a reader reported in May 2023 that you still were not able to climb the pyramid- so it’s not clear whether this is currently allowed. If you visit the Coba Ruins, please snap a picture of some signage and send it our way so that we can make sure we’re sharing up-to-date and accurate information!
At the time, the stairs were deceptively steep and quite slick from being climbed on (while it was still allowed) and exposed to the elements for the last several hundred years, so there was a thick rope you could hold on to while climbing. I’m not particularly a fan of heights and had a tiny bit of a panic attack while making my way down the dangerous steps—so perhaps it’s for the best that pyramid is now for viewing only.
Right near the entrance, you’ll find this grouping of structures, which includes an iglesia (church), the second tallest building at the site at 72 feet tall, and one of two impressive ball courts found in the complex.
These courts were used to play pok-a-tok, a game where the players could only use their hips, thighs, and knees to aim a hard rubber ball through a hoop, perched high atop a wall. It’s believed that pok-a-tok was played for more than just entertainment purposes and was, in a way, an extension of the Mayans’ religion—in fact, historians speculate that the captain of the losing team was often beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods.
Stelae at Coba
These flat, stone monuments with carvings (that kinda look like supersized tombstones) provide us a small glimpse into the life of the Mayans, including how they dressed and prepared for religious ceremonies and the role that men and women played in society.
One of my favorite parts of the stelae at Coba is that their hieroglyphs depict women being in positions of power in several scenes. It’s believed that, while women were not treated as equal to men in Mayan societies, they still played an important role in economic and political activities. Some historians even believe that Coba was once ruled by a queen for some period of time (fittingly referred to now as “the Queen of Coba”).
When you’re walking around the complex, it’ll feel like you’re strolling on a normally constructed pathway, laid down in the modern day. But in fact, you’re walking on sacbe, which are raised, white paved roads that were constructed hundreds of years ago by the Mayans to connect their temples, plazas, and other structures for both religious and economic purposes.
You can find sacbes at other Mayan sites around the Yucatan, but the Coba Ruins are believed to have one of the most extensive sacbe systems of the whole Mayan civilization. In fact, it’s home to at least 50 of them, including a portion of the longest known sacbe on the planet at a whopping 62 miles long!
How to Get Around the Coba Ruins
As noted above, the Coba Ruins are quite expansive, but luckily, you have a couple of options to get around the site.
Getting around the Coba Ruins on foot
If you’re not in any rush, you’re welcome to simply walk around and explore the ruins.
Given that Coba is tucked away in the lush jungle, most of the walk is shaded and quite pretty, with lush vegetation. Just be sure to bring along lots and lots of water—even without the sun beating down on you, the humidity can definitely take it out of you!
Getting around the Coba Ruins by bike
If you have less time here or just don’t fall like walking at least a couple of miles roundtrip, there’s also bike rentals right by the entrance. It only costs around $50 MXN ($2.50 USD) to rent one and the roads are flat and wide, with plenty of space to pedal around other visitors.
Getting around the Coba Ruins by Bici-taxi
Alternatively, at the main entrance, you can hire a bici-taxi. This is a form of transport, where you sit in a little two-seater cart that’s hooked on the front of a bicycle that’s pedaled and driven by a dude. It costs around $150 MXN ($7.50 USD) for a roundtrip ride from the entrance to the main pyramid and back (and bring extra pesos to tip your driver!).
Along the way, most drivers will point out a couple of ruins or tell you a bit of Mayan history. While it’s definitely not as thorough as a full-blown tour (or even something you should expect), it can be a good way to learn a little bit about the ruins without an official guide.
This is the way that my husband, Justin, and I got around the Coba Ruins and, not that I’m biased or anything, but I think it’s the most fun way to get around the site!
Just note that, because the driver will just take you directly from the entrance to the main pyramid and back again, you’ll miss two sets of ruins that are located along the way. If you want to explore the whole site in its entirety, you’ll have to retrace a portion of where the bici-taxi took you on foot or bike.
How Long Does It Take to Explore the Coba Ruins?
If you’re exploring the Coba Ruins on foot, I’d carve out at least three hours to explore the complex or, if you’re renting a bicycle or getting a bici-taxi, you could likely see it all in about two or so hours.
Should I Hire a Guide for the Coba Ruins?
Even if you don’t go as part of a guided tour, you’ll still have the opportunity to hire a guide, as a gaggle of them will be eagerly waiting at the park’s entrance. Tours will usually run you about $500-700 MXN ($25-35 USD), depending on how good your Spanish is, how busy the ruins are, and how good you are at negotiating.
You can still definitely enjoy the Coba Ruins without a guide (to be honest, Justin and I didn’t hire one), but if it’s in your budget, I think it’s a great idea to get one. There’s only so much you get out of looking at a pile of stones without any other context behind the ruins, plus it’s a great way to support a local.
Tips for Visiting the Coba Ruins
- Wear comfortable shoes. Regardless of how you’re getting around the Coba Ruins, you’ll still do quite a bit of walking, so include some comfortable shoes on your Mexico packing list.
During our last trip to the Yucatan, Justin rocked these Tevas hiking sandals the entire time and I wore the women’s equivalent—and I LOVE them. You can easily take them from the trail to the beach to the cenote—perfect for while you’re doing your best Indiana Jones impression at the ruins!
- Visit in the morning or the afternoon. As noted above, the Coba Ruins are a popular stop on a lot of group tours of the Yucatan, so if you want to enjoy them to yourself, I’d recommend heading there when they first open at 8 AM or in the afternoon.
Just keep in mind that the site closes at 4:30 PM—so if you plan on walking around the whole thing, you shouldn’t arrive later than 1:30 PM or so.
- Plan a trip to a cenote afterward. After making a couple visits to the Yucatan, I can confirm that nothing on the planet feels better, after a day of exploring under the hot sun, than to jump into the cool, clear waters of a cenote.
If you’re not familiar with cenotes, they’re essentially giant sinkholes in the region’s limestone bedrock, filled with cool, crystal-clear groundwater—and there happens to be three of them within a stone’s throw of Coba.
The three located close to Coba (Cenote Tankach Ha, Cenote Choo Ha, and Cenote Multun-Ha) are cave cenotes, meaning the pool of cool water is enclosed in an underground cavern, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The Mayans actually believed that cenotes were portals to the underworld and, well, at these cenotes, it’s not hard to see why!
If I had to choose my favorite, I’d recommend heading to Cenote Choo Ha, one of the best cenotes near Tulum, thanks to its turquoise water, dramatic stalagmites, and under-the-radar vibes.
I had an absolute blast exploring the Coba Ruins and I hope you do too. Do you have any questions about exploring this site? Let me know in the comments below!