Cancun is known for it’s impressive historic sites and ancient Mayan ruins. Pictures of pyramids like El Castillo at Chichen Itza are displayed at almost every travel agency throughout the entire Yucatan.
While Chichen Itza gets most of the attention from international tourists, the Coba Pyramid and ruins that surround this ancient city are more exciting to site to visit for a number of reasons.
This quick guide will tell you what to expect during your visit to Coba and the surrounding ruins. We’ve also compared the ancient city of Coba to Chichen Itza if you’re undecided on which excursion to take during your vacation to Cancun.
Quick Article Guide:
1. Why Visit Coba And The Ruins?
2. What Sets Coba Apart From Other Sites
3. Can You Climb the Pyramid at Coba?
4. Ziplining at Coba and the Ruins
5. Getting To The Coba Pyramid And Ruins
6. When Is The Best Time Of Year To Visit Coba?
7. What Should I Wear to Coba and the Ruins?
8. What to Pack for Coba and the Cenote
From approximately 500 BC to 250 AD, the city of Coba was built by the ancient Mayans. This site is more than 30 square miles, and it was constructed 50 years before Chichen Itza or Uxmal. Once a thriving community with close to 50,000 residents, Coba began losing influence in the region as Chichen Itza started to flourish.
When the Spanish arrived to Mexico in 1550 AD, the city of Coba was mostly abandoned. During the 1800’s, Coba was rediscovered and was later opened to the public in 1973. The site’s buildings show a strong resemblance to the Pyramids near Teotihuacan suggesting that the inhabitants of Coba were in contact with the Aztecs.
Like other Aztec and Maya societies throughout Mexico, the inhabits of Coba were very skilled traders. Evidence suggests they were trading with other Mayan cities including Muyil, Tulum, Xcaret, and Xel Ha. Coba is also home to lots of ancient paved roads. The most famous is 62 miles long and leads to the city of Yaxuna.
Coba is not as crowded as most of the ancient sites near Cancun. This means less vendors, no waiting for the perfect picture, and bicycles! As far as we know, Coba is the ancient Mayan site where you can rent a bike. Not only does this make the trip a lot more fun, it also allowed us to see most of the site in a short period. And did we mention the zip-line?
The ruins at Coba are in the middle of the jungle. You won’t see any dangerous animals here, but the shade the trees offer is invaluable. Most of the sites we’ve visited in the area lack shelter, so it was nice to be able to stay out of the direct sun. There are some mosquitoes here though, so bring repellent.
We also really enjoyed swimming in the nearby Cenote which was included with the tour. The Yucatan Peninsula is known for these massive sinkholes which are usually filled with fresh water. The waters have magical healing powers and they are sacred to the Mayans. It was also great to cool off in the water after being in the sun.
Currently, you can still climb the large pyramid at Coba and some of the surrounding structures. However, this could change at anytime. Hundreds of people climb this pyramid safely everyday without issue, but a lady slipped and fell while climbing the pyramid in 2018 and this almost led to its closure.
If you decide to climb the Coba Pyramid, take your time. The structure is 137 feet tall and it has 120 steps. The steps at the Mayan pyramids are smaller and narrower than steps of the Aztec sites near Mexico City. We bought trail shoes with non-slip soles for our trip to be safe.
When climbing down the pyramids, it’s best to walk diagonally. One of our tour guides recommended this approach to us and it definitely helped us with our balance. The time to the top of the pyramid and back took us about 30 minutes. Some of the people in our group were more cautious and took closer to an hour.
The ruins at Coba also offer a zipline over the freshwater lake nearby. This crocodile infested body of water was once responsible for the rapid rise of the Mayan civilization of Coba. Not for the faint of heart, the trip across the lake takes about 90 seconds, but the memory will last for an eternity.
Ek Balam has a few zip-lines installed in the Cenote near the ruins, but they are nothing like this. And despite my initial apprehension, this experience was one of the coolest parts of our tour. If you decide not to take the zip-line that’s okay too, our guide was waiting for us on the other side of the lake with my hat.
Coba is about two hours outside of Cancun and the hotel district. There are your private tour guides and large tour groups that take tourists to this site from Cancun everyday. Because it’s less popular than nearby sites like Chichen Itza, the tours tend to be less expensive and more personalized.
You can also take a taxi to Coba, but we wouldn’t recommend it. This is a tour that is better with a larger group. Most tour companies will pick you up around 9am and you can expect to be at the site by 11am before it gets too hot. By 12:30pm you’ll be swimming in a Cenote for about an hour before having lunch.
This tour wouldn’t have been as much fun without the group we were with. It was also nice to have a guide to help explain the site. The company we used for our tour to Coba was well-worth the extra money. Just make sure to avoid the excursion vendors on the street and at your hotel. Most excursion tickets are available online for a fraction of the cost.
The weather in Coba is almost identical to Cancun. From Mid-April until June, the weather is miserably humid so you’ll want to avoid these months. In July, the weather starts to warm back up, but it’s also hurricane season. During this time of year, the deals are better and the crowds are smaller, but not without risk.
We’ve visited Cancun at least three times during Hurricane season without issue, but for some the gamble isn’t worth it. During this time of year, the temperature is very hot, but a storm can also appear at any time and ruin your trip. By November the Hurricane season has ended, and the weather is usually perfect until April.
If you decide to visit Cancun during hurricane season, make sure you keep a close eye on the weather. We also recommend purchasing travel insurance before your trip. Small tropical storms are common in Cancun, so you’ll often see rain on the forecast. The National Hurricane Center will tell you if a large storm is expected.
In Cancun, the weather is usually warm, even during the rainy season. Unless you get cold easily, you’ll want to where something that is light and breathable. Shorts or gym clothing work for most people. We saw everything from bikini tops to jeans. I prefer the zip-off pants that Columbia makes. They are perfect for most types of weather and they offer UV protection.
Most of the tours to the Coba Pyramid and ruins include a visit to the Multum Ha Cenote, so you’ll also need a swimsuit. You are also required to shower before entering the Cenote so we recommend bringing a pair of sandals or flip-flops with you. They don’t use bleach to clean the showers and we didn’t want to risk athletes foot.
Like most of the Yucatan, the weather at Coba is warm and sunny, except during the hurricane season. At this time of year, storms are common, so bring a jacket. We always carry a small backpack full of supplies on our tours. It’s nice to have everything you need, especially if you are with a larger group and don’t have time to stop.
Here are some items we recommend bringing on your trip to the Coba Pyramid and Mayan Ruins:
– Sunscreen (Bring biodegradable sunscreen for the Multum Ha Cenote at Coba)
– Mosquito Repellent (This site is in a wooded area so there are some mosquitoes)
– A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses (Expect direct sun while you are climbing the ruins)
– Comfortable trail shoes or hiking shoes (We prefer trail shoes with a non-slip grip)
– Plenty of Drinking water (This is must for every excursion in Mexico)
– Pesos in small denominations (For souvenir, tickets, snacks, and water)
– Passports (We never leave them at the hotel and some of the cultural sites require them)
– Camera (A cell phone should do. These pictures were from an iPhone 6)
– Bathing Suit (To swim in the Multum Ha Cenote)
– Beach Towel (We took ours from the pool at our hotel)
– Flip-Flops or Sandals (For the showers and stairs to the Cenote)
Items to Leave at Home or at Your Hotel:
– Selfie-Sticks (Please be careful when climbing the ruins and be cautious of those around you)
– Pets (There are lots of harmless stray dogs near the Coba Pyramid and ruins)
– Loud Music (Stereos are not allowed at the Mayan sites)
– Drones (There are signs prohibiting drones at Coba)
Do you have questions about your upcoming trip to Cancun or the ruins at Coba? Leave us a comment below and we’ll make sure all of your questions are answered!