Cobá - An Adventure in the Mayan Jungle

An archaeological site like no other in the Mexican Caribbean, the great city of Cobá lies hidden in the jungle just a few kilometers West of Tulum. Its name in Mayan means “Murky Waters” and it suits the site: the Mayans established this cultural capital around 4 lakes and multiple sacred cenotes.  Exploring this fascinating city is a different kind of day from visiting other nearby sites; get ready for a long trek into the jungle to a mostly unexplored part of the Mayan world. 

You read us right, Cobá is one of the least explored Mayan sites to date. Archaeologists currently estimate that there are more than 5,000 edifications in the city and only about 10% of these have. Although 10% means there are still 500 buildings out there open and ready for you. The dense jungle, hard terrain and the lakes made exploration hard and kept the city hidden well into the 19th Century and continue to be a challenge for those who seek to unearth this city’s secrets. So as you walk through the jungle sharpen your senses and let your imagination soar, for every oddly-square stone and suspicious looking dirt mound might really be something waiting to be discovered.

Of course this doesn’t mean that all buildings are buried or in poor conditions. This city has some truly spectacular buildings that have been restored a great deal. Such as the tallest pyramid in the Mexican Caribbean, which you can climb to admire the surrounding jungles. Or the impressively well-preserved murals that still decorate some pyramids‘ interiors.  And of course, the stone stele that predicted the end of the world. That’s right, the very famous “2012 end of the world” prophecy comes from a stele in Cobá. But unfortunately no, the stele is not magic. 

The experience you will live here will be magical and can’t be compared to that of any other nearby Mayan site. Unlike most other mayan cities where their pyramids where clustered together in a single center, Cobá’s temples, markets, observatories and steles sprawl over an area of several square kilometers. The trek in Cobá can take you several hours depending on how you chose to do so. This is why you must come prepared for a longer day, more of a true jungle adventure and less of a guided tour.

While you can walk all 5km of trails there are two other options to make your visit faster and/or easier. At the entrance to the site you have the option to rent a bike to speed up your visit (we do recommend the bikes) or even a quirky little tricycle for two passengers in which a local guide do all the pedaling work for you. What’s more, these local guides know the area like the backs of their hands and they will be able to teach you tons about the jungle and the Mayan culture.

Visiting Cobá can be an all-day activity, but if you want to truly make the most out of your day pair it up with a visit to Tulum. Don’t worry though, Tulum is the opposite of Cobá: it is a small site, completely explored, very easy and quick to visit. Your visit here might take an hour or a little longer (unless you stay to swim at their beach!), and it is en route to Cobá anyways!

Finding Cobá

Getting to Cobá is simple no matter where you’re staying. To get there by car all you have to do is drive South on the Cancún-Tulum highway, once you arrive to Tulum you will see the right turn that you must take to get to Cobá. And then it is straight until you get there! The roads to Tulum and Cobá are well signaled and easy to drive on so getting lost is nearly impossible. 

Now, why don’t you just make it easier on you and get some extra value while you’re at it? How, you say? Get a tour! There are plenty of  tours that visit Cobá everyday, both private tours and group. The advantage of taking a tour (besides not worrying about driving) is that most tours usually include other experiences as a package such as a visit to Tulum or a cenote, local cuisine meals, and a guide that can teach you about the Mayans, Cobá, and everything about the Mexican Caribbean.

Recommendations

  • Bring light, comfortable clothing, plenty of water, sunglasses and bug-spray. While the jungle will protect you from the sun for most of the trek, it is home to hundreds of mosquitoes, we cannot emphasize bug-spray enough
  • After visiting Cobá (if you’re not on a tour) stay to have lunch in one of the area’s restaurants, here you can find some of the best authentic regional cuisine
  • Visit Tulum the say day or find a tour that combines both
  • If you’re going on your own, hire a certified guide when you get there, these guides greatly enhance the value of your visit

A visit to Cobá is something that no lover of history or nature should miss, but it is something everyone can enjoy. Maybe you’ve already been to Chichen Itzá and are looking for more Mayan adventures, or you’re looking to spend the day on a different kind of tour: Cobá is what you’re looking for. No other place combines nature and history as well as Cobá to give you a truly unforgettable day.

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