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Coba Archaeological Site, Yucatan Peninsula

Pre-Columbian Maya civilization

Located in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula, Coba (meaning “waters stirred by the wind”) and was most likely named for its four surrounding natural lakes. From Cancun, the archaeological site is 105 miles (170 kilometers) away or about a two-and-a-half-hour drive.

Although there are mysteries surrounding its history, Coba was allegedly built during the late Classic period between 500 AD and 900 AD and was one of the largest (over 80 square kilometers) and most populated Mayan cities in existence at that time with over 20,000 structures and a population of 50,000.

Coba was largely a Mayan trade city and was formed by a main pyramid connected to several smaller pyramids by Mayan “white ways” or raised roads known as sacbeob (singular, sacbe). The main pyramid, Nohoch Mul, (meaning “big mound”) is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan measuring 136 feet high (42 meters). It rises up from the center of the jungle, overlooks two lagoons, and can be climbed for a spectacular view from the top.

Many structures at this archaeological site are not well preserved and have yet to be excavated, but incredible temples, pyramids, and castles are still visible. Two very nice ball courts, one partially excavated, can be seen, in addition to the Temple of the Church (Templo de la Iglesia), the second tallest pyramid in Coba, rising to 65 feet (20 meters). Near the site’s entrance is the Grupo Coba Pyramid that can be climbed for lovely views of the site’s other pyramids and temples peaking through the top of the rainforest.


The archaeological site of Coba has increasingly become more visited by both national and international tourism in Mexico. One of the main attraction to visitors of Coba is the Ancient Pyramid which unlike Chichen Itza’s KukulkanPyramid, is still open for the public to climb its 120 steps up to the top of the site. Additional to this, Coba has several Tour operators, travel agencies with excursions available to this archaeological site from almost any point within the closest and top Touristic destinations of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and its Riviera Maya.

Coba Modern explorations

Knowledge of this expansive site was never completely lost, but it was not examined by scholars until the 1920s. John Lloyd Stephens mentioned hearing reports of the site in 1841, but it was so distant from any known modern road or village that he decided the difficulty in trying to get there was too daunting. For much of the rest of the 19th century the area could not be visited by outsiders due to the Caste War of Yucatán. Teoberto Maler paid Coba a short visit in 1893 and took at least one photograph, but unfortunately did not publish at the time and the site remained unknown to the archeological community.

Amateur explorer Dr. Thomas Gann was brought to the site by some local Maya hunters in February 1926. Gann published the first first-hand description of the ruins later the same year. Gann gave a short description to the archeologists of the Carnegie Institution project at Chichen Itza, which sent out an expedition under J. Eric S. Thompson. Thompson’s initial report of a surprisingly large site with many inscriptions prompted Sylvanus Morley to mount a more thorough examination of the site.

Eric Thompson made a number of return visits to the site through 1932, in which year he published a detailed description.

The site remained little visited due to its remoteness until the first modern road was opened up to Coba in the early 1970s. As a major resort was planned for Cancún, it was realized that clearing and restoring some of the large site could make it an important tourist attraction.

The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology & History began some archeological excavations in 1972 directed by Carlos Navarrete, and consolidated a couple buildings. At the start of the 1980s another road to Coba was opened up and paved, and a regular bus service begun.

Coba became a tourist destination shortly thereafter, with many visitors visiting the site on day trips from Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Only a small portion of the site has been cleared from the jungle and restored by archaeologists.


As of 2005 the resident population of Coba pueblo was 1,167. It grew to 1,278 by the 2010 census.


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