Cobá is beautiful and
mysterious. The site is only 50 km. northwest of Tulúm and
in the way to Valladolid. Its name in Maya means "Ruffled
Waters" or “Water Stirred by Wind,” derived from the five
lakes in the vicinity, and it is one of the oldest Mayan
settlements on the peninsula. Some colonial texts mention it
as Kinchil Cobá, referring to the Maya god of the sun.
This city was constructed during the classic period of Maya
civilization, approximately between the years 500 and 900 of
our era. During its peak, it had 50,000 residents over an
extension of eighty square kilometers. Among its temples
survives the pyramid of Nohoch Mul measuring 42 meters in
height. Its buildings probably continued to be built and
repaired up to the arrival of the first Spanish
Although Cobá started to be inhabited in 200 B.C., its
notable demographic, social and political growth started in
100 A.D. up to becoming one of the largest and most powerful
cities in the north of Yucatan. Between the years 200 and
600 A.D., Cobá controlled this territory, dominating the
north of current Quintana Roo as a commercial exchange
route, including the port of Xel-Há. This power structure
changed with the appearance of Chichén-Itzá in the
sociopolitical panorama of the peninsula, obligating Cobá to
reorder its territorial domains and in the year 1000 A.D.
lost its political importance. It is the most important
settlement in the northeast of the Yucatan peninsula. Its
size can only be compared to that of its enemy, Chichén-Itzá.
Cobá was a thriving city from around 600 AD, although it had
been settled for around a thousand years before this date.
It is more similar to Tikal in Guatemala than to its Mayan
neighbors, and depictions of female Tikal royalty on several
Steles found here have led to speculation that there was at
least one marriage between the royalties of the two cities.
Apparently, this was one of the largest Mayan cities. It is
supposed to have covered more than 50 Km². in its peak
years. Now most of it is covered by the jungle.
A network of 45 paths (sacbeob) communicates the
architectural sets to each others and other communities that
were once under its domain. Included within this complex
system is a 100 kilometer path uniting the archeological
site of Cobá with that of Yaxuná in Yucatan. Each sacbé was
constructed with stones to a height of one to two meters and
then covered with white mortar. Their purpose is puzzling as
this civilization had no wheeled transport and had yet to
see the horse, but may have been built for religious
processions and pilgrimages.
Several small nearby lakes made Cobá a rarity among Mayan
sites: A city with abundant water. Given that other
locations rose and fell with their water supplies, these
lakes no doubt contributed to the prominence and longevity
the city achieved. Cobá is among the longest-inhabited of
all Mayan cities.
Because Cobá is still in the fairly early stages of
discovery and reconstruction, it offers visitors a
fascinating look at the lengthy and complex process of
restoring Mayan cities.
The first group of structures (Group Cobá) is within
view of the entrance. Here is The Temple of the Churches
“la Iglesia,” a pyramid over 65 ft (20 m) high and the
second largest at Cobá. The steps are steep and crumbling.
Back on the main path, follow the signs to Nohoch Mul, the
largest pyramid, over a mile (nearly 2 Km.) away. The walk
is interesting as there are several Stellas, protected by
palapa roofs, shown where they were discovered and there are
many more unexcavated mounds along the way. This is also a
good chance to observe the jungle life; butterflies, birds
and insects abound but the path is wide and foliage well
The Great Pyramid “Nohoch Mul” is a staggering 136 ft
(42 m) high and towers above the jungle. The steps are
disintegrating in places (look for shell-like carvings in
others), but climbing the pyramid is not too difficult.
Descending is more so, but rest for a while at the top and
admire the scenery - miles of jungle, lakes and a good view
of the site as a whole.
The small temple building - added much later - which
crowns the pyramid has two small carvings that are known as
a ¨Diving God¨ over the door. There are many theories about
the meaning of these curious carvings, which are also found
in Tulúm. They have also been called “The Bee God” or “The
God Descending” and have been associated with the planet
On the way back from “Nohoch Mul,” another smaller path
leads to The Temple of the Paintings “Conjunto de las
Pinturas,” where fragments of color can be seen in some
murals at the top of a four tiered pyramid. As you return,
look for remains of sacbé along the path and ponder the
mysteries of Cobá!
Many other structures are still being excavated and even
discovered, emerging from the cloak of a thousand years of
overgrowth. Cobá also benefits from the vastly increased
scholarly knowledge of Mayan architecture and Mayan life in
general, as experts painstakingly piece together this
The gratuitous destruction and historical errors that have
flawed other locations have not been done in Cobá, leaving
to speculate that once this restoration is complete, the
city may rival the greatest of all Mayan centers. Among the
great achievements of the people of Cobá were towering
pyramids, advanced agricultural practices (essential for
feeding the over 50,000 people estimated to have lived
within the city itself), and the building of a system of
roads that linked virtually the entire dominion together.
These roads, or sacbés, were tremendous aids to commerce and
to the waging of war.
There is a collection of wooden stalls selling artifacts and
refreshments around the entrance to the site. There are no
other refreshments available on the site, so stock up here
and prepare for walking through the jungle with good shoes
and lots of insect repellent.
Allow at least half a day to see the main structures and try
to avoid the heat of the day. There are no crowds here, as
Cobá is not on the tour bus routes, and any other travelers
you meet will be of the serious kind. Opening times are the
usual 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Toilet facilities by the entrance
are basic but clean, a small fee is charged for their use.
On an early morning walk through these extensive ruins in
the jungle, one can see numerous species of birds,
butterflies and animals, even the occasional monkey. Large
ceiba trees intertwine with ancient stonework. The sounds of
the jungle create an entertaining symphony. The beautiful
natural setting of Cobá is a pleasure to explore.
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