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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 conquistadors.

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 cleared.

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 Venus.

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 mammoth site.

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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Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Arch at the Plaza in the Macanxoc group - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406

Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone,
Arch at the Plaza in the Macanxoc group
Ç Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Temple the Church at the Macanxoc group - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone,
Temple the Church at the Macanxoc group
Ç Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Pyramid of Nohoch Mul - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone,
Pyramid of Nohoch Mul
Ç Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Temple of the Paintings 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone,
Temple of the Paintings
Ç Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Tricitaxis 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0406
  Quintana Roo, Coba, Archeological Zone, Tricitaxis