Climbing the Coba Mayan Ruins

If you have ever wanted to channel your inner Indiana Jones, then Coba is the place to visit.

You can explore numerous ancient ruins in the middle of a jungle, and climb to the top of one of the highest temples in the Yucatan Peninsula to get a cloud-level view of the canopy below.

What is Coba?

Coba’s official name is the Zona Arqueológica de Cobá (Coba Archeological Zone). It’s pronounced Co-Bah.

It’s located on the Yucatan Peninsula, close enough to Tulum (45 min.) and Playa del Carmen (1 hour 30 min.) for an easy day trip, but still far enough to be much less crowded than the ruins at Chichen Itza and Tulum.  

The city of Coba was first settled between 100 BC and 300 AD, but the majority of the construction of the site did not occur until 800-1000 AD.

The plentiful ruin sites are connected by sacred Mayan roads, known as Sacbes. Cruising along these historical roads using the on-site rental bikes is thrilling.

The ruins at Coba are not as heavily reconstructed as the more popular sites nearby. It can even be difficult to spot some of the mounds of uncovered temples, but there are plenty of readily visible ones as well.

The number one reason why you should visit here is that you can still climb the pyramid at Coba! At 138 feet (42 meters), the El Castillo pyramid at Coba is the second tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula and tenth tallest in Mesoamerica.

Yes, the Coba pyramid is taller than Chichen Itza’s. Fun fact: The tallest pyramid in the Yucatan is located in Calakmul.

Anyway, there are about 120 fairly-sketchy steps to reach the top of the structure. One hand-rope snakes down the center of the steps. Cue the Indiana Jones theme song!

Once you reach the top, you are surrounded by blue sky and a never-ending view of green jungle canopy. It’s an unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss out on.

View of the canopy below from the top of the main temple at Coba. Image by Off Path Travels.

Top Mayan Ruins of Coba Tours

How to Get to Coba

The Coba ruins are located in the small town of Coba, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico (the same part of the Yucatan Peninsula where Cancun is located). There are a few small restaurants and shops on site, as well as five sizable lakes in the surrounding area.

You can easily get to the Coba ruins by renting a car in Mexico or taking a taxi or public transport.

Our recommendation is to rent a car or take a taxi to ensure you beat the tour busses. The road to Coba is very clearly marked and we had no issues arriving there in our rental car using Google maps. There is a big parking lot on site and the cost is 50 pesos per car.

If a rental car or taxi isn’t an option for you, you can take an ADO bus or colectivo. Taking a bus might save you money, but you’ll miss out on getting there before the tourist rush. The bus ride from Tulum departs around 10 am and is about 1 hour. The bus ticket to Coba costs between 55-88 pesos each way.

If you don’t want to miss out on those Instagram shots of you climbing up an empty pyramid, then stay the night at one of the very small hotels in town.

One of many other temples at Coba. The interior of the room at the top still has ancient paintings visible from the base. Image by Off Path Travels.

What to Bring:

  • Non-slip shoes
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera

Getting Into and Around Coba

We cannot stress this enough: Get there as early as possible! Seriously, the timing of your arrival can make for a completely different experience. The rental bikes will be available; the grounds will be mostly empty; and if you would like a guided tour, the guides are readily available (and aren’t exhausted). 

Coba opens at 8 am and closes at 5 pm, with the last entrance at 4:30 pm. The entrance fee is 70 pesos per person. If you want a map of the Coba ruins, purchase it at the convenience store hut next to the ticket booth. Take this opportunity to make sure you have enough water and snacks.

There is only one booth selling water, soda, and juice inside (next to the pyramid you can climb, El Castillo). Don’t forget to use the restroom (located to the right of the ticket booth) before entering because there are none once inside.

If you would like to hire an official guide, they stand around right outside of the entrance. If you are not hiring a guide (like us), you should really buy a map.

It’s not the best map, but it’ll save you from getting lost or missing out on sites. Markings and descriptions are quite minimal throughout the location.  

The main ball court at Coba. Image by Off Path Travels.

The Coba site is gigantic and much bigger than Chichen Itza. The absolute best way to see all of it quickly is to rent a bicycle for 50 pesos.

Pedicabs are available for hire to take you around (2 people per pedicab), but riding through the jungle as fast as you can while avoiding getting smacked in the face with hanging vines is much more fun.

Both rental options are located just inside the entrance gate.  They’ll be tons of bicycles lined up and a booth for paying to your left.

We chose bikes with baskets for our stuff, paid the 100 pesos (~5 USD) for 2 rentals, and sped off into the jungle. Along the way, we came upon an ancient ball court, tunnels, bats, and more amazing temples than we imagined.

How to Climb the Pyramid at Coba

Climbing an ancient Mayan pyramid is my favorite part about the ruins of Coba. The pyramid is called El Castillo (The Castle) and is located in the Nohoch Mul area. There are about 120 oddly-shaped steps and a rope that dangles down the center. You may want to avoid the rope and the center when climbing up.

Why? Most of the stones in the middle of the stairs are nice and smooth due to all of the tourists using the same route day after day. When climbing pyramids, smooth, slippery stones are your enemy!

Also, other people are constantly grabbing and moving the rope, so it’s not very stable at all. 

Michael and Kristina at the top of the main pyramid at Coba. Image by Off Path Travels.

The best way to climb the pyramid is to zigzag up the steps, making your way to the left and back to the right as you ascend. This allows your shoes to have more contact with each step.

Yes, you will look a bit crazy, but trust me on this one.

If you are afraid of heights, do not look up, do not look down, just keep going. Once you reach the top, celebrate, breathe and find a shady spot to enjoy the view.

To get back down, you can either use the zigzag method again or sit and scoot down the steps one-by-one. And don’t kid yourself: the height is dangerous and you should take it slowly.

We saw a person attempting to descend quickly while wearing flip-flops.  After her first small stumble, she quickly resorted to scooting down on her butt.  

After Coba

Once you are done exploring the site, we highly recommend you visit the cenotes near Coba to cool off. There are three different ones nearby, which offer a single fee to visit them all.

These are mainly covered cenotes and one even has a high-dive platform to jump from! You can also zip-line over the neighboring lake or grab lunch at one of the restaurants lining the road.

The Coba Mayan ruins are one of our favorite sites. It has a bit of everything: ball court, a pyramid you can actually climb, lush jungle and cenotes nearby. If you are looking for a real adventure, we highly recommend you visit the Coba Mayan ruins near Tulum.

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2 thoughts on “Climbing the Coba Mayan Ruins”

  1. Hi Kristina & Michael,
    Did you climb the pyramid in February 2022 – I have seen that due to covid climbing the pyramid has been off limits since December 2021 – we are planning on visiting March of 2022 and are hoping to climb to the top.

    thanks, Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff, Unfortunately, it seems that climbing the largest pyramid at Coba is still off limits according to reports as recent as January 2022. Thank you for bringing this to our attention and we’ll update this post accordingly. Even without COVID, the Mexican authorities sometimes restrict climbing the structures as the site becomes more popular in an attempt to preserve them.

      I’m sure you’d still have an enjoyable time visiting Coba, but there are a lot of other ruin sites worth visiting too! If climbing is your top priority and you’re willing to explore far away, then I highly recommend Calakmul. Or for something a bit closer, Ek Balam is another excellent choice and it seems that is still climbable.

      Enjoy your adventure!

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