Cobá translates from the Maya as "water stirred by the wind." Surrounded by five lakes, this great city covered 70 square kilometers and grew into a powerful economic center controlling most of the region. It is considered to be the sister city to Tikal in Guatemala. At least 16 sacbé (white limestone roads) have been found, some connecting as far north as Chichén Itzá and as far south
as Tikal. Cobá is famous for its massive temple-pyramids – Nohoch Mul at 138 feet is the tallest pyramid in the area. Discovered by Teobert Maler in 1891, Cobá was explored in 1926 by the Carnegie Institute but not excavated until 1972. Archaeologists estimate there are 6,500 structures in Cobá but only 5% have been uncovered. It will take decades to uncover the complete city. In the meantime, there are some impressive groupings to explore separated by several miles of dense jungle. It's easy to get lost here, so stay on the main road and don't be tempted by the narrow paths that lead off into the jungle unless you have a qualified guide with you. Don’t swim in any of the lakes unless you want to be a crocodile’s lunch.
The first major buildings are close to the entrance, just off the main path to your right. The
Groupo Cobá (Cobá Group) is a series of pyramids built around a sunken patio. Facing the large plaza is the 22.5 meter (79-ft) high Iglesia (church) where offerings for a good harvest are still made by the locals. (Please don’t touch them). After climbing the steep stone steps you can see nearby Lake Macanxoc. Recently archaeologists found an ancient cache inside Iglesia filled with jade, pearls, shells and other offerings. Farther along the main path to your left is the Chumuc Mul (Stucco Pyramid) Group. Little of this area has been cleared but there are some vivid painted stucco motifs worth seeing.
If you continue on the path you reach the Nohoch Mul (Large Hill) Group, home to the pyramid of the same name. It is 12 stories high with 120 steps to the summit where you have a bird’s eye view of the whole jungle and can see the other ruins peeking through the trees. Waiting for you on top is a small temple decorated with a figure of the Descending God (also seen at Tulum). The largest of the 33-foot sacbé starts at the base of this pyramid. Since the Maya did not use beasts of burden or the wheel, it is thought that sacbé were made quite wide to accommodate the procession of people walking alongside one another as they transported goods from one city to the next.
Beyond the Nohoch Mul Group is El Castillo (the Castle), a structure with nine small chambers reached by a stairway. To the south are the remains of a ball court and the Conjunto Las Pinturas (the Picture Group), named for the stucco paintings that line the walls. Traces of the yellow, blue and red paint used can be seen in the uppermost corners. There is also an enormous stela (carved stone) showing a warrior dressed in his resplendent headdress standing on two of his captives.
Follow a secondary path one kilometer in the jungle to the Macanxoc Group (also called Group A) not far from the lake of the same name. Its main pyramid has a large stairway leading to the summit that is divided by a column. Inside are a molded lintel and the remains of a stucco painting. There are also a number of stelae here with intricately carved with symbols and dates of the history of Cobá. The most famous is Stela I with glyphs describing an important event that took place August 13, 314 BC. For the hardy adventurers, there is the small Kukulcán Group located 5.5 km south of the main entrance. Only five structures remain here and they are most puzzling, as their design doesn’t fit in with the rest of the area especially the three-story temple with its peculiar top story. A visit to Cobá involves a lot walking so bring plenty of bug repellent, and lots of water. Open daily from 8 AM – 5 PM. Admission: $3, additional $4 fee for video cameras. Free Sundays and holidays. Located on 35 minutes northwest of Tulum, 3 hours from Cancun.
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