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An Ancient Mayan City from the Classic and Post Classic Periods

Coba is a massive and largely unexplored Mayan city from the Classic and Post Classic periods. It is set near two lagoons close to a modern Mayan village also called Coba. It takes about 2 hours to get there by coach from Cancun. There are several operators local to Cancun who run tours to Coba. These tours usually take in a visit to a Cenote (A deep fresh water lake connected to an underground river) and a meal.

Coba came under acheological scutiny only recently and lacks some of the facilities for the visitor found at sites like Chichen Itza. It is however a wonderful and inspiring site. Until the 1970's the site was almost untouched as it lay deep in the jungle , far away from any roads. As part of the tourist intitiative that started with the construction of the tourist hub in Cancun, the Mexican government built a road to Coba and cleared the jungle from a section of the site for visitors. Due to the recency of access, Coba is still under active and intensive investigation. At Coba you are essentially witnessing the leading edge of modern archeology.

Coba is less accessible than Chichen Itza, but because the visitors tend to be more considerate of the archeology, visitors are allowed more direct access to the ruins. At Coba visitors can still climb the great pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the highest Pyramid in the Yucatan peninnsula. You also have virtually unrestricted access to many other smaller but equally impressive ruins.

At the top of Nohoch Mul you can view a panorama of dense jungle with other pyramids and buildings poking up through the lush green carpet in all directions. As you stand at the top of Nohoch Mul you will have a view similar to that offered to the Mayan Priests over 1500 years ago. Be aware the climb of Nohoch Mul is not a cake walk. There are 124 steps to get to the top. The pyramid rises at a significant angle, so if you have a weak heart or very young children with you the full climb is best avoided. A thick rope down the middle of the pyramid has been provided that can make the climb a little easier.

Coba is surrounded by dense jungle. The area open to visitors has been largly cleared to enable easy exploration. However it is worth ensuring you keep to the well trodden paths. Most of the main buildings have some labelling to explain their purpose. Keep your eyes open for signage otherwise you may well miss something important. Bicycle rickshaws enable the less mobile to explore the site (for a small fee) but most visitors explore on foot.

Coba was built and became a regional center of Mayan government towards the end of the Classic period. While the Mayan civilisation in the south was collapsing. Coba though, continued to prosper through the first part of the Post classic period. The site is believed to have supported more 50,000 people. A number of the buildings appear to have been set up as trading posts or Embassies for far away cultures and traders. But by the end of the 16th century though, Coba was already derelict.

A few of the buildings can be entered and have pathways leading into their interior. Obviously care is needed when dealing with thousand year old structures! Notice in the picture above on the right, the typical Mayan arch. Unlike their contempories in the Roman world, Mayan arches did not have a key-stone.

A large number of Stelae (stone slabs inscribed with Mayan hieroglyphics) have been found and by deciphering these stelae much of the information we now know about Coba has been discovered. Due to the importance of these stelae, many have been removed to Mexico City for analysis. However a small number have been left in place. They normally have been given a small thatched roof to protect them as best as is possible from further erosion.

The ancient mayan ball Game is shrouded in mystery. Over 1500 ball courts have been found all over central America but little is known about the rules of even how many players took part. It is believed that the game was played with a large rubber ball which the players could have limited access with (no contact with hands or feet).

The summit of Nohoch Mul has a partially restored temple which the visitor can enter. The figures carved into the stone indicate that this was a temple to the Descending god.

Coba was the central hub of a sophisicated road system. The roads or causeways were known as Sacbe (plural: sacbeob) and aided communications with remote sites up to 100 Km away. Regular every-day trade was conducted, using these sacbeob with other Mayan sites such as Chichen Itza and Tulum.

If you want the opportunity to actually climb a Mayan pyramid (still allowed as of Jan 2008) and enter the temple at its summit, see two Ball Courts and also see the remains of the sophisicated Mayan highway system, then a visit to Coba is essential.