Coba, located 45 minutes from the palm kissed, white sand beaches of Mexico’s southern Yucatán, is remarkable not only for being a magnificent ancient Mayan metropolis, but also because it is relatively under-visited.
A family-friendly, lost-world experience, it is carpeted in natural jungle. Below spreads an array of temple pyramids, immaculately preserved ball courts and religious structures, all linked by the largest network of stone road causeways (sacbeob – white roads) in the known Mayan world. Which is quite apt when one considers that you can comfortably catch a Caribbean Sea swim at sunrise and beachfront breakfast and still visit Coba before the fiercer mid-afternoon temperatures kick in.
Thanks to the impressive jungle canopy you can walk, cycle or commandeer a peddle rickshaw between the ancient city’s most exciting sites in comfortable and welcoming shade. Evenly spread out, the solid stone housing areas, stelae, temples and yet to be excavated canopy-high pyramidal shaped earth mounds soon come to life, allowing you to imagine how the 50,000-plus population once lived.
The biggest buzz awaits you 42m up at the top of Ixmoja, the tallest pyramid on the Yucatán peninsula and to my mind one of the Mayan world’s highlights. At the centre of the Nohoch Mul structures, Ixmoja rises out from the jungle like a modern-day Middle-eastern skyscraper through a desert sandstorm. The memorable climb is well worth it, leaving a lasting experience to cherish forever. The pyramid is as majestic as it must have been during Mayan times, with sensational views across a jungle canopy stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see.
Standing on top you instantly feel closer to the heavens, just as Mayan priests must have done in the middle and late classical period during 500-900AD.
Situated around two enormous freshwater lagoons it is easy to see how, at its peak, Coba stretched over 80km², and remained a hugely influential and important site until the 14th century – even possibly up until the arrival of the Spanish.
I do strongly recommend that anyone visiting this region of the Mesoamerican world takes the time and trouble to factor in a visit to Coba. Having travelled throughout the region, with memorable Mayan visits to Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal, I do regard Coba as one of the highlights.
It is a classic example of how an ancient civilization arose independently, in this case amidst the cultural area and greater region of central and southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua – collectively Mesoamerica.
Certainly sipping an evening margarita back on the beach, after our Coba visit, my family’s main topic of conversation was how extraordinary a visit it had been. All the more remarkable as the city, like all other Mayan sites, was so immaculately built by hand, without the aid of a wheel.