One of the main metropolises of the Mayan World

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It is located in the eastern portion of the modern town of Cobá, in the town of Tulum, Quintana Roo.

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When the traveler reaches the summit of the Nohoch Mul pyramid in Cobá, which dominates the jungle from its forty two meter height, a persistent, immense rain is unleashed, and the cardinal points are lost. The traveler contemplates the ancient Mayan city of Cobá, surrounded by 5 lakes, which had 50,000 inhabitants in its peak.

Its name is translated as “water with moss” or “water moisture”, although there are authors that suggest it means “water stirred by the wind”, due to its proximity to a few small lakes that have a pretty cloudy color. Other researchers of the ancient Mayan language suggest more translations, among them are “water of the chachalacas”; “tooth of the corn leaf”, which also came from the Mayan words, or “abundant water”.

EThe Mayan archaeological site of Cobá is located about ninety kilometers east of Chichén Itzá, and about forty kilometers east of Tulum, it has an area of about 70 square kilometers and a network of 45 roads (or sacbeob) that communicate to the different groups in the site, as well as other minor communities, which almost certainly depended on its rule.

Cobá flourished in the Classic period when it came to rule a wide region. Between 200 and 800 A.D., Cobá was one of the biggest metropolises of the Mayan world, until its great rival, Chichén Itzá, extended its rule.

The first descriptions of the archaeological site are credited to the famous travelers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. In 1881 Teobert Maler took the first known photograph of Cobá.

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Most of the city was built in Petén style monumental architecture corresponding to the Classic period, and in the eastern coast style, belonging to the Postclassic period of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The settlement has over 6,500 structures, but the excavated area is still very small. Three groups of buildings are open to visitors. From the Cobá group, next to the site’s entrance, “The Church” pyramid stands; it is a 25 meter high pyramid from to the early Classic period, which locals considered a sanctuary.

The road or sacbé 9, the widest on the site, leads to the religious group of Macanxoc, where you can visit a collection of 8 sculpted stelae, with altars and sanctuaries.

The other main group of constructions is found almost two kilometers north where you can find one of the highest buildings in the Mayan area, called Nohoch Mul which, at 42 meters high, dominates and crowns the landscape. An unforgettable view of the jungle is in store at the top.

Southeast of the Nohoch Mul is the Paintings Group, a group of buildings that was constructed during the late Postclassic period. Its name is due to the fragments of wall paintings that are preserved inside the small main temple of the group which, despite its modest dimensions, it is important because it houses the Cobá’s later buildings, constructed from the keystones and constructive materials of older buildings.

Undoubtedly, Cobá is characterized by its magnificent road network. Between 200 and 600 A.D. it determined the development of agricultural and hydraulic areas, as well as the trace of inter and intraregional trading routes, which may have included control over some important ports, such as Xel Ha.

One of the most important sacbé began in Cobá: 100 kilometers long, it reached Yaxuná, which is a short distance away from Chichén Itzá. These white roads, which where coated with stucco, were not just simple routes, they were built over containment walls up to 20 meters wide and 6 meters high. The 35 roads that have been documented in this area prove that Cobá maintained close contact with the great cities of Guatemala, southern Campeche and Quintana Roo such as Tikal, Dzibanché, Kohunlinch, Muyil, Octakah, Tankah, Xel-Há, or Calakmul, building relationships with the center of Mexico and the Teotihuacán metropolis, as depicted by a platform of the Paintings Group, documented in early 1999.

After the 7th Century, the strengthening of the cities of the Yucatan Puuc, as well as the later appearance of Chichén Itzá among the sociopolitical scene of the peninsula, meant the beginning of the decline of Cobá. From the year 900 or 1000, Cobá faced Chichén Itzá to determine which city would be the dominant one and, after the loss of the Yaxuná enclave, Cobá had to bow down to the new dominant power in the region.

After the year 1,000, Cobá lost political relevance, although it appears to have kept its symbolic and ritual importance, which allowed it to recover some ground between the years 1200 and 1500, when the different Eastern Coast style buildings were constructed. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Cobá was completely uninhabited.



Wear comfortable footwear, preferably something sporty, that allows you to easily walk and access the different areas on the archaeological site.


Before your arrival, check the weather conditions and choose the best time by clicking here.


Remember the importance of respecting the place you are visiting and keeping it clean.

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How to arrive

From the city of Cancún, the site is accessible through Federal Highway 307 Cancún – Chetumal, on r...

From the city of Cancún, the site is accessible through Federal Highway 307 Cancún – Chetumal, on reaching the town of Tulum (128 kilometers south of Cancún), take the turn on kilometer 47 that leads to the Cobá archaeological zone.
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