Tags: Coba, Maya ruins, Mexico, Yucatan

Date: June 21, 2018

One thing to do while spending time in Yucatan is to visit Maya archaeological sites. Throughout the region hundreds of sites have been documented and in addition, the number of undocumented or unknown sites is estimated to reach several thousands. The first site we visited was the nearby Coba. The site was first mentioned in print in 1842 by John Lloyd Stephens (more about him later) but he did not visit Coba at the time because it was so distant from any existing roads that he decided that the difficulty in trying to get there was too great and his time better spent at exploring easier accessible sites instead. In the following years the site was visited a few times but it was not until 1926 that the first proper exploration began. Only when a road leading to the site was built in the early 1970s, major clearing of the jungle that covered the ruins and restoration of some of the buildings was begun, and the site opened up as a tourist attraction in the 1980s.

Even though a part of the site has been cleared of vegetation the feeling at Coba is still very much like walking around in the jungle, turning around a corner and suddenly spotting some ruins under the shade of some trees. It is rather nice to walk in the shade of the trees, especially when taking into consideration the heat and humidity in June, but the dense vegetation makes it impossible to get an overview of the layout of the city of Coba. Coba is estimated to have had around 50.000 inhabitants at its peak and the built up area extends over about 80 km2. The different parts of the city was connected by straight raised roads, paved with stones, so-called sacbes (meaning "white road" in the local Maya language). Some sacbes were very long and connected Coba to other Maya cities. Coba was first settled between 50 BC and 100 AD and became a major political and economic factor in the area until around 900 AD where a lengthy power struggle between Coba and emerging Maya city of Chichén Itzá resulted in Coba losing most of its political and economical power. However, Coba remained a religious site of some importance until its abandonment at the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

Here is the so-called Iglesia pyramid. To the left in front of the pyramid is a thatched roof covering one of the many stelae (a tall sculpted stone of unknown function) found at Coba:

In the two following pictures, it is easy to see that the jungle is quite close to the ruins and is just waiting for an inattentive moment to overgrow everything again:

This restored pathway probably used to be one of the Maya roads (sacbes) connecting different parts of Coba:

Picture of a circular tile near the ball court at Coba:

Another stele:

The Nohoch Mul pyramid is 42 m tall, making it one of the tallest Maya pyramids. Nohoch Mul means big mound in Maya. Unlike most archaeological sites in Europe, climbing the pyramid is actually allowed:

Here is Félicie at the top:

View over the jungle with another top of a pyramid sticking up in the distance:

Félicie on the way down:

A funny bird with a large tail landed on the path in front of us:

Another small pyramid with some restoration work being done at the top:

Here is a stele and below is a drawing showing the inscriptions on the stele:

We had had quite a few days with rain a couple of days before we visited Coba so the road leading to the site was flooded: