The lack of epigraphic evidence prevents us from knowing the name of the settlement in the pre Hispanic time. Some colonial references and ethnographs of the area meant that the investigator Eric Thompson called it Kinchil Coba during the 1930s, a reference to the name of the Mayan sun gods and to one geographic denomination that relates with the Mayan words ‘cob’ (or kob) cloudy and ‘ha’ water that forms ‘the place of cloudy water’ in reference to the lakes surrounding the city.
Other authors offer different translations to the term ‘Coba’, such as ‘Water of the chachalacas (a bird of the region), ‘Rodent tooth’ or ‘abundant water’ since these are all similar meanings to the words cob and ha in Mayan. Here we will use the first translations as it seems most reasonable for the geographical site.
Without a doubt it is the most important settlement in the northeast of the Yucatan peninsula, only comparable in size and importance to Chichen Itza, its rival and enemy for the large part of its pre Hispanic history. It has an area of a little more than 70kms squared and a net of 45 paths (or sacbeob) that communicates with the various areas of the site and with other lesser communities, surely dependent on its dominance. Within this complete system of roads, one road or sacbe is 100km long that unites Coba to Yaxuna, an archaeological site in the neighboring state of Yucatan.
From the investigations preformed in the area we know that Coba has a long history of occupation that started some 200 or 100 years B.C. when there was a settlement of low platforms and wood and palm constructions. There is no evidence left of these except for some fragments of ceramics. After 100a.d. the area of Coba started to witness a notable demographic, social and political increase that converted into one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the north of the Yucatan.
Between the years 200 and 600a.d the city of Coba seems to have exercised an ample territorial control over the north of the current state of Quintana Roo and certain zones of the east of the Yucatan. This power was from the control of large agriculture spaces and hydraulics, as well as inter and intra regional exchange routes including the domain of some important bridges like Xelha. Although there is still a lot to be known about this period, it’s undoubted that Coba maintained close contact with the large cities in Guatemala and the south of Campeche and Quintana Roo, like Tikal, Dzibanche and Calakmul. To maintain its power they had to establish military and matrimonial alliances at the highest level. In this sense it is interesting to mention the Teotihuacan architecture that documents the existence of links with the center of Mexico and its powerful metropolis of the early Classic period Teotihuacan.
After 600a.d the strengthening of the cities of Puuc and then the arrival of Chichen Itza in the socio-political landscape of the peninsula, meant changes to the structure of power of Coba and its relation with other important urban Mayan cities. The information available advances the hypothesis that from about 900 or 1000a.d. Coba entered into a long dispute with Chichen Itza where some Coba areas like Yaxuna were lost.
After 1000a.d Coba lost political importance, although it seems to have conserved its symbolic and ritual importance which allowed it to recover certain hierarchy in the period 1200-1500. But the economic dynamic of these times was centered in the coastal sites which meant Coba was substituted as a second order city. At the time of the consolidation of Spanish control of the peninsula (1550) Coba was uninhabited and the city was only mentioned again with the arrival of celebrated travelers John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood towards the middle of the 19th century.
In addition its historical importance and beauty of its natural surrounding makes Coba a must for anyone interested in architecture of Quintana Roo. The long walk to visit all the sets made available to the public allows you the opportunity to observe a large variety of birds and animals from the region as well as numerous species of vegetation that make up the regional jungle.
The city is structured with architectonic groups related to its chronology and its urban function: there were residential groups like the Coba group and others with a ceremonial and funeral function like the Macanxoc group.
Open to the visitor is the Coba Group (that starts the tour) where you can see a temple of almost 25 meters high belonging to the early Classic period, locally known as the church, it is an excellent example of the enormous size and importance that the city had in its time. In this area is the Ball Game with representations of captives from the 600-900a.d period. Its base is adorned with drawings of human skulls and hieroglyphic inscriptions in the banks of the stairs. The tour of the zone lets you see the sacbe 1 that connects the site to Yaxuna, some 100km to the east.
Nearby is the group where you can find one of the tallest buildings in all the Mayan area known as the Mayan name Nohoch Mul (large mound) it is an enormous base of 30meters high on which is a temple belonging to the post-construction stage, that added another 12 meters to the structure to a total of 42 meters. The Nohoch Mul was constructed during the early Classic (200-600a.d) period which surely commemorates the power of the rulers of Coba and was the home of the members of the ruling lineage.
In the vicinity is another construction of huge dimensions: the grand platform, a building of almost 30 meters high and 110 by 125 meters wide, being the widest base of all Mayan buildings in the north east of the Yucatan peninsula. Although it hasn’t been explored, it is interesting to note the impressive measurements, possibly of a work unfinished which might explain the lack of other constructions on the base. In this group is also the stele 20, the best conserved of the entire site and which also presents the Mayan date 30th November 730.
Also close by is the Xaibe (or crossroads), a single structure restored many years ago that consists of a semicircular lower building and a staircase tier bank. It seems to have been a commemorative monument and the crossroad of the sacbes 1, 5, 6 and 8.
To the south east of Nohoch Mul is the Group of Paintings. A collection of buildings constructed during the late post Classic time and owes its name to the fragments of mural paintings that are conserved in the interior of the small main temple. Even though the dimensions are modest, it is relevant because they are the last constructions of Coba.
The Macanxoc group is made up of a series of low platforms with small temples and altars, the main part of which are commemorative steles of life events and ruling activities of Coba, some of them women.
Parking, bathrooms and a ticketing area. Also areas dedicated to selling food and arts and crafts from the region. Local certified guides offer tours on foot or on bicycle during visiting hours.
Monday to Sunday 8am to 5pm.
Want to visit Coba? Then join us on tour!
Coba Adventure Tour – a great combination of mayan culture and outdoor activities.
Coba Sunset Tour – includes mountainbiking through the ruins and a spectacular dinner show!
Mayan Culture in Coba – participate in a Mayan ceremony, a truly authentic experience…
Read about other mayan ruins here: