For now, Coba visitors are still permitted to climb to the top of the site’s nearly 140-foot pyramid. // © 2015 Megan Leader
Feature image (above): Ixmoja is the tallest pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula. // © 2015 Megan Leader
At the Maya ruins of Coba, active travelers and their imaginations run wild. Located on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and approximately 90 miles from Cancun, Coba is home to an expansive archaeological site in the heart of the jungle.
A longtime trading hub for the Maya, this sprawling city once stretched out to cover 50 miles and was home to around 50,000 inhabitants. Today, only a fraction of the site has been excavated, but that portion is open to the public and offers extraordinary sights.
For a few pesos, visitors can rent bikes and pedal along the sacbe, limestone-paved roads that link different areas of the archaeological site. The lush jungle canopy provides plenty of shade as riders cruise around, and guests are likely to spot howler monkeys and other local wildlife along the way.
Together, the bicycles, pedicabs and pedestrians create a bustling but uncrowded atmosphere. It only takes a little bit of imagination to picture what life was like in the Maya metropolis.
In addition to well-preserved ball courts and temples, Coba is home to Ixmoja, the tallest Maya pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula. Not only a Coba highlight, Ixmoja is also one of the few Maya structures that visitors are allowed to climb — a fact that heartens those who didn’t make it to the top of Chichen Itza when climbing it was permitted. However, travelers should plan a Coba visit soon. Rumor has it that scaling Ixmoja will eventually be off-limits as well.
Getting to the top of the nearly 140-foot pyramid can be daunting, but the view is worth the effort. Climbers can grip a single large rope for stabilization and scramble up the stone staircase at their own pace — just watch your step, stay close to the center and don’t look down. Once at the pinnacle, visitors are rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding jungle canopy. If the dizzying ascent didn’t already take your breath away, this sight certainly will.
Local tour operator Alltournative offers a day trip to the site, ideal for those who would prefer to have their adventure narrated by a knowledgeable guide. Pickup and drop-off from select Cancun and Riviera Maya hotels are included, as are a traditional lunch and entry fees. The itinerary also includes opportunities to swim in a cenote, zipline in the jungle and canoe in a lagoon.
With smaller crowds than those at other major Maya sites, Coba has an off-the-beaten-track feel while still offering plenty to see and do. Plus, a Coba visit is a great way for clients to check pyramid climbing off their bucket list.