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ixmoja pyramid o. mustafin
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ballcourt 1 flying stairway luis bugalio sanchez
coba group acropolis graham/von euw
structure D5 carlos delgado
acropolis plaza F steve mellard
structure A7 stela 2 steve mellard
structure A 8 stela 8 steve mellard
sela 11 lower steve mellard.
acropolis structure B5 steve mellard
la iglesia and passageway steve mellard
macanxoc structure A5 rear steve mellard
macanxoc site map pueblosoriginarios
paintings structure D1 temple o mustafin
ball court 1 gennaro conte
macanxoc structure A 5 steve mellard
macanxoc north plaza platform steve mellard
temple of the paintings o. mustafin
la iglesia passageway steve mellard
structure D5 stela 28 dennis jarvis
structure B4 adam jones
ball court 2 steve mellard.
structure A5 complex steve mellard
stela 11 cache maria con uribe
structure D5 north steve mellard
structures 1 & 2 paintings group steve mellard
structure A1 stela 4 steve mellard.
macanxoc A5 courtyard structure steve mellard
COBA Quintana Roo (Yucatan), Mexico
Coba is a large and important Mayan archaeological zone located in the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is one of the few sites to retain its original Maya name, Ko’ba a, which translates to ruffled/uneven water. The site is located about 28 miles/47 km inland from the Caribbean coast. Its early settlement dates to the Preclassic (350 BCE – 250 CE), and it reached its height in economic and political power as a regional capital in the Late/Post Classic (600-1000 CE). Though it started to decline in status after this date, it still was a viable city until at least the 14th century. Its core area is built around four lakes, though the extended site itself is thought to encompass around 10 square miles/26kms sq, containing thousands of structures, mostly residential platforms. The population at its peak has been estimated at 50,000 inhabitants.
There are four main structural groups that comprise the core area, Groups A-D, including one that has the highest pyramid in the northern Yucatan. There are many other smaller groups and individual structures scattered throughout the site. Only a small portion Coba has been restored and opened to the public, though this contains all the major structures.
Coba contains numerous stelae (free-standing carved stone slabs), some having legible historical data, with most protected under thatch roof palapas. There are also numerous sacbeob (white stone roads) that extend within and without the site, the longest being over 62 miles/100 km that reaches to the western site of Yaxuna. This is the longest sacbe found in the Maya area. Some of the modern paths lead over the raised sacbeob which, though recognizable, are cluttered with trees. Also to be found here are images of the “Diving God” which are seen at the coastal site of Tulum, identified as one of the seaports for Coba.
Coba is reached by traveling south from Cancun on coastal Highway 307, and turning inland onto Highway 109 at the town of Tulum. It is about 26 miles/40 km to the site from Tulum. The signage is very good. The site can also be reached from Valladolid. Take the old (free) 180 east towards Chemax. Just before the town look for the turnoff south to Coba/Tulum. It is highly recommended to rent a bicycle at the visitor kiosk (the site is really large), and to arrive early before the numerous tour buses start to pour in around 10 A.M. Make sure to pick up some water at the snack bar before entering the site proper. There is also a small snack bar by the Nohoch Mul Group.
HOURS: 8 A.M-5 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.50/100 Pesos; Parking $2.75/50 Pesos
GUIDES: Yes, inquire at the visitor kiosk for current rates.
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Bicycle rentals, bike taxis, snack bar/gift shop
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMODATIONS: Lodging and food can be found in Coba village, or for a wider selection check out Tulum or Valladolid.
GPS: 20d 29’29” N 87d 44’09” W
MISC: Bike rental $3.75/65 Pesos; Bike taxies $14/250 Pesos for 2 hours Highly recommended
HISTORY AND EXPLORATIONS
Coba was first settled in the Preclassic (300 BCE-250 CE). It began its development into a local power in the Early Classic (250-600 CE) and achieved its height as a regional capital during the Late Classic (600-900 CE) when most of the buildings, sacbeob, and the erection of the numerous stelae took place.
Coba exerted a strong influence over a wide area, and its trade links were extensive. The nearby coastal sites of Xel Ha and Tulum are thought to have been ports for sea borne trade activity for Coba. The Late Preclassic and the beginning of the Early Classic time period saw a strong affinity with the Peten region in Guatemala. Soon after, according to a reading of Panel 9, Coba may have come under the influence of the great Kann/Kannu’l Kingdom, at that time ruled from the city of Dzibanche.
A construction boom from 800-1000 CE saw numerous new sacbeob, structures. and remodeling. Influences from central Mexico are evidenced by the East Coast style found throughout the site which appeared in the Post Classic. A gradual decline eventually set in yet Coba hung on as a viable city until as late as the 14th century. After that it maintained a small population and became a pilgrimage destination up until to the time of the Spanish Conquest.
Over twenty stelae and panels have been recovered. They shed some light on the city’s dynastic history, though most are, unfortunately, too eroded to give us the all-important details. However, epigraphers and researchers have now been able to identify several of the kings, their dates of rulership, and possible interactions between Coba and other sites. Glyphic text on Stela 6 at Coba may identify an adversarial relationship between Coba and Oxkintok, located about 143 miles/230 km west of Coba. A prisoner depicted at the bottom of the stela is tentatively identified as being from that site. The time frame of dates on the stela denotes events that took place between 613 and 623 CE during the reign of Siyaj Chan K’awiil.
Stela 19 from Edzna declares the capture of a Coba noble in 692 CE and most likely indicates an adversarial relationship between these centers. It is interesting to note that in this same year a Coba king, Chan Yopaat, died and a new king, his son Mat K’awill, succeeded him. Edzna was an important regional capital, and was situated about 174 miles/280 km southwest of Coba. Both Oxkintok and Edzna are located on the far side of the peninsula.
Coba’s historical kings list begins with the apparent founder of the dynastic lineage, Juunpiktook who reigned c.494 CE, possibly under the patronage of the Kannu'l kingdom. The next important ruler mentioned is recorded on stela 29, Ix Che’enal, who reigned c.565, very likely a princess from the Kannu’l dynasty then located at Dzibanche, showing a continued subordination of Coba to that great kingdom. An important ruler named in the texts is Ix K’awill Ek/Ajaw. She ruled 640-682 CE, and is thought to have been the third queen to rule over Coba, an unusual situation among Maya dynasties. Most of the stelae that mention, or were dedicated by her, are located in the Macanxoc group. Her reign coincided with Coba’s golden age. It has been suggested that she was the ruler who began the construction of the 62 mile/100 km sacbe to Yaxuna. The last known ruler of Coba that can be securely dated is Chan K’inich who erected Stela 20 at the Nohoch Mul Group in 773 CE.
Coba is first mentioned by John Lloyd Stephens in the 1840’s, but it was too remote to mount an expedition there. The first to explore Coba was J. Peon Contreres who visited the site and produced several sketches, copies of which exist. Teobert Maler visited the site in the 1890’s taking the first photos of the site. Thomas Gann followed in 1926 and compiled the first written report on the site. Serious investigations were undertaken in the late 1920’s-30’s, carried out by the Carnegie Institution of Washington including Harry Pollock, Eric Thompson and Jean Charlot. They later collectively authored a major publication on Coba. Later researchers included Alfonso Villa Rojas, E. W. Andrews IV, and Michael Coe among others. In 1974 INAH began a multiyear project which included consolidations, excavations and various research investigations. These were led by Piedad Peniche, and Antonio Benavides C, among others. INAH’s involvement in additional projects and studies has been ongoing.
Coba is a large site with numerous groups and individual structures spread within and outside of the archaeological park. Some small mounds are evident in Coba village.
The first group seen when entering the site is the Coba Group situated between Lakes Coba and Macanxoc. This group is situated around a large plaza, and is the oldest group at the site. The main complex is the Acropolis which is composed of over forty structures incorporating numerous courtyards, vaulted rooms, and stelae. A number of the structures show multiple construction phases, a common Maya building practice.
The Acropolis is found on the east side of a plaza and is constructed atop a very large platform base. Currently, only the structures that line the east side of the plaza are open to the public. A broad stairway runs the entire length along the plaza side, about 327 feet/100 meters. Six sacbeob branch out from the plaza to additional internal groups and distant sites. Other structures that ring the plaza are in a ruined condition. The south side of the Acropolis faces across Lake Macanxoc to the Uitzil Group. The most important of the structures excavated and consolidated in the Acropolis is La Iglesia/The Church.
La Iglesia, Structure B-1, is the second tallest pyramid at the site at over 72 feet/24 meters in height, and which was built and added onto over hundreds of years beginning in the Early Classic. It consists of nine tiers crowned by a small, Post Classic temple. It is set at the back of a west facing courtyard, Courtyard A, and looks over the plaza towards Lake Coba. Unfortunately, the pyramid is no longer accessible for climbing. On the north side of La Iglesia is a nicely restored, corbel vaulted passageway.
In front of the pyramid stands the upper half of Stela 11 and its accompanying round altar which are protected under a thatched palapa roof. A recent discovery of the lower portion of Stela 11, buried just behind the upper half, has provided epigraphers with new information regarding a previously unknown ruler, Xaman K’awiil. He ascended as king on 126.96.36.199.3, 9 Akbal 11 Pop- March 14, 632 CE. A rich offering cache was discovered beneath the lower half. The items recovered included jade ear flares, jade beads, a jade ceremonial axe head, and spondylus shells.
Two partially restored structures, Structures B-2 (north) and B-3 (south), flank Courtyard A. They are low range type structures entered between a series of pilasters. Structure B-3 extends along the west stairway in an “L” configuration and terminates at an opening that leads into a semi-private courtyard, Courtyard B. The remains of several structures ring the courtyard.
Connected to the south of Courtyard B is a palace structure, Structure B-4, also part of the Acropolis Complex. A flying stairway leads up from the plaza floor to a palapa covered structure. A passageway under the stairway is an interesting architectural design, and gives the name for these types of stairways found mostly at Puuc sites. Adjoining the north side of the stairway is a fragment of Stela 12. A final, structure, Structure B-5 is located next to the stairway on the southern corner. Its entryway is divided between five pilasters. Other structures are seen rising up behind it.
Within the Acropolis are some structures of note. Structure B-22 is a large unrestored pyramid. There are several palaces including Structures B-28 and B-33 which exhibit two stories. Structure B-36 contains nine or ten rooms and has a view over the lake.
A set of stairs named the Kan Stairway contains incised Kan (day name, snake, and the color yellow in Yucatec Maya) glyph block risers that form a portion of a stairway located of the north side of the Acropolis. Two carved skulls flank the stairs which lead up to Structure B-2.
Another structure associated with this group is one of the two ball courts found at Coba, Ball Court 1. It is made up of two parallel structures, and its axis is oriented a few degrees east of north. There are two original rings that are imbedded into the sloping walls. Panels depicting prisoners are located at the top of the walls. The south end of the narrow playing field faces the Kan Stairway.
The east structure is the much larger of the two ball court structures and once contained vaulted roofed chambers. A wide, flying stairway on the north side has a passageway underneath. A second grand stairway on the east side leads up to multiple chambers divided by a central wall. It overlooks Plaza F whose southern edge runs along the high platform wall of the Acropolis. A small stairway leads up from the south side of the structure.
The west Ball Court structure has small north and south stairways that lead up to a series of chambers. On the west side is a small enclosure that houses Stelae 9 and 10. They are currently protected under a palapa roof.
Following a path that roughly parallels Sacbe 4 leads to Group D. It contains the Paintings Group, a ball court, and the Xia’be Plaza, among other structures. The first structure seen in this group, Structure D-5, is situated along the main pathway. It is a long, low platform with the north side of the platform housing a multi chamber one-story structure entered between several pilasters. It has a west facing stairway. The south platform has steps on both the east and west sides. A low-walled shrine holds Stela 28 set within the east steps. A side path leads east to Structure D-4. This is a small, three-tiered platform shrine housing Stela 26 on the south side. The path then leads further east to the Paintings Group Plaza.
The Paintings Group is a mostly Post Classic (1100-1450 A.D.) group, and features an East Coast Style of architecture such as seen at Tulum, Mayapan and Chichen Itza. It contains several structures grouped around a single plaza of which the Temple of the Paintings, Structure 1, is the largest. It is a pyramidal structure crowned with a small temple containing traces of painted murals, and is on the east side of the plaza. It reaches a height of 26 feet/8 meters. The temple is a single chamber with its main access between two entryways on the west side. Single entryways are also seen on the north and south side.
Structure 2 lies at the base of Structure 1, and is of a later construction built onto Structure 1’s stairway. It is a single-entry vaulted chamber with a bench on its north side. A fragment of Stela 27 is located within the structure.
Structure 3 is a low building with 7 columns which once had a roof of perishable material and is on the north side of the plaza. There are 13 small altars in front of this structure indicating the ritual significance of this structure.
To the south of Structure 1 is Structure 6. This is a single-story construction consisting of two or more chambers flanked by low platforms exhibiting square columns.
Returning back along the path to Structure D-5 leads to the main path north towards the Nohoch Mul Group. A second well-preserved ball court, Ball Court 2, Structure D-13 is the next structure encountered. This ball court is oriented on an east/west axis. One of the sloping sides has a striking glyph panel containing a long series of hieroglyphic text with the city name of Ko’ba’a referenced multiple times. The panel contains dynastic information including the accession to the throne of the city’s dynastic founder, Juunpiktook in 494 CE, and the accession of ruler Kak’ Ti’ Balam in 574 CE.
There are two ball court markers imbedded in the playing field; one featuring a skull, and the other a decapitated squirrel or jaguar. The upper portion of the twin structures contain numerous chambers. The south structure has a broad stairway on its south side. Two stelae are located in front of the ballcourt along with a glyph panel under a protective palapa structure. Just to the north of the ballcourt is a partially excavated structure; a low platform with an east facing stairway. A pathway leads north from the ball court and passes between two large unexcavated mounds measuring around 126 feet/34.5 meters in length, and 18 feet/5.5 meters in height.
This pathway enters a large plaza, part of the D Group. A number of sacbeob enter into and leave from here. The main structure, Structure D-6, is known as Xai’be, “crossroads” in Yucatec Maya, and is situated at the east end of the plaza. This is an unusual and nicely restored, conical shaped, four-tiered structure exhibiting two medial moldings. There is a stairway on the west side of the structure. In front of the stairway is a covered stela. This structure has been erroneously termed an observatory.
It is from the Xai’be plaza that the 62mile/100km sacbe, Sacbe 1, the longest in the Maya World, leads off from the southwest corner westward to Yaxuna. The sacbe is an engineering marvel. Read more about it in Steve’s informal report on this website. A pathway leads further north to the Nohoch Mul Group.
The Nohoch Group is the farthest group from the entrance. It contains the highest pyramid at Coba, Ixmoja, at about 138 feet/42 meters in height. It is a dizzying 112 steps (some say 130) to the top, and is the highest pyramid reported in the northern Yucatan (the main pyramid at the site of Ichkabal has been estimated at 151 feet/46 meters). The temple at the top, which faces southeast, has images of the Diving God over a single entryway. Take a bike (it’s a long, hot hike) and get there early before the tour busses. Unfortunately, the pyramid, like most others, is no longer accessible for visitors to climb.
The Ixmoja pyramid is set upon a small rise of about 19 feet/6 meters, and faces south onto a large plaza. It has rounded and inset corners and is composed of seven tiers. A secondary stairway to the west of the main stairway leads up to the third tier of the pyramid and to a temple structure. The temple contains a single chamber exhibiting three entrances. A stela, Stela 30, is located within the chamber. The placement of this temple is quite unusual as far as the Maya architectural concept of symmetry is concerned. On the east side of the stairway are found a number of ruined vaulted chambers that rise up on three tiers of the pyramid. The upper tier has a wide terrace. The east side of the pyramid has the remains of some structures at ground level.
To the west, and slightly behind the Ixmoja pyramid is an enormous platform, Structure C-7, about 55 feet/17 meters in height. It is around 408 feet/125 meters wide, and 375 feet/115 meters deep. A single stairway leads up to a terrace about 33 feet/10 meters deep. A single structure about 71 feet/22 meters across extends along the north side. Foundation platforms are located on the east and west sides. This arrangement is very similar to the large platforms seen at the megalithic site of El Naranjal about 27 miles/43 kms to the northeast, and likely indicates a Preclassic construction date. On the south side of the structure are three mounds, Structures C-4 to C-6 and a recessed circular ring of dressed stone, the latter being similar to a stone basin located in a courtyard at the large, jungle covered site of Kuki’kan, about 9 miles/15 km to the southwest.
Situated around the south side of the Ixmoja Plaza are Structures D-1 and D-2 (also known as Structures C-10 and C-12). Structure D1 is a low-rise platform base with the remains of a superstructure of 2 chambers. Stela 20 is inset within the plaza-facing stairway, and is the best preserved stela at the site. The stela records an accession date of the last known ruler of Coba, Ruler D, on 188.8.131.52.5, 10 Chikchan 13 Kumku-January 16, 773, and a period ending date of 184.108.40.206.0, 12 Ajaw 8 Pax- November 30, 783. The period ending date is the latest date recovered so far at the site.
Structure D2 is a small platform shrine with steps on two sides. A stela, Stela 21, is set in front of the northeast side of the platform base.
Returning back to the southeast past the D Group, and then along Sacbe 9 is the Macanxoc Group. Here one can find several structures built upon a large, rather overgrown platform terrace about 656 feet/200 meters in length, and situated around several plazas and courtyards. This group contains 8 stelae and 23 altars. The stelae feature a similar format of a ruler grasping a ceremonial bar across the chest denoting his/her rulership. He/she usually stands upon two captives with two additional captives flanking his/her feet. The glyphic inscriptions refer to calendar endings, ascension and other dynastic events, and astronomical information. Five of the stelae (1-2-4-5) reference an important female ruler, Ix K’awill Ek/Ajaw, who ascended the throne in 640 CE and ruled to 682 CE. The other stelae reference a male ruler from the early 7th century, Sihyaj Chan K’awill (ruled c.610-c.640 CE). This may have been a complex especially dedicated to ceremonial events and these two rulers.
An interesting and rare feature of Stelae 1 and 5 is that they both record a long series of calendrical periods that reach back to the Maya creation date of 3114 BCE. Stela 1 contains 4 calendar round dates, one of which records the accession of Chan Yopaat, son of Ix K’awill Ek/Ajaw. This date, 220.127.116.11.12, 4 Eb 10 Yax- August 28, 682 CE is also recorded at the Guatemalan site of Naranjo announcing the “arrival” of Lady Six Sky from Dos Pilas, a seminal event in Naranjo history, and may indicate a relationship between the two sites. Stela 1 also records the Baktun 13 calendar date that occurred on December 21, 2012, a total time frame completion of 5,127 years (3114 BCE-2012 CE), equal to one of the 5 Maya ritual eras. These five eras combined are equal to 25,685 years, coincidently (?) very close to the time frame of the precession of the equinoxes.
The first structure seen at the end of Sacbe 9 is a small platform shrine, Structure A-9, which houses Stela 1. The platform shrine has stairs on all four sides. The structure is on the west side of a medium size plaza, here called the West Plaza. On the south side of the plaza is a pyramidal structure, Structure A1, at 39 feet/ 12 meters it is among the tallest structures in the group. The plaza facing side of the pyramid exhibits a continuous series of stairs. Imbedded in the center of the stairway is a shrine housing Stela 4. On the east side of the plaza is another small stela platform shrine, Structure A-8, displaying Stela 8. The distance across the plaza from the Stela 1 platform to the Stela 8 platform is about 131 feet/40 meters.
To the east of the Stela 8 platform another plaza is encountered, here called the East Plaza. There are several structures that ring the plaza. The most notable structure is located on the east side of the plaza, Structure A-5.
Structure A-5 is the main structure of a small complex located on the east side of a plaza. The complex is entered through a passageway between two separate chambers each divided by three pilasters. The passageway opens onto a small courtyard. The main structure exhibits a broad, west-facing stairway that leads up about 8 feet/2.4 meters to a partially restored, corbel vaulted temple. Imbedded within the stairway is Stela 7. The east and north sides of the structure also display a stairway. The sides of the structure form nicely slanted walls with the temple superstructure exhibiting an upper medial molding.
On the south side of the courtyard is a small platform and a single chamber structure. The northside of the courtyard houses two small structures, one of which has two chambers and a courtyard facing stairway. An auxiliary chamber is located on the north side of these two small structures. There appears to be one or more stelae fragments and altars scattered around the courtyard.
Adjacent to Structure A-5 on the south side is Structure A-3, a ruined, step pyramidal structure about 20 feet/6 meters in height with a protruding stairway that faces west. In front of the stairway is a very small platform supporting Stela 5.
On the northeast side of the East Plaza another stela platform, much larger than the others, is encountered. This is Structure A-7, and Stela 2 is embedded within the south facing stairway. The platform has what appears to be a small shrine on its north side. The west side consists of two chambers entered between pilasters. A small altar is located in front.
In the center of the East Plaza is Stela 6 set within a small enclosure, Structure A-4. Structure A-6 is located on the southeast side of the plaza. It is a small shrine complex incorporating Stela 3.
To the north of the East Plaza behind Structure A-6 is another small plaza here called the North Plaza. There are two structures located here. The northeast side of the plaza is anchored by a low platform base with south facing stairs. The northwest side of the plaza has a small structure that is entered between two pilasters, and faces back towards Stela 8. There are other structures associated with the group that are currently closed to visitors.
There are many other groups of structures, individual buildings, altars, and stelae located throughout the site and within the surrounding area. Some of these are open to visitors while many others remain to be excavated and restored, or are on private/ejido property.
updated March 2023
Structure A 9 stela 1 macanxoc steve mellard
macanxoc structure A7 stela 2 dennis jarvis
xai'be pyramid regis lachume
Structure D4 stela 26 steve mellard
structure D1 stela 20 steve mellard
ball court 2 marker steve mellard
structure A5 stela 7 steve mellard
ball court 1 stela steve mellard
isolated mound coba village steve mellard
macanxoc north plaza structure sreve mellard
structure A6 stela 3 steve mellard
ball court 1 flying stairway laslovarga
xaibe pyramid alejandro williams
ball court 2 panel hispalois
la iglesia w/stela 11 coba group ken thomas
structure D2 stela 21 steve mellard
paintings group structure D 3 steve mellard
stela 5 in front of A3 steve mellard
macanxoc structure A4 stela 6 steve mellard
ixmoja diving god image wolfgang sauber
stela 1macanxoc group dennis jarvis
ixmoja pyramid lower temple laslovarga
ball court marker bruno barbato
ixmoja pyramid alejandro williams
macanxoc structure A1 stela 4 dennis jarvis
kan stairway acropolis steve mellard
acropolis stela 12 & structure B4 laslovarga
structure B2 courtyard B steve mellard
coba site map
Ixmoja upper temple wolfgang sauber
ixmoja east side of stairway steve mellard