macanxoc group                             steve mellard

COBA Quintana Roo (Yucatan), Mexico

Coba is a large and important site located in the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. Its early settlement dates to the Pre Classic (350 B.C. – 250 A.D.) and it reached its height in economic and political power in the Late Classic (600-900A.D.). 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 small lakes, though the site itself is thought to encompass around 10 square miles/26kms sq, containing thousands of structures. There are four main structural groups that comprise the core area, including one that has the highest pyramid in the Yucatan. There are other smaller groups and individual structures scattered throughout the site. 

 It contains numerous stelae (free-standing carved stone slabs), some with legible historical data with most protected under thatch roof palapas. There are also several sacbeob (white stone roads) that run throughout the area, the longest being over 60 miles/100kms that extends 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 is an image of the “Diving God” which is also seen at the coastal site of Tulum. 

 Coba is reached by traveling south from Cancun on coastal Highway 307, and turning inland at the town of 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. 

HOURS: 8 A.M-5 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. 5.00/65 Pesos; Parking $3.50/50 Pesos
GUIDES: Yes, inquire at the visitor kiosk for rates.
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Bicycle rentals, snack bar/gift shop
ACCOMMODATIONS: Simple lodging and food found in Coba village or for a wider selection in Tulum.
GPS: 20d 29' 29" N, 87d 44' 09" W
MISC: Bike Rental $3.50/50 Pesos; Bike Taxi $8/125 Pesos/hr

Coba was first settled in the Pre Classic (300B.C.-250 A.D) but all that remains are pottery shards to tell the story. It began its development into a local power in the Early Classic (250-600 A.D) and achieved its height during the Late Classic (600-900 A.D) when most of the buildings 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. Due to changing political and economic dynamics across the Yucatan Peninsula there began a slow retrenchment at the end of the Late Classic Period. The influence of Central Mexican groups is seen in the style of remodeling of some of the structures that was common throughout the Yucatan in the Terminal Classic (900-1100 A.D.). Coba hung on until as late as the Spanish Conquest before it was abandoned. 

Coba is first mentioned by John Lloyd Stephens in the 1840’s, but it was too remote to mount an expedition there. Teobert Maler visited the site in the 1890’s taking the first photos of the site. Thomas Gann followed and compiled the first written report on the site.  Serious investigations were not undertaken until the 1920’s-30’s. 

​​The Nohoch Group is the farthest group from the entrance. It is mentioned here first as this is the group that contains the highest pyramid at Coba, Ixmoja, at about 130 feet/43 meters in height. It is a dizzying 112 steps to the top, and is the highest pyramid in the northern Yucatan. The temple at the top, which faces south-east, 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. From its summit one has an unlimited and peaceful view of the surrounding jungle. The sound of parrots and other birds come from below you with only the cool wind blowing across your face.

Behind the Ixmoja pyramid is a huge platform about 8 feet/ 3 meters high and about 50 feet/17 meters in length with an “L” shaped lower platform about 100 feet/33 meters in length.

Structures 10 and 12, built atop low platforms and containing Stelae 12 and 21 respectively, are the other structures of note situated about the plaza in this group It is from this plaza that the 62mile/100km sacbe, the longest in the Maya World, leads off towards the west to Yaxuna. This sacbe is an engineering marvel. 

The first group seen when entering the site is the Coba Group. This large complex is the oldest, and contains the Acropolis which is composed of a number of structures, many built over one another as was a common Maya building practice. The complex is built around a large plaza. The most important of the structures excavated and consolidated is the Iglesia. This 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. It consists of nine levels crowned with a small temple. In front of the pyramid is Stela 11 with its accompanying altar which are protected under a thatched roof. Next to, and north of, the Iglesia is a palace structure set on a raised courtyard surrounded by other partly restored structures with the highest being about 18 feet/6 meters from the plaza level.

Another structure associated with this group is one of the two ball courts found at Coba. The Ball Court is oriented on a north-south axis. Across from the Ball Court is a structure named the Kan Stairway that contains incised Kan (day name, snake, and the color yellow in Yucatec Maya) glyphs blocks imbedded as part of the stairway.

Following a path that roughly parallels sacbe 4 leads to the Paintings Group. This is a mostly Post Classic (900-1450 A.D.) group featuring an East Coast Style of architecture also found at Tulum, Mayapan and Chichen Itza. It contains several structures grouped around a single plaza of which 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. Structure 2 lies at the base of Structure 1. 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. A long palace type structure with a stela in front lies opposite Structure 1. 

Continuing on towards the Nohoch Mul group is another well-preserved ball court. One of the sloping sides has a striking glyph panel containing a long series of hieroglyphic text. There are two ball court markers imbedded in the playing field; one featuring a skull, and the other a decapitated squirrel.

Just beyond the Ball Court is a structure known as Xai’Be, “crossroads” in Yucatec Maya. It is situated close by the point where a number of sacbeob meet. This is a conical shaped, four-level structure with two medial moldings. There are two stairways; one on the east side and the other on the west. In front of the west stairway is a covered stela.

To the south-east along Sacbe 9 is the Macanxoc Group. Here one can find a complex of structures built upon a large platform situated around a single plaza. A three-level pyramidal structure is on the east side of the plaza with a 6-columned structure in front of it. The north side consists of a low platform. The south side of the plaza has two structures; one being a stepped pyramidal structure, and the other a low structure, each containing a stela. Stela 1 is located on the west side of the plaza in front of a single structure. A columned structure is located in the center of the plaza also with a stela. There are more stelae (carved stone slab markers) and platforms located here, as well as numerous altars. 

There are other buildings, altars, and stelae located throughout the site. Some of these are open to visitors while others remain to be excavated and restored.

ball court coba group                          ken thomas

site overview                                 google earth

​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

ixmoja pyramid                                        o. mustafin

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stela 1                         dennis jarvis

la iglesia w/stela 11 coba group                        ken thomas


structure 3 paintings group                     steve mellard

temple of the paintings                                         o. mustafin

xai'be                                             regis lachume

​ball court nohoch mul group                  steve mellard

ball court glyph panel                           hispalois

macanxoc group                                   steve mellard

coba group                                             steve mellard

stelae in front of ball court              luis bugallo sanchez