xai'be  pyramid                                           regis lachume

ixmoja pyramid lower chambers                           laslovarga

site overview                                 google earth

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stela 1                         dennis jarvis

ixmoja pyramid temple                 wolfgang sauber

COBA

coba group structure 4                                    adam jones

stelae in front of ball court              luis bugallo sanchez

​​COBA Quintana Roo (Yucatan), Mexico

DESCRIPTION
​​Coba is a large and important site 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 kms inland from the Caribbean coast. Its early settlement dates to the Pre-Classic (350 B.C. – 250 A.D.), and it reached its height in economic and political power as a regional capital 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 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 other smaller groups and individual structures scattered throughout the site.

 Coba contains numerous stelae (free-standing carved stone slabs), some having legible historical data, with most protected under thatch roof palapas. There are also around 50 sacbeob (white stone roads) that extend within and without the site, the longest being over 62 miles/100 kms 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 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 kms to the site.  The signage is very good. 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. 4.25/75 Pesos; Parking $2.75/50 Pesos
GUIDES: Yes, inquire at the visitor kiosk for rates.
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Bicycle rentals, bike taxis, snack bar/gift shop
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMODATIONS: Lodging and food found can be found in Coba village, or for a wider selection check out Tulum.
GPS: 20d 29’29” N 87d 44’09” W
MISC: Bike rental $2.75/50 Pesos; Bike taxies $7/125 Pesos per hour


HISTORY
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 as a regional capital during the Late Classic (600-900 A.D) 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 Early Classic time period saw a strong affinity with the Peten region in Guatemala. Due to changing political and economic dynamics across the Yucatan Peninsula during the Late Classic, Coba’s focus turned to the northern Yucatan.  According to a reading of Panel 9, Coba may have come under the influence of the great Kan Kingdom, at that time ruled from the city of Dzibanche. A construction boom from 800-1000 A.D. saw numerous new sacbeob, structures and remodeling, with influences from central Mexico as evidenced by the East Coast style found throughout the site. A gradual decline eventually set in yet Coba hung on as a viable city until as late as the 14th century before it was abandoned.

Over twenty stelae have been recovered from throughout the site. 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 rulers and their dates of ascension.

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 that still exist. 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 carried out by the Carnegie Institution of Washington including Harry Pollock, Eric Thompson, and Jean Charlot, who 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. INAH’s involvement in additional projects and studies has been ongoing.

STRCTURES
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 138 feet/42 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 breeze blowing across your face.

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, vaulted chamber exhibiting three entrances. A stela, Stela 30, was recovered within the chamber. The placement of this temple is quite unusual as far as the Maya architectural concept of symmetry is concerned. Further research may provide some clues to this mystery. On the east side of the pyramid are found a number of vaulted rooms.

To the west, and slightly behind the Ixmoja pyramid is a huge platform, Structure C-7, about 55 feet/17 meters in height. It is 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 may indicate a Pre-Classic construction date. On the south side of the structure are three mounds and a circular ring of dressed stone, the latter being similar to a stone basin located in a courtyard at the large, jungle covered site of Kukikan, about 9miles/15 kms to the southwest.

Situated around the south side of the Ixmoja Plaza are Structures C-10 and C-12 (also known as D-1 and D-2). They are low platforms and each contain a stela, with Stela 20 being among the best-preserved stela found at the site.

The first group seen when entering the site is the Coba Group situated between Lakes Coba and Macanxoc. This group is situated around a plaza, and is the oldest group at the site. It contains the Acropolis which is composed of over forty structures incorporating numerous courtyards, vaulted rooms, and stelae. A number of the structures are built over one another as was a common Maya building practice.


The Acropolis is on the east side of a plaza and is constructed atop a very large platform base. 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 Lake Macanxoc. The most important of the structures excavated and consolidated in the Acropolis is tLa 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 an open, west facing courtyard, Courtyard A, and looks over the plaza towards Lake Coba. Several partially restored structures flank the courtyard. Unfortunately, the pyramid is no longer accessible for climbing.

In front of the pyramid stands the upper half of Stela 11 and its accompanying round altar which are protected under a thatched 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 ruler known as Xaman K’awiil. He ascended as king on 9.9.19.2.3., March 13, 632 A.D. 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.

Next to, and south of, the Iglesia 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. A single structure is located next to it on the south side. Its entryway is divided between five square columns. Other structures are seen rising up behind it.

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 the stairway. It is located of the north side of the Acropolis.

Another structure associated with this group is one of the two ball courts found at Coba, Ball Court 1. It is made up of the usual 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. One of the linear structures contained vaulted roofed chambers. A wide, flying stairway on the north side contains a passageway underneath.

Following a path that roughly parallels sacbe 4 leads to Group D. It contains the Paintings Group, a ball court, the Xia’be plaza, and other structures. The first structure seen in this group, Structure 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. 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 4. This is a small, three-tiered platform with a small shrine on the south side housing Stela 26. The path then leads further east to the Paintings Group plaza.

The Paintings Group is a mostly Post Classic (900-1450 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 accessed between two entryways. An entryway is seen on its 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. 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.

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.

Continuing back north towards the Nohoch Mul group is another well-preserved ball court, Ball Court 2, Structure D-13. 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 Kak’Ti’Balam in 574 A.D.

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. To the north of the ballcourt is a partially excavated structure; a low platform with an east facing stairway.

Just beyond the Ball Court is a large plaza, part of the D Group. A number of sacbeob enter into and leave from here. The main structure is known as Xai’be, “crossroads” in Yucatec Maya, and is situated at the east end of the plaza. This is a 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.

Returning back to the south-east and along Sacbe 9 is the Macanxoc Group. Here one can find a complex of structures built upon a large, rather overgrown platform terrace, and situated around one or more plazas. This group contains 8 stelae, 5 of which reference a female ruler, Ruler B, who ascended the throne in 640 A.D. and ruled to 682 A.D. The other stelae reference male rulers from the early 7th century. This may have been a complex especially dedicated to ceremonial events. An interesting and rare feature of Stelae 1 and 5 is that they both record a long series of calendrical periods that reaches back to the creation date of 3114 B.C.

 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 upon a small platform, Structure A-9.

A columned structure is located in the center of the plaza along with a stela. A number of structures lie just to the west of the main group. Most of the stelae throughout the site feature a similar format of a ruler grasping a ceremonial bar across the chest denoting his/her rulership. He/she 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.

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

 

la iglesia                                         dennis jarvis

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

ixmoja diving god image                   wolfgang sauber

structure 3 paintings group                     steve mellard

coba group ball court stairway                       laslovarga

macanxoc group                             steve mellard

macanxoc group                                          steve mellard

la iglesia w/stela 11 coba group                        ken thomas

ixmoja pyramid                                     gautier poupeau

ixmoja pyramid lower temple

coba group structure 4                                       laslovarga

ball court 2 glyph panel                           hispalois

macanxoc group                                   steve mellard

ball court coba group                          ken thomas

ixmoja pyramid                                        o. mustafin

ball court 1 flying stairway                                          laslovarga

temple of the paintings                                         o. mustafin

​ball court 2 group D                                        steve mellard

ballcourt2 marker                                       brunobarbato

coba group la iglesia                                      laslovarga

paintings group str 1 temple                           o mustafin

coba site map