Walking along the jungle paths of Coba you can almost see the Mayan citizens going about their daily business. Coba was home to 55,000 Maya at it’s peak (AD 800-1100) and only a few of its estimated 6500 structures have been excavated.
You have several choices on how to make your way around the ruins including:
- Self guided tour (try to get a map somewhere before you enter)
- Hire a local guide either for an individual tour or join a group
- Hire a bike
- Take a bike-taxi
Given my budget I decided to walk and after 1.5 days of rain the jungle was steamy.
The ruins of Coba are much more impressive than Tulum both in size and condition. While Tulum, perched on the side of the cliff, might have had a better view, Coba seems a bit more authentic, hidden in the jungle. The most impressive of the ruins is Nohoch Mul (Big Mound) a 42m high half excavated pyramid that you can climb to get a view over the jungle.
From a ways away Nohoch Mul doesn’t seem like much but as you closer you realize that the stairs to the top are uneven, broken and slippery. They also rise at about an 80 degree angle meaning they’re also dangerous.
I chose to ignore the large “Climb at your own risk” sign and follow the rest of the tourist hordes up to the top. I took it slow and was doing well until about half-way up a woman about 5 feet away from me who was making her way down the side lost her balance and started falling to the bottom. It was pure luck that about 10 feet below her a man had stopped to turn around and take a picture. He managed to catch her and save her from a tumble straight to the bottom and what would have been severe injuries if not death.
After that bit of drama and in as careful a manner as I could manage I finally made it to the top.
I’d timed it right, heading up just as a large group was heading down. There was only one other couple at the top with me – an American couple from Minnesota. We chatted for a few minutes and I told them the story of the falling woman and reminded them to be careful before they headed down.
I had the top to myself for about 5 minutes before the next group arrived and it was amazingly peaceful. Looking around all you can see for miles is green jungle. Just a bit to the right you can see the very top of another ruin and a little further a lake but other than that it seemed like there was no civilization for miles. The wind was strong and gusty which was a bit nerve-wracking and kept me off balance during my time at the top.
Rather than trying to climb down like a normal person I decided to revert back to childhood and go down each step on my butt. It was probably much safer but by the time I got to the bottom my body was exhausted from heat and exertion and my legs and arms (from lowering me – basically 42m worth of tricep dips) were like jelly. The 1.5k hike to the exit was good for recovery (though the bike-taxis were tempting!) and the 2 cold beers I drank while waiting 3 hours for my bus to Valladolid was even better.