Visitors who brave the steep climb up the highest pyramid in Mexico's Maya world reap the reward of a breathtaking vista. At more than 130 feet in height, Nohuch Mul, which means “large mound” in the Mayan language, is the tallest pyramid at Coba archaeological site and in the Yucatán Peninsula. Coba, an easy half-hour drive inland from the coastal city of Tulum, is well worth a visit.
In the Maya language Coba means “water stirred by wind.” The Maya flourished here between 400 and 1100 A.D. One of the largest Maya cities of the Classic period, at its peak the site stretched out over 50 miles and was home to some 50,000 inhabitants. Two small lakes nearby made it a desirable location.
As you explore the site, wandering the pleasantly shady trails beneath the jungle canopy, keep your eyes and ears open for wildlife. You'll surely spot some interesting tropical birds and howler monkeys. Coba is extensive, so if you tire of walking in the jungle heat you can rent a bike or hire a tricycle pedicab and driver to pedal you around.
Coba was an important trade link between the Caribbean coast and inland cities. A network of ancient roads called sacbe in Maya, which means “white road” radiates out from Coba. They are between ten and 30 feet wide and are made of limestone. The longest sacbe, 96 km (60 miles) long, connects Coba to Yaxcuna. The ancient Maya likely used the sacbe for commercial purposes but they may have also had a ritual function, though it is unclear what that might be. By all accounts the ancient Maya did not use the wheel, so it is an enigma as to why they put so much effort into building such impressive roads.
After your visit to Coba, plan to stop at the Gran Cenote on the way back toward Tulum for a refreshing dip in the cool, clear water—a welcome reward indeed after the hot climb.