How to Beat the Crowds at the Coba Ruins
The ruins of Coba are from the pre-columbian Mayan civilization, estimated to have about 50,000 inhabitants at the time, and are characterized by large limestone structures built in a similar fashion to other Mayan ruins, with stone-faced carvings, and large staircases leading to the top. What makes Coba even more enjoyable than the ruins of Tulum is that you are still able to touch and even climb up them. The sites are spectacular, especially from the large structure of Nohuch Mul, where you can see nothing but jungle for miles after you climb the 120 stone stairs. Two of the structures are known as the ‘Ball Courts’ where the losing team was sacrificed. The ruins are located between the cities of Tulum and Valladolid in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Your visit to Coba can be as different as night and day if you don’t do it right, so here is my guide on how to beat the crowds at the Coba ruins.
If you’re visiting the ruins by a group tour, then this article will not help you too much, as group tours tend to go at anytime throughout the day that you have no control over. Even if you are a traveler who plans to take the local buses to the ruins from Tulum or Playa del Carmen you will missing out, as the buses tend to leave around 9:00am and can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 hours to arrive at the site. You’ll only have a few options of taking the afternoon buses to leave as well, which means you are stuck at Coba for most of the day. However, if you are an independent traveler and can rent a car in Mexico, then this is the ideal way to visit this majestic site. I urge you to do this, even if you rent a car for just 1 day!
The ruins open at 8:00am daily and close at 5:00pm (last visitors enter at 4:30pm). The cost is 70 pesos per person (as of 2017) and 50 pesos to park your car. Other additional costs would be if you want to rent a bicycle (not necessary) or want to hire a tour guide. Walking distances between the structures can be up to 1km, but the walk seems to go much faster as you walk on the gorgeous paths leading through the jungle. Bicycles are not allowed to be parked directly at each site, so no matter what some walking is required. The crowds of people arriving on their tour buses or vans start trickling in around 9:30am, and by 10:30am don’t even bother coming the crowd is so dense. As we left the ruins around 10:30am there were literally hundreds of people coming in through the main gate.
Arrive in your car at exactly 8:00am and you will have about 2 hours crowd-free. This is also the coolest time of the day, so you won’t be dripping in sweat as you walk through the mid-day heat to each site. Head straight to Nohuch Mul, which is the structure farthest from the entrance. Most people will start from the beginning and work their way to the end, but if you do it backwards you can ensure that you might be the only visitor at this site at that time. Nohuch Mul is the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan and has around 120 stone steps that you can climb to the top, and trust me, you want as few of people there as possible. Spend a few minutes relaxing at the top of the ruins, breathing in the fresh air and taking in all that is around you before heading back down and going to the next site.
On your way to the next major sites you will pass the ‘Ball Courts’, Xaybe, and a number of other smaller structures. The sites themselves are divided into four groups; Coba Group, Nohuch Mul Group, Macancox Group, and Group of the Paintings. It doesn’t really matter the order you explore each group, as long as you visit Nohuch Mul Group first. Coba Group is located near the entrance, so probably best to visit this section on your way out. Try to get through all the groups before 10:30am, and then get out before the swarm arrives, drive to one of the nearby cenotes, such as Choo-Ha, or go have breakfast/lunch at a local restaurant, I recommend Restaurante Chile Picante located on the main road to Coba. Biggest tip for Coba: bring insect repellent!