Coba is a large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It is located about 90 km east of the Maya site of Chichen Itza, about 40 km west of the Caribbean Sea, and 44 km northwest of the site of Tulum, with which it is connected by a modern road.
Coba is located around two lagoons. A series of elevated stone and plaster roads radiate from the central site to various smaller sites near and far. These are known by the Maya term sacbe (plural sacbeob). Some of these causeways go east to the Caribbean coast, and the longest runs over 62 mi westwards to the site of Yaxuna. The site contains several large temple pyramids, the tallest, in what is known as the Nohoch Mul group of structures, being some 140 ft in height.
Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km². The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by the 1st century. The bulk of Coba's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900, with most of the dated hieroglypic inscriptions from the 7th century. However Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.
Coba traded extensively with other Mayan communities, particularly the ones further south along the Caribbean coast in what is now Belize and Honduras. It utilized the ports of Xcaret, Xel-Há, Tancah, Muyil, and Tulum.
Knowledge of this expansive site was never completely lost, but it was not examined by scholars until the 1920s. John Lloyd Stephens mentioned hearing reports of the site in 1841, but it was so distant from any known modern road or village that he decided the difficulty in trying to get there was too daunting. For much of the rest of the 19th century the area could not be visited by outsiders due to the Caste War of Yucatán. Teoberto Maler paid Coba a short visit in 1893 and took at least one photograph, but unfortunately did not publish at the time and the site remained unknown to the archeological community.
The site remained little visited due to its remoteness until the first modern road was opened up to Coba in the early 1970s. As a major resort was planned for Cancún, it was realized that clearing and restoring some of the large site could make it an important tourist attraction.
Coba became a tourist destination shortly thereafter, with many visitors visiting the site on day trips from Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Only a small portion of the site has been cleared from the jungle and restored by archaeologists. Local guides are available at the entrance to the site, as well as bicycle rentals to get to some of the farther ruins within the archaeological zone. Coba, like all archaeological sites in Mexico open to the public via INAH, is free to Mexican citizens on Sundays and national holidays.
There is a small pueblo near the ruins, with some restaurants and small shops selling local crafts.
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