HALF MOON BAY, Ca. March 5, 2012—Perched on cliffs overlooking the Caribbean, the Mayan ruins at Tulum are strikingly beautiful. But if they don’t satisfy your appetite for adventure, take a short trip inland to the ruins of Cobá. Many of the structures here are still covered by the jungle, and wandering the paths can give you the feeling of being in a wild place.
Cobá flourished from A.D. 600 to 900, and was home to an estimated 50,000 people. As with many Mayan cities, the exact cause of the collapse of Cobá is unknown. Temples were built as late as the 14th century, and the site was never discovered by the Spanish. Archaeologists have found more than 6,000 structures over 31 square miles of forest. But not all those structures have been excavated.
It’s believed that the handful of shallow lagoons in the area gave Cobá its name, “water stirred by wind.” The forest and wetlands are ideal for bird watching in the morning, before the heat of the day. If you’re quiet, you might spy toucans, parrots, motmots or herons. Spider and howler monkeys also frequent the area near the ruins.
Trekking through the forested pathways, you’ll see collections of ruins. The Cobá Group is closest to the entrance, and includes a Mayan ball court and a 79-foot high pyramid. The Macanxoc Group hosts a collection of stelae—carved, upright stones. The Las Pinturas (paintings) Group structures were once painted.
Notable among the ruins is the Nohoch Mul pyramid, which rises 138 feet above the forest floor. Climbing to the top is worth it—where it peaks above the jungle and allows a view of lush, green blanket for miles around. Get there in the early morning, and you can have the perch to yourself, along with flocks of tropical birds. Two carvings on the temple at the top of the pyramid show the “diving god,” also referred to as the “bee god,” which can also be found in the ruins at Tulum. Some theories associate these carvings with the planet Venus.
Cobá is especially known for its sacbeob—a collection of raised walkways made of stone. Mayans constructed these paths to connect to other cities, and Cobá has more than any other Mayan city. The longest sacbé runs straight from the Nohoch Mul pyramid to a town more than 62 miles away.
The collection of ruins spreads out over a few miles, so if you don’t want to walk too much—rent a bike or take a bicycle taxi at the entrance.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill and her husband are avid kayakers and own Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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