The Riviera Maya (and Yucatan Peninsula) is more than just sunshine, margaritas and beaches. There are hundreds of big and small Mayan ruins scattered across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and even into northern Honduras. Two of the three most popular Archeological Sites in Mexico are located here; Chichen Itza and Tulum. They are always going to be busy, with lots of other tourists looking around – and for good reason. They are amazing!
There are many other amazing smaller and lesser-known ruins worth visiting in the area, and we are here to feature two of them today; Coba and Muyil. While neither of them has a famous pyramid (such as the Kulkucan pyramid at Chichen Itza) or the amazing Caribbean backdrop (such as Tulum), the fact that you get to feel like you’re really exploring a lost world sets these two apart and is why you should add them to your itinerary.
Coba and Muyil are both located just outside of the city of Tulum. If you have a car, you could very easily see both on the same day, but they are both close enough that you can easily make your way to these on a day tour or via public transportation. If you’re interested in Mayan history, visiting temples in the jungle or just want to escape the crowds, these two off the beaten track ruins are for you.
Coba is the more popular of the two and is the easiest to book a tour for, either in Tulum or through your hotel. It’s about 40-km (25 miles) from Tulum. Along the highway, there are many worthwhile Cenotes that are worth checking out as well, and it takes less than an hour to get there. Try to get there early in the day in order to beat the crowds, as around mid-day there are some tour buses that arrive.
It was a big influential city during the Mayan Period, and was once home to as many as 50,000 people! At Coba, you can rent a bike (or hire someone to do the peddling for you) and have a good chance of seeing a large portion of the ruins. It is fairly large and worthy of a few hours to spend exploring the complex. In the height of the Mayan period, this was one of the most important cities in the region and likely had a close relationship with the smaller nearby cities of Muyil and Tulum.
What separates this one from all the others, is that there is a staircase that you can still climb up. It is one of the last pyramids you can climb in Mexico, and there are rumors that they will soon close this staircase as well, so get there while you can!
Mayan Pyramid. 2016.
Above the Jungle. 2016.
Looking down the staircase. 2017.
The Jungle below. 2016.
On top of the Mayan World. 2016.
Steep Staircase. 2016.
This is where you get way off the beaten track. Located only 15 km south of Tulum, is one of the oldest (and longest-standing) cities in the Mayan world, dating back 300 BCE. We spent about 2 hours wandering around these ruins and had a hard time running into other people. It felt like we were exploring the ruins for the first time. Most of the pathways are still surrounded by jungle and the ruins are still being uncovered and preserved.
This was an important city for trading along the Caribbean and likely had close ties to the walled city of Tulum and nearby Coba. Much like Coba, it was built in the “Petan” style of Mayan architecture and visually looks a lot like Tikal, in Guatemala, with high pyramids and steep staircases.
As you wander through the jungle, you will find a small gate, which leads to the nearby Sian Ka’an Lagoon, which means “where the sky is born”. There is a dock here (and a chance to take a boat tour) has a viewing platform to get above the jungle canopy. The entrance to this park is much cheaper than any other in the region and is very close to the highway. It is a very peaceful way to spend time in the jungle, admiring the achievements of the Maya. It is one of our favourite ruins in the area.
Top of one of the Temples. 2017.
Winding pathways. 2017.
Temple Complex. 2017.
Still mostly surrounded by jungle. 2017.
Well preserved Mayan Temples in the jungle. 2017.
Towering above. 2017.
Fishing boats on the Sian Ka’an Lagoon. 2017.
Well presented ruins with nice pathways. 2017.
Entrance to the Mayan Complex. 2017.
The jungle takes back from the Mayans. 2017.
Mayan Temples. 2017.
Mayan Structure. 2017.
Entrance to the Sian Ka’an Lagoon. 2017.
Forgotten Mayan City. 2017.
Wandering through the Jungle. 2017.