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Road trip in Mexico #2: Cobá, Mayan Ruins & View from the top of its pyramid Nohoch Mul

If it is no longer possible to climb the Great Pyramid of Chichen Itza, be aware that many high and challenging pyramids are still open to tourists, especially the one in Cobá (located between Valladolid and Tulum). It’s while viewing the photos & videos taken from the drone by an instagrammer that I tagged Cobá in my list of ruins to visit in Mexico. And unfortunately, Instagram isn’t always the best place to plan your trip🙂 Here is the post that made me dream…

There are two ruins in the middle of the jungle easily accessible from Valladolid: Cobá and Ek Balam. I hesitated a lot between the two, but I was demotivated by Ek Balam’s very high prices – and I chose Cobá instead.

Note: this article is part of the series of articles for our 17-day roadtrip to Mexico. To read (or reread) the 1st part, please visit here

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Day 2 (continued, December 20) :

How to get to Cobá from Valladolid?

see the practical part. We took an Oriente bus for 51MXN/person. You have to follow the route and be at the stop because the driver doesn’t announce the stop at Coba. As soon as you see a lake, get off.

Ruins of Cobá

We arrive at the town of Cobá 2 hours later. Luckily we had lunch just before because the restaurants here don’t offer a lot of choice and look very sad. We are deposited just before the big lake and have to walk 5 minutes along this pretty lake. Since the road, we already see the top of a beautiful pyramid, and there is a company proposing to make the zip line on the lake. It looks fun.

Coming here, we go from the state of Yucatan to the state of Quintana Roo. We didn’t know it but all of Quintana Roo has a one hour time difference with Yucatan (I naively thought that this change only applied from Tulum etc.). The advantage of being at Quintana Roo is that the entrance fees to the ruins become much more accessible (while Yucatan charges at least 20€ for each site, Quintana Roo remains around 4€).

If the city extends over 70km², only a tiny part has been made accessible. Many trees surrounding the ruins or growing on the ruins have not been cleared, which gives a very nice side “in the middle of the jungle”. These ruins used to be a little gem – not much frequented. Now, as Chichen Itza can’t be climbed anymore and the rumor goes that only Coba can be climbed to the top (that’s very wrong), mass tourism is starting to come here – and so are selfie sticks. Note: the presence of the selfie sticks is an undeniable and unpleasant symptom of the consumerism of a tourist site.

75MXN 80MXN later, we are about to enter the city when I notice the “no drone” sign. Really? And how did he do it, this influencer to take pictures and videos of the ruins? I reread more carefully the comments left on his post – lots of other people wonder. But he doesn’t answer. He probably flew his drone by cheating so. Pfff.

We move forward a few meters and see about a hundred bikes for rent within the site (50MXN/bike). We can walk but pedal in an archeological site, it’s more fun isn’t it ? For those who don’t know/do not want to bike, there are tricycles with “drivers” who offer their service for 125MXN (1h20, waiting included) or 200MXN (2h, waiting included). You have to choose your bike carefully because most of them have only the pedal brake, which is more difficult to manoeuvre.

We take a small shady path, and pass several ruins. Because we want to go first to the magical site seen on Instagram: the pyramid Nohoch Mul, one of the highest in the region (42 meters including the temple above), once used to celebrate the sacred power of dignitaries. When we arrive at the site, we are astonished to see a half-destroyed temple (the entire left side is gone), with irregular steps, a steep slope, and a lot of people. I have to check 3 times that I’m in the right place because I don’t have the impression that I saw the same thing on the spot vs. the Instagram pictures.

The difference with drone photos is shocking. And this is another lesson for me: never let yourself be influenced by drone pictures to make your route. Everything is beautiful seen from a drone, even the favelas lol 🙂 I was fooled by the fake breakfast in Goreme, the only pink lake on Photoshop in Turkey and now Cobá.

I let JB climb to the top because it’s out of the question for me to make so much effort, climb up a half-broken pyramid – and go down on my buttocks. Besides, rumor has it that they will surely soon forbid to go up to the top to preserve the site – and some tourists who are too busy doing selfies while turning their backs to the stairs, have fallen down. If people can’t go up anymore, I think the number of tourists will decrease because it seems to be what people are looking for.

Unfortunately, the view from above – on the trees and a tiny structure in the distance – isn’t worth the effort. People are jostling each other, too busy making a selfie. As the whole area behind is blocked by the trees, everyone is concentrating on a small area near the edge. I should have chosen Ek Balam from the beginning actually.

We take back the bike and explore the structures we didn’t visit. I really like Xaíbé, a memorial with a particular style, it looks like the pyramid in Uxmal, but smaller.

The ruins are mostly very damaged, very small and invaded by moss or trees….

…except this ball game (pelota), much smaller than in Chichen Itza, but which is very well preserved. After visiting the other ruins, I realize that it is very difficult to have an intact ball game like this one. On most of the sites, the circle you see on the pictures is often destroyed or stolen.

Finally, the pyramid on the right of the entrance, not accessible by bike but only by foot, pleases me the most. There are still some sculptures on the stele in front of the pyramid and there is absolutely nobody (since you can’t climb on it). We stay a little moment there to enjoy the silence, before leaving the site.

Just in front of the parking lot, the guards rent bikes for 70MXN to explore the local cenotes. If you still have time, why not.

Route Coba – Tulum

To take the bus back to Tulum, we run to the small ADO Terminal to be there at 3pm. The employee there told us about an ADO bus at 3:10 pm and a 2nd class bus at 5 pm.

“2 ADO tickets for Tulum please “He
looks at us and throws a “he’s already gone!

gone? Isn’t he supposed to come at 3:10 pm?


only 3pm”
“Ah no, we’re at Quintana Roo, it’s 4pm

Ahhh damn, I forgot about the time change story !!! My phone shows me 16h but my watch always stayed at 15h.

I thought the change was made from Tulum. We only have the 17h option with the Oriente bus company. Unfortunately, there are already 6 locals waiting for the bus + 3 other tourists. We wonder how we will be able to get there – because from here, they refuse to sell us the tickets of the 2nd class bus and if it is full, it will not even stop there. I discuss with an American tourist, furious to have missed her bus because of the change of hour. The worst thing is that she already bought her ADO ticket 🙁

Note: in case you miss your ADO bus, within 60 minutes after the scheduled departure time, you can have 50% on the next departure, for the same destination. Good for her it doesn’t apply since she will have to take another company, but I’ll let you know just in case.

After information on the left to the right, we negotiate a cab colectivo (just in front of the ADO terminal too) to share with 2 other French tourists. The fare is normally 450 MXN, but we got it at 400MXN for 4 or 100MXN/person, instead of 70MXN for the bus (of which we aren’t sure to have a place). The whole while being faster and more comfortable.

On the way, this French couple staying in an all-inclusive hotel tells us how they are being fleeced with expensive excursions (100€, 150€ per person each time) in mass tourism mode, with not good meals. They got tired of it and started reading blogs to find alternative ways, taking colectivos, buses… I reassured them by telling them that their 100€ excursion to Sian Kaan is indeed inevitable, and that it would take 3 days if they did everything themselves, my answer had the expected effect.

We arrive in Tulum in only 40 minutes and are dropped off in front of the colectivo stop for Playa del Carmen, right next to our downtown hotel in Tulum.

The continuation of our roadtrip in Mexico is here

Part 2: Practical Tips


  • Transportation :
    • Valladolid – Coba (Oriente bus): 51MXN/person
    • Coba – Tulum (cab colectivo): 100MXN/person
  • Ruins :
    • Access: 75MXN/person 80MXN/person
    • Bike rental: 50MXN/person
    • Tricycle service with driver: 125MXN for 1H20 or 200MXN for 2h (2 adults + 1 child max)

How do I get from Valladolid to Coba by bus?

Before, on the ADO website, you could see the buses 1st class Valladolid – Cobá but I don’t know why I don’t see them anymore. I carefully noted for you the schedules of the second class buses of the Oriente company: 08h34 – 11h57 – 14h04 – 16h27 – 18h04 and 20h04 departures every day for 51MXN/person. You have to go to the ADO terminal (any one, in any city) to buy the tickets, preferably the day before because it is a bus going to Playa del Carmen and many locals also take it, especially at Christmas time.

I hope you appreciate this info because every time I take pictures of the signs, rates etc. people are doing #facepalm in “another Asian tourist who takes ALL in pictures” mode.

You have to follow the route and be on the hook because the driver does not announce the stop at Coba. As soon as you see a lake, get off

Bus schedules Coba – Tulum

I noted 15h10 for ADO and 17h for Oriente. I don’t have the other schedules.
Then there are vans colectivos that pass by from time to time and cabs colectivos if you find other tourists willing to share the ride.
Find the exact location of the bus departures on The colectivos cabs are right next to the ADO Terminal.

How do I get from Tulum to Coba by bus?

From the ADO terminal, there is a 1st class bus leaving at 10:11 am to Coba. The journey will cost you 100MXN. For the second class buses, you have to ask for the timetable on the spot (we are talking at least about a departure at 7:40 am). Fares: 50MXN

How to go from Tulum to Coba by colectivo?

The colectivos are located next to the Super Aki, crossroads between Tulum Avenue and the road between Tulum and Valladolid for 70MXN (2019 rates). They will drop you off in front of the ruins of Coba. In November 2020, the announced rates are 130MXN per person but there must be a way to negotiate.

Be careful on the way back, it will leave from the ADO terminal so get out of the parking lot and follow the main road

Cab fare (colectivo or private) from Coba

right click to save and zoom

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