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Coba Ruins and Surrounding Cenotes with Kids

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

The Coba Ruins are by no means the most famous or most popular ruins on the Yucatan, but I had consistently read that they are the most awesome to explore, especially with kids. A visit to the Coba Ruins is a lesson in history, an incredible demonstration of nature, and an intense workout (Nohoch Mul, the great pyramid is no longer climbable but long hikes in the jungle are knackering none the less). Of the several sites I’ve visited for Mayan Ruins on the Yucatan, the Coba Ruins was, hands down, the best.

Which is better, Tulum or Coba?

More people visit Tulum ruins, which seem to be much more famous than the Coba Ruins, but from all my research it doesn’t appear to be better in any way. In terms of the quality of the site and access to ruins, both sites are very similar. Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

Coba Ruins

Tulum Archaeological Site

Small to medium crowds

Medium to large crowds

​Jungle and shade

Exposed ocean view

2:10 travel from Cancun

1:50 travel from Cancun

The remote location of Coba allowed for exploring more off the beaten path areas, there were far fewer people overall and the addition sites/natural attractions along the way was also amazing. I also appreciated how undeveloped the area around Coba is. It’s still set up to handle a good number of tourists, but it’s not crazy like Tulum or Chichén Itzá and it does feel off the beaten track which we love.

How to get to the Coba Ruins

Most people visiting the Yucatan Peninsula arrive either via Cancu

n, Playa del Carmen or Tulum on a day trip.

Nearly two hours from Cancun, 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen or an hour from Tulum, visiting the Coba Ruins takes you quite a bit off the beaten path. They are closer to the town of Valladolid than any other destination… but then Valladolid isn’t close to anything. West of Valladolid is Merida and the Gulf of Mexico, but to the south and north isn’t much.

Tips: We rented a car from Ado car rental for our road trip around the Yucatan (rea

d more about this in our next post) but if that’s not your style, organized tours are available out of Tulum, Playa del Carmen or Cancun. We very rarely take any group excursions, but there are lots of options if that’s your thing. The toll road from Playa del Carmen is beautiful and the local road is full of butterflies which at the risk of sounding cheesy is super magical, but be aware that you will hit many butterflies driving, which was pretty distressing for everyone and there are some absolutely crazy unmarked speed bumps around Coba which are lethal. Take great care and don’t drive too fast!!

Visiting Coba Ruins Archaeological Park

Our first impressions of the Coba Ruins are by no means epic. You arrive into a car park which costs a few pesos to park in, you’re faced with a handful of artisan stands for purchasing Mexican handicrafts, there’s a convenience store to buy some water and then there’s the entry to the park. We got our first look across the entrance and saw a rocky, pot hole ridden fair steel slope upwards and second guessed our decision to bring a pushchair for the baby (and generally wondering what we were doing attempting this with three kids under 7, but you’re not living if you don’t wonder that at least once before midday!). Turns out it’s only the the first 30m or so of the entire complex that isn’t particularly stroller friendly, the rest is very decent. When we went through we were greeted by this iridescent turkey creature!

Tip: if you want, there are plenty of guides, approved by the Archaeological Park, who can take you to several of the sites within the park. You can pay somebody to tell you about everything if you’re interested, or you can explore on your own. We are saving our tour money for later in our trip, so we came armed with a guidebook instead.

The Coba Ruins themselves are actually epic in the “wow, this place is old and kind of creepy” sort of way, less in the towering magical pyramids sort of way you might think… until you get to the great pyramid (read below). Either way I can’t help but picture Tomb Raider no matter what ancient temple we are at!! The Coba Ruins are very scattered and the Archaeological Park is actually really big. It’s helpful to consider HOW to visit Coba before you start exploring the park.

Tip: The only toilets are at the start. Use them before you go!!

A Brief History of Coba

According to archaeological evidence, the first settlement in Coba was around 50 BC to 100 AD (which means Coba is about 2,000 years old!). It was also known as one of the most important cities for the Mayans in terms of social and political power because it controlled many farmlands and trading routes.

During this period when Coba was an integral part of the Mayan Empire, it was estimated to have up to 50,000 in population. It’s clear the influence from Teotihuacan, which means Coba communicated with other communities in Central Mexico. The city maintained its influence for a long long time until the Spanish conquest in the 1500s.

Although the initial excavations at the Coba Ruins site were done in the 1970s, it was not developed into a tourist destination until the 1980s. You’ll see this is a big place, the entire Mayan ruins site covers a land area of 30 square miles.

Cost for Entry to the Coba Ruins

Like with Tulum or El Rey, the cost for Coba is minimal and totally worth it. Here’s the breakdown for costs at Coba, from tickets to transport:

Item / fare

Cost (as of July 2022)

Entry fee per person

100 Pesos

Parking near entrance

60 Pesos

Bike rental

50 Pesos

Guided Bicitaxi

140 Pesos (+/-)

These prices are of course subject to change, but in general, you should expect to see these or something very similar. Prices in USD will fluctuate more, so we recommend having plenty of Pesos to make everything easier and more consistent.

Getting around the Coba Ruins archaeological park

You’ve got three options when it comes to getting yourself around the Coba Ruins. Yeah, believe me, this site is much larger than you think, especially in the 35 heat and humidity of a sunny July day. Options for getting from the entrance of the national park to the great pyramid at the end include:

Walking/hiking – there is a wide path with many sights to see along the way, but it’s FAR.

Rent a bike – once inside the Coba Ruins Archaeological Zone there are bike rentals. The paths are flat and clear so riding is actually a good and time sensitive option for getting from pyramid to pyramid.

Hire a bicitaxi – for a kind of amazing deal, you can hire a bicitaxi/chauffeur tricycle to take you from the entrance (or anywhere inside the park) to the Great Pyramid and back again. It’s about $6 USD from start to finish or $3 one way and totally worth it. Bicitaxi can carry two passengers (in our case, a large daddy, folded stroller and 3 year old, and the other takes a mummy, a 3 year old and a baby).

Tip: I’d recommend walking up and hitching a ride back. This way you get a feel for the jungle and soak up the atmosphere (we would have missed some of the amazing wildlife encounters if we’d have cycled or got a trike taxis both ways). We got ice creams at the start to ensure good moods from the children (see chocolate face below). That being said it was so hot I didn’t want to insist our three year old walked all the way back as well, it’s almost 2km from start to finish. That $6 (2x trike taxis one way, from the end to the start) was the best I’ve spent in a long time!! When our cyclist/driver instructed me to pay for our trip via the ticket office I gave him a small tip as in the past this kind of set up has often meant the drivers receive very little from the managing company.

Whichever method you choose don’t forget to bring plenty of water and a snack. There are no vending services within the park and you’ll be thirsty!!

Top sights to see at Coba Ruins

You could spend a whole day checking out each dig site and accessible pyramid, and just wandering through the pathways and tunnels, but you don’t need to necessarily. The minor pyramids are really cool and have some unique characteristics to appreciate. From gravestones to calendar pieces, there are several excavated displays throughout the park, specifically around the smaller pyramids, that are pretty fascinating.

The ball courts are pretty interesting. You used to be able to climb some of the staircases built into the ball courts until recently, so sadly we missed our chance for this. The ancient Mayans had some awesome sports that required ball courts and lots of skills, smashing a ball through a stone hoop with just your hips. Today it’s called the Mesoamerican Ballgame and I would absolutely love to see a pro version of this on tv. The Xcaret evening show (which you can read about here) really brought this to life.

Minor sites with Coba Ruins

You’ll find a variety of sights within the Coba archaeological park. When you first enter the park you’ll get to see an impressive, yet small, pyramid on the right surrounded by more structures tunnels you can go through which the kids loved. As you continue on, there are more small pyramids, mounds that haven’t been uncovered, and jungle to navigate through. There are more of the same sized pyramids like you first see near the entrance deeper into the park. Depending on how much time you want to spend exploring, you can check out each one, including the surrounding re-creations of work areas and ceremonial displays.

As we walked between this first set and the second set of ruins through the jungle, a snake slithered right across our path! The kids went wild for it. We also discovered some crazy ball/nest of caterpillars straight after that!

Note: since Coba is an active archaeological dig site, any of the ruins could be close to tourists on any given day. The grounds are expansive, so if you cannot access the smaller pyramids or courts, just move on. There is plenty to see.

Tip: arrive as early in the day as you can. Although the Coba Ruins are rather of off the beaten path, they still attract a lot of visitors later in the day. Also, the temperature early on will make it easier to enjoy the sights.

Tip: be sure you get and use the map provided at the ticket window. This will help you plan your route around the park as well as give you perspective about time and distances

The Great Pyramid of the Coba Ruins: Nohoch Mul

This is what first started off the research for a potential trip to Coba in the first place. I had seen that there is a very tall pyramid that you can actually climb which made for some awesome photos! However I seem to have missed that you can no longer do this (July 2022) which on the one hand is hugely disappointing, on the other I saved myself the crushing climb with a baby on my back and toddler hand in hand in the 35 degree heat!

Tip: to ensure enough time to explore the full Coba Ruins site, map out everything you want to check out in the middle of the Yucatan and design a full day around it. You can actually do a great mix of the Coba ruins, a few cenotes, Valladolid and/or Tulum in one day if you’re really staying on schedule. Read on to see what we did, it includes manatees and crocs!

Getting to the great pyramid was kind of a shock/surprise to me, even after researching how to visit Coba. It was at the very end of long winding pathways, about 1.5 miles in (seemed longer), but it was awesome. Towering above the jungle of Coba, the Nohoch Mul pyramid rises to 137 feet tall (42 meters), making it the tallest Mayan structure in the Yucatan Peninsula.

I’m so gutted we weren’t able to access the striking view from the top of jungle for as far as the eye can see. All around the Coba Ruins are countless other archaeological sites that haven’t even been uncovered yet! Hundreds more pyramids, courtyards, structures and unknown history is waiting to be explored, but it’s visible from the top of the Great Pyramid, Nohoc Mul. So lame.

Eating at Coba Ruins

We had intended to eat in one of the nearby towns on our way to our next adventure, but I looked at the prices of the El Faisan (the pheasant) restaurant, in the left hand side of the car park and was pleasantly surprised!! $100 MEX for taco pollo, so for convenience we decided to go for it. What a great decision. We got fajitas, pibil (pulled pork), rice, beans, tacos and the most amazing orange juice of my life. We ordered several huge fishbowl sized fresh juices each. I love bitter/sour juices in this heat (sans sucre/no sugar!) and this was truly wonderful. The cost was £18 for all of it, I call that a success and the kids certainly thought so too!

Other activities near Coba

Did somebody say cenotes? The Yucatan is full of cenotes (sinkhole caves) for swimming and having adventures in. Directly around the Coba Ruins are four or five options if cenotes are your thing. Some have zip lines into them and some are very small and hidden in the jungle. Before you stop at any, do your research or ask the person manning the entrance for a preview. While there are plenty of cenotes in Tulum, Chichen Itza, Playa del Carmen and Valladolid, I was keen to visit at least one near Coba. As I explain in other posts, I grouped cenotes into three types - cave type with little sunlight, underground with stalactites etc (I selected Choo-ha), underground with big, wide ceiling collapse (choice was Ik Kil) and Azul was my pick of the third variety - ground level open air sinkhole type cenote. These three around Coba are all of the underground variety, all within a few km of the ruins, each one with its own character. All are open 8am-6pm and cost $100 MEX to enter.

Cenote Tamcach-Ha

Cenote Tamcach-Ha is an underground cenote with a couple of jumping platforms that are 5- and 10-meters high, respectively. This is a great cenote to visit after visiting Coba Ruins if you prefer a cenote that is not too crowded.

Cenote Tamcach-Ha boasts crystal clear water where you can swim or snorkel in. To access this Coba ruins cenote, you have to make your way through a small opening in the ground. Once you get inside, you must make your way down through a narrow spiral set of stairs that is surrounded by rock walls. Once you reach the bottom of the stairs, it opens up to a perfectly round cavern.

This is a very deep cenote of a deep blue color, and the rock ceiling is impressively high but this is not the cenote to go to if you are looking for stalagmites. This perfectly round cavern is really beautiful and, surprisingly, it’s still relatively quiet and calm. We were actually specifically here for the stalagmites, for this and a few other reasons, we decided to go to Choo-Ha…

Cenote Choo-Ha

Cenote Choo-Ha is another Coba cenote located off-the-beaten path. You must brave through a rugged and secluded terrain to get to this cenote, which is surrounded by a naturally dense jungle. Once you enter the cenote, you’ll find rustic-looking washrooms, toilets, and other facilities.

Nonetheless, that does not take anything away from the natural beauty of this cenote. You make your way through a low stone wall through a small opening that leads to an underground cavern. Thankfully, there is a spiral staircase that you can take to safely make your way down the cavern.

Once inside, you can marvel at the impressive rock formations that hang from the ceiling and at the many stalactites and stalagmites you’ll see everywhere.

Unlike Cenote Tamcach-Ha, Cenote Choo-Ha has shallow water which makes it the perfect spot for a leisure swim. The shallow water also makes it a good option for families with small kids! The beautifully cool and clear water was the highlight of the day, the kids loved spotting the black catfish swimming around our feet and marvelling at the bats fluttering above our heads as we floated. It was simply magical. We had the whole thing completely to ourselves and really felt like our research had paid off here.

Cenote Multum-Ha

This is the deepest cenote of the three cenotes near the Coba Ruins. This is also a bit farther into the jungle so it’s the hardest to reach of the three nearby cenotes. Cenote Multum-Ha is ideal for snorkeling and, just like Choo-Ha, it features rustic facilities and washrooms.

Since this cenote is also an underground cenote, you’ll enter through a small opening through the rocks and make your way down a spiral wooden staircase.

The entry is somewhat claustrophobic because it’s surrounded by rock walls on both sides but once you reach the end, there is a deck-like platform with railings that enable you to overlook the cenote waters. At the top of the ceiling, there is a small hole that allows a small amount of light in.

Due to the serene nature of this cenote and the lack of tourists, it offers an intimate experience.

In Summary

I would absolutely recommend Coba and Choo-ha as highlights of our trip around Mexico. At a push I would say Choo-ha was my favourite of the entire trip (read about other Mexican cenotes we visited here and here). I hope you’ve found this useful should you be visiting the area and please comment below or get in touch if you’ve got something to add.

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