Cobá means “Water Stirred by Wind.” Located in the state of Quintana Roo, Cobá was founded around A.D. 100 close to several freshwater lagoons. If Cobá was not the largest city in all the Mundo Maya, it was at least close.
The city sprawled over 35 square miles and had thousands of structures (most still unexcavated) and miles of raised roads (or sacbeob, the plural of saq’be, which means “white road”), and was home to 50,000 people.
Cobá doesn’t have the beach of nearby Tulum, but it is far more important—and only receives a fraction of the visitors.
The Cobá Group welcomes visitors at the entrance with 50 structures, including the 22.5-meter-tall La Iglesia, the second-tallest pyramid in the city. (La Iglesia is off-limits to climbers.) Cobá has two well-preserved ball courts with grotesque death imagery.
A pleasant and well-kept trail and bike route built atop the city’s sacbeob takes you to the xaibé. Located at the end of the bike path, this building may have served as an astronomical observatory or watchtower.
Cobá’s crown jewel is Nohuch Mul—at 12 stories (42 meters) above the forest floor, it is one of the tallest pyramids in the Mundo Maya (only the temple at Calakmul in Campeche is taller). This is one of the temples you can climb (at least until 4 p.m.), and the view from the top stretches across the Yucatán.
Cobá reached its peak of power A.D. 600–900 and fell to the Itzá of Chichén Itzá  around A.D. 1000. The last Long Count date recorded here is on Stela 20 and corresponds with November 30, A.D. 780.
In addition to marking the creation date of the Long Count (4 Ahau 8 Kumku, or August 11, 3114 B.C.), Cobá is famous for a “deep time” inscription, a long Long Count date 19 levels beyond the b’aktun and thousands of years older than modern astronomers’ estimate for the age of the universe. This date is found on Stela 1 in the Macanxoc Group, about a half-mile walk from the Paintings Group, It is easy to miss between the bigger temples (look for a sign to Structure 5).
Save time for a visit to one of four cenotes on the road southwest of Cobá: Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha, Multun-Ha, and Nohoch-Ha. Each costs a few dollars to enter and is well worth it.
Cobá is open 7 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Entrance costs US$4 admission, plus US$4 for parking. It’s a two-kilometer (1.2-mile) walk on flat ground to reach the Nohoch Mul pyramid. Or if it’s very hot (which it often is), you can rent a bicycle or hire a local rickshaw driver (US$3–5 per hour) to pedal you there. Guides are available and charge around US$30 per group.
The various groups of structures at Cobá are dispersed throughout the forest, and there’s no real order to follow when visiting. Watch your step, as the trails have many confusing offshoots. Time your visit for the morning or late afternoon. Bird-watchers who show up when the gates open at 7 a.m. will be well rewarded. Bring plenty of water and bug spray, and wear comfortable shoes.
There are a number of accommodations in and around Cobá Pueblo, and more a half-hour up the road in Tulum, but there are few services at Cobá itself.
Cobá is just west of Tulum  and south of Valladolid . From Cancún  or Playa del Carmen , drive south to Tulum, and look for a signed turnoff to the right. From Chichén Itzá , head toward Valladolid, then look for the road to Ixhil, which will take you to Cobá. From Chetumal  or Belize , head north on Highway 307 toward Tulum, then look for the turnoff to Cobá.
From the Cancún airport, take a bus to Playa del Carmen (US$6) then to Tulum (US$2.80), a trip of almost 113 kilometers (70 mi) total. You can also hire a car and driver for the day in Cancún (US$60–70) or sign up for a day trip.
There are several daily buses that make the trip up Highway 307 from Chetumal, stopping in Tulum, Playa del Carmen, and Cancún only a few hours.
For more travel information on things to see and do at Cobá and in the surrounding area, please visit the Cobá section of our Moon Cancún & the Yucatán travel guide .