Maya Ruins: Coba

After our wedding in Mexico, my husband and I spent some time away from the resort and took advantage of the opportunity to visit some Maya ruins.

Going into the trip, I really had my heart set on Tulum. I had heard so many wonderful things about it, and the photos looked beautiful! Chichen Itza was another option I had considered.

After doing some research, we landed on Coba instead. The primary reason being that Coba, unlike the other ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, still has a temple that you can climb.

You used to be able to climb Tulum, but the option to do that was discontinued years ago, and likely will be with Coba as well. In fact, Coba was closed off for climbing for a period of time.

The experience was truly incredible. Not just for the climb, which is a bit unsafe (and because of that, a bit of a thrill), but because of the rich history.

For example, a road that is over 62 miles long leading to a location near Chichen Itza. A completely flat, wide road made of limestone and used for trade between different areas.
Or the ancient Maya's use of the wheel. Old artifacts show that they knew about the functionality of the wheel, as demonstrated in some children's toys. But it doesn't appear that the wheel was used as a tool or means to transport items. The Mayas found value in hard work and manual labor.

What was most fascinating to me was how much of these large cities are still hidden by jungle. I couldn't quite wrap my head around how that was possible until I stepped foot into Coba. We'd be walking through some ruins and some large hills covered in trees and moss and our tour guide pointed out that the land was flat. If we saw anything that looked like a hill, it was an old structure that hadn't been uncovered.

I was blown away. I was walking right through these uncovered structures and would never have known they were anything but jungle.

Interesting fact: National Geographic wrote an article just this year on a Maya "megapolis" just discovered in Guatemala.

Sometimes they're not uncovered because of the lack of funding that goes towards it. But other times the structures aren't full uncovered because it would mean sacrificing the integrity of the structure. They're so old and trees and other plants have gotten so deeply rooted in them, that taking away those plants would cause the buildings to crumble to the ground.

It was so wonderful to see and experience such a rich culture. The local Mayas run and work the site, so you will see a cooperative where you can buy souvenirs, restaurants, or some of the locals driving petty cabs to take tourists around the site.

The experience was worthwhile, and here are some tips:

  • Hire a tour guide

    • The experience won't be the same if you don't have somebody to talk you through the significance of each building and give you some basic Mayan history.

  • Bring sunblock and bug spray

    • Most of the tour is through jungle, so you're mostly protected from the sun, but maybe not the bugs. When you get to the main temple, Nohoch Mul, you will be directly in the sun, especially if you decide to climb it.

  • Bring lots of water

    • It's hot and humid. And it gets hot FAST as you get to climbing that big temple.

  • If you're scared to climb the temple, don't do it

    • As I mentioned before, it's not the safest endeavor. The rocks are worn down from so many climbers and aside from a large rope in the middle, there are no safety measures there to protect you if you fall.
    • The top is a long way up, so if you're afraid you will experience vertigo, you probably will.
    • The experience is still wonderful, even if you don't make the climb.

  • Not all of the locals speak Spanish (or English)
    • Mayas are raised and educated in their own language, Mayan. So while many of the locals speak Spanish, it is not their first language, and some of them never learned Spanish at all. With a little creativity and patience, though, you will have no problem communicating.

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