Monday, August 28, 2006

Riviera Maya Journal 2 #3 - The ruins of Cobá

Visitors to the Cancún area will enjoy exploring the spectacular ruins of Cobá, an ancient jungle city that archaeologists think was built in 600 A.D. Because the local advertising materials often concentrate on nearby Chichén Itzá, many tourists don’t find their way over here. As a result, those who arrive early in the day may just find they’ve got Cobá all to themselves. The city is huge and spreads out over 50 square miles so be sure to bring a bottle of water and a comfortable pair of shoes. Not all of Cobá’s buildings are on display, but a series of well-maintained gravel paths lead to the ones that are. The bicycles, which can be rented at the entrance, are a great way to cover a lot of ground in a little time. There are virtually no hills in the city, and pedaling is effortless. A can of insect repellent makes time spent at Cobá more enjoyable. Without it, the tiny jungle mosquitos will raise a few harmless but annoying bites that turn itchy after a day or two.

Cobá’s astronomical observatory, the royal palace, a military watchtower and two pelota arenas are among the silent sentinels that line the sacbé, mathematically precise Mayan roads that radiate in five directions like spokes on a wheel. One particular sacbé is exactly 100 kilometers long and leads to Chichén Itzá, while another goes to the site of Yaxuna. To date, 16 of these roads have been uncovered in Cobá. Experts estimate that more than 50,000 people once lived in the city and there are about 6,000 structures still hidden within the jungle awaiting excavation. Cobá has been identified as a major economic center that supplied goods to the neighboring Mayan communities. The port cities of Xcaret, Xel-Ha and Tulum were important trade hubs that were used for bringing merchandise into Cobá.

Deep inside the complex is Nohoch-Mul, a massive limestone pyramid that has the distinction of being the tallest structure in the Yucatan. Climbing the steep 120-foot facade is a bit of a challenge, but most definitely worthwhile. The rope bolted to the stairs comes in handy, especially towards the top. There’s a place to sit and rest near the bas-relief stone carvings at the summit while admiring the stunning views of the surrounding jungle. Several structures are partially visible through the foliage. Cobá is operated by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology & History. Admission is 45 pesos (about $4.50) Monday through Saturday. There is no charge to visit on Sundays and national holidays.
-Larry Widen


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