About 25 miles away from the Caribbean sea, surrounded by two crocodile-infested lagoons, lays the large ruined city of Cobá.
Estimated to once hold a population of 40,000, this was to be my first experience of the many ancient Mayan ruins scattered across Mexico.
Dating back to between 100BC and 100AD, Cobá actually found its archaeological peak around 800AD. It’s believed that Cobá had a connection with Tikal, a site more than a hundred miles away, that included royal marriage. Once the females arrived from Tikal to Cobá for the ceremony, they would bring along with them architects and artisans who helped develop the extensive pyramids and stelae that still remain.
Although Cobá was abandoned around 1550 following the Spanish invasion on the peninsula, the site was never lost or forgotten. Due to its remoteness, however, there was a heavy reluctance among the archaeological community to do any real examination or study on the site (with only a few exceptions in the 1920s).
It was in the early 1970s, as Cancun’s resorts were being developed, that Cobá began to garner more interest. Realisations arose that the site could attract the tourist crowd and soon historians, anthropologists and archaeologists flocked to the abandoned city to begin their studies. Roads were built to help the general (paying) public gain easier access to the site and so a tourist destination was born.
Perhaps one of the most unique things about the site is that only a small portion of the ruins have been cleared away from the jungle.
Arriving first thing in the morning, before the sudden rush of tourists, we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves surrounded by an unyielding amount of natural foliage that refused to be tamed.
The sheer size of Cobá’s city and the ruins that remain mean that bicycles and pedi-trikes are available to explore the miles-long site. However, braving our natural surroundings and being a little too cheap to afford those amenities, we decided to go ahead on foot and explore without the help of a guide.
Spending long periods of time hiking through the jungle, Cobá provided the excitement of stumbling upon ruins that were carefully hidden away through the trees. Not knowing where we going, our only option was to keep trekking around until we’d come across something. And we were never disappointed.
Every piece of ruin that we found made us gasp in awe at the sheer beauty and complexity of its construction, still standing strong and dominant amongst all of its surrounding vegetation.
There’s an undeniable Raiders of the Lost Ark feel to the site as you’re trekking through the jungle, unaware of what you’re going to find next. Most of the ruins are yet to be excavated and the only pathways that help you find your way are those ancient ‘sacbeob’ (Mayan for stone-paved avenues).
Although we missed Nohoch Mul (The Great Pyramid, the tallest Maya structure on the Yucatán Peninsula), the ruins we did find and walk amongst were truly some of the most spectacular things we’d ever seen.
We all wondered how such an ancient civilisation had had the tools to create such astounding foundations and wandered around the remnants in silence as the jungle provided isolation from the modern world as we travelled back in time to those days of pre-colonialism.