Chichen Itza is a landmark of the mysterious Mayan civilization, and it’s the heritage that is the most well-known to the world. In fact, I had a great time exploring Tulum and Coba, another two Mayan ruins in Yucatan, Mexico, and they have so many things to see and do there, just like Chichen Itza.
Why Tulum and Coba?
They have more to see than you think. The two sites offer the freedom of visiting the sites at your own pace. Tulum is a smaller site as compared to Chichen Itza, but there are buildings that remained in Tulum we could catch a glimpse of Mayan bas relief between the 13th and 15th century.
It was great to enjoy the freedom of visiting these ancient wonders at my own pace. I have also learned a lot from the knowledgeable tour guide, who gave insightful and informative commentaries about the history and development of the disappeared Mayan culture. I left having a better idea of how to appreciate the architectural techniques that the ancient people used to create such monumental structures thousands of years ago.
You can climb the pyramid. I know a lot of visitors would want to, sadly that Chichen Itza’s biggest pyramid, El Castillo, is closed off from visitors and they are not allowed to climb the pyramid which they used to a long time ago. The good news is, you can do that in Coba and the view up there is magnificent. Check below for more, as I had so much fun in Coba.
Lastly, you get a complete picture of Mayan history. If you have seen Chichen Itza, you have seen the pyramid, the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, and the Sacred Cenote, but some other civil buildings were collapsed and destroyed. In Tulum, visitors can appreciate the hospital, government, and other buildings, and you will have a complete picture of the Mayan past.
For a bonus, Tulum is located on the seafront and it has a beach, where visitors can actually jump into the water and cool off!
The site is located about 130 kilometers south of Cancún. The word “Tulum” means walls that were built with rocks and stones; Originally, this place was named “Zama”, meaning “Dawn”.
It was renamed Tulum in the 1920s. The archaeological site was an ancient Mayan city located on a cliff facing east toward the beautiful turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea (look at the photos, it still is!). It was the place where the first ray of rising sun hit, and because of that, it is one of the most scenically beautiful of all the Mayan ruins.
Tulum was thriving during the years between 1000 to 1600 and it was the place for the elites. It was a port trading community in a privileged location, and where political, religious rituals, arts, and astronomical events took place. Imagine Tulum was built as an ancient country club: the city covers quite a large ground by the sea, and everything was brilliantly laid out with a great wall surrounded. Houses, mansions, altars, towers, and temples remained today to show the world how much thought and intelligence the Mayan people had put into the design.
Tulum was the place to understand the last glory of Mayans because it was the first place the Spanish targeted during their invasion in the 15th century.
It was a magnificent afternoon in December. The reflection of the sunlight from the Caribbean Sea is the perfect backdrop for the stone towers by the cliff, the view just blew me away. Tourists could have a dip in the water if you like! Remember to bring your own towels and swimming gear.
There are a number of interesting structures on the sites. The Castillo is now acting as an observatory deck although it was a fortress with small windows on the stone wall that offers an excellent lookout for intruders in the past. The Temple of the Descending God is the focal point of Tulum. It was named because of the niche located at the top of the door where a sculpture of a winged figure falling from heaven. I was amazed by the splendid carvings on the wall which are unique and important messages from the Ancient Mayan people. Imagine how it was even more beautiful 500 years ago when the temple was decorated inside and out with mural paintings.
Swimming in Tulum
Bring towels and swim gear if planning to go into the water. In the Tulum ruins, it’s only a beach with no bathrooms or any beach facilities. There are many beach resorts in the south of the archaeological site. The ruin is an open area with no shades. Bring sunblock on a sunny day as well!
Coba is another ancient Mayan city 44 kilometers northwest of Tulum. As I mentioned, Chichen Itza is more famous to most people yet Coba is actually bigger. There are five lakes in Coba with a population of 100,000 during its prime. The site is a Nexus of the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world, and it contains historical evidence of the Late Classic Period of Mesoamerican civilization. Unlike Tulum, the site is remained around two lagoons and is buried deep in the Yucatan jungle. The ancient structures are scattered in the woods and connected by branches of plaster roads. It is an important archaeological site that is very different from Tulum – wandering in the overgrown jungle, trees, and vines, I enjoyed very much the serenity and quietness.
Biking in Coba
An exciting activity in Coba was that tourists could rent a bike and make their way from the Coba Pyramid to the Nohoch Mul Pyramid (and by now I think I did write a LOT of posts about biking around!). There are three ways to go to the Nohoch Mul Pyramid: rent a bike, go on foot, or hire a tricycle driver. It takes only about 20 minutes on foot (and 5 minutes of riding a bike) to reach Nohoch Mul Pyramid and tourists would stop by several “checkpoints” on the way. It was such fun cycling in wooden paths, but yet there was another highlight for the day.
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Don’t miss out on the Nohoch Mul Pyramid! It’s a 42-meters tall pyramid (the tallest in Yucatan) and unlike Chichen Itza and many other ruins in Yucatan, tourists could climb it. 😊 The Mayans were somehow a vicious group of people and they communicate with god with human sacrifice. Ancient people worship god crawling their way up. Mostly because in their belief, the higher they reached, the closer they were to god. Today we crawl up the pyramid for the spectacular view…. Yet once I got up there I heard everyone around me whispering “oh… my… god…”.
Today, back home, every time looking at those photos, I am still touched and amazed by that moment.