Exploring Cancun

Just back from a week in Cancun, where I spent many a day sitting on the beach looking at the beautiful Caribbean blue water while drinking a fruity concoction. Or would that be drinking a fruity concoction while sitting on the beach…..hmmmmm? The highlight of my week (outside of the beaches and the concoctions) was a day trip to the Mayan ruins of Coba. While tours are available, we decided to rent a car ($80 for the day including insurance) for the 200-mile round trip to the Coba ruins.

On the way south from Cancun, on a local’s tip, we stopped in Playa del Carmen, a sleepy beach town, for a taco breakfast. Food carts just outside the bus station in downtown Playa del Carmen sell tacos to the locals, only in the morning hours. We scarfed scrumptiously outstanding soft pork tacos, with generous side helpings of salsa that burnt our lips with their heat. The tacos were about .75 cents each. It was a great way to start the day.

We contemplated a visit to the more popular Mayan ruins of Tulum, but decided on the less traveled path of Coba. This turned out to be an excellent decision. Coba is full of interesting stone ruins with the highlight being the dramatic Nohoch Mul, a 138-foot pyramid that you can still climb to the top of. The Nohoch Mul (meaning large hill) is the tallest ancient Mayan structure in the Yucatan, taller even that the famous pyramid at Chichen Itza, and the only pyramid that you can still climb. The Nohoch Mul is very steep and lots of tourists were using the rope placed in the middle of the pyramid’s steps to hold onto, when climbing up and down. It was no problem for me climbing up, but heading down made me a bit nervous. The view from the top looks out over the luscious jungle, and is well worth Coba’s small price of admission (just over $4). I highly recommend a visit here. We rented bicycles (for $2.50) to pedal around the ruins, which are fairly spread out. There is little signage, so bring a guidebook that includes information about the ruins of Coba.

Another fun side trip on the way to or from Coba would be a stop at one of the many cenotes for swimming. The definition of a cenote is a sinkhole containing groundwater, but that sounds far less glamorous than a water filled cave whose roof has collapsed. Some cenotes are open to the elements, while others are partially or completely covered within a cave. Mayans used the cenotes for both irrigation and drinking water, and more than 1000 have been discovered in the Yucatan. Most day tours offered in Cancun include a stop at a cenote, and there are several popular water parks that in addition to cenotes, offer zip-lining, jungle jeep rides, snorkeling and the like. In addition, along the drive from Cancun to Tulum and on to Coba you’ll see signs for many more casual and privately run cenotes, where you can pay a small admission and take a dip in a beautiful pool. For more on cenotes in the Cancun area, read here.