We visited Riviera Maya in August 2017 and had heard a lot of great things about the Mayan ruins in Mexico. While the Chichen Itza ruins seemed like a popular tour, we decided to try a Tulum and Coba trip, since it offered a tour of both ruins and a Cenote, which are underground rivers in the area.
1. The Coba Ruins:
The first stop on our tour was a visit to the Coba Ruins. Coba is an ancient Mayan city, set in the Quintana Roo state of Mexico, about 45 miles from Tulum. Coba spans a vast area of over 80 square kilometers and was once known to inhabit a population of 50,000 people. Many of the ruins at Coba haven’t been unearthed yet, only a handful of the estimated 6,500 structures. However, there is still plenty to see and experience while walking around the site.
The highlight of this part of the tour was climbing the 120 steps of the Grand Pyramid, which is one of the few Mayan Ruins sites that you’re still able to climb. The view was definitely worth the effort. From the top, you’ll get a view of the lush green jungle surrounding the area.
After the climb, we took a Tuk-Tuk style ride back through the site which was another fun way to experience the ruins.
2. Cenote Tankach-Ha
The second stop was a refreshing visit to the Cenote Tankach-Ha. Cenotes are naturally formed swimming holes caused by the collapse of porous limestone rock and are found all around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Cenote means “sacred well” and were the main source of water for the Mayans. They are also a place where many sacred rituals were performed.
We were allowed to swim in the one that we visited, which was a memorable experience! We went down a steep staircase into a huge underground area that had a large pool of fresh water. Given no sunlight gets to the water, it was fairly cold. However, after swimming for awhile, we definitely warmed up. It was a great stop to break up a day of touring ruins in the heat!
3. Tulum Ruins
Our last stop was Tulum and a trip to see the spectacular ruins by the ocean. We’d heard a lot of great things about the ruins at Tulum, and we definitely were not disappointed.
Tulum is a historic Mayan City that was built in the late 13th century and is full of interesting archeological gems. What makes Tulum a bit different from some of the other ruins in the area is its proximity to the ocean. This which makes for an incredible backdrop. Tulum was the only Mayan city built on the coast.
Tulum is only 100 miles from Playa Del Carmen, which makes for an easy day trip. The ruins are open from 8am to 5pm daily and costs 65 pesos (about $3.50 in US dollars). If you need to arrange your own transportation, it should be relatively easy to visit on your own.
Overall, we found the tour to be a good balance between archeological sites and areas of natural beauty. We would highly recommend a trip to check out these places if you visit the area.
Tips and Considerations
To help you plan your trip, here are our top tips:
1. Book through a recommended tour operator:
We booked our tour online through Expedia. The actual tour was operated by Kaminos Travel, a local operator. However, Expedia does vet local companies before recommending them, so we felt comfortable that we were booking through a reputable provider.
2. Book a smaller tour if possible:
Our tour group had about 30 people, which was larger than we wanted. This made for a less personal experience and meant a longer overall tour time due to the tour having to make numerous stops to pick-up and drop-off passengers. You might pay a premium for a smaller tour, though we would recommend it so you’re not wasting your vacation time. We shared our experience of a smaller tour in our Swimming with Whale Sharks video/post, which is another recommended activity in the area.
3. Pack medicine if you’re prone to travel sickness:
The journey to Tulum from Riviera Maya is approximately one hour. However, our journey was closer to two hours since we picked people up along the way. If you’re prone to any type of travel sickness, I recommend that you pack some additional medicine and extra water.
4. Pack Insect Repellant:
The Tulum ruins are next to the ocean and in an area that attracts a lot of mosquitos! We didn’t wear enough mosquito repellant and were attacked by mosquitos the moment we stepped out of the bus. I always recommend Ultrathon insect repellant, which is the most effective one we’ve found. You can check out our video/post on how to avoid mosquito bites while traveling for more information on the topic.
5. Save time for souvenir shopping in Tulum:
There are lots of souvenir shops in Tulum and our tour allowed some time for shopping. We found the prices here to be reasonable and we ended up getting all the souvenirs in one stop. Also, if using your credit card, remember to use a card with no foreign transaction fee, and pay in local currency since you’ll get a better exchange rate this way.
6. Watch out for additional fees and regulations around photography:
It’s worth noting that there are strict photography rules at the Coba and Tulum ruins. Drones are not allowed, and the site charges a standard daily fee for any video equipment, particularly GoPros. While it’s pretty cheap (around $5), it does add additional time to the check-in process and is something to be aware of (even if your filming clips on your phone).
Have you explored the Tulum and Coba ruins? Share your experience in the comments section below.