Mayan Ruins in Yucatan: Coba vs Chichen Itza vs Tulum

The Yucatan peninsula is filled with amazing archeological sites. You know you want to visit Mayan ruins in Yucatan, but which one? Is visiting Chichen Itza worth it? What about Coba vs Tulum? Coba vs Chichen Itza? Or Tulum ruins vs Chichen Itza?

The choices can seem overwhelming! If you can see all three, do it. If not, here are some insights to help you decide on the perfect trip for you.

Tips For Ruin Exploring

The Yucatan peninsula is hot and humidity can be fairly high, even during the “dry” season. We explored these sites in April, which is before the wet season starts. While they were relatively bug free at this time of the year, we were told that mosquitoes were abundant in the wet season. It will also get hot.

  • Wear wide brimmed hats
  • Bring a lot of water; we were allowed to bring a bag into each site with water in it
  • Wear sunscreen or sunblock (and bring it with you, just in case)
  • Bring mosquito repellent
  • Dress comfortably; shorts are fine as long as they are comfortable
  • Wear sturdy footwear, especially if you are planning to climb a pyramid
  • A camera

One additional note: if you choose to wear a skirt and climb a pyramid, the angle of the climb makes it difficult for those below you to avoid looking up under your skirt. If that doesn’t bother you, great! It’s something to be aware of  if it does bother you.

I also saw a lot of people in flip flops or flimsy sandals at many of these sites. All three involve quite a bit of walking. If you want to climb, please wear sturdy footwear for your own safety. Remember, the Pyramid of Kukulkan was closed to climbing in 2006 after a woman fell and eventually died of her injuries. Climbing Mayan pyramids is strenuous business and should be treated with respect.

If you are exploring these sites on your own, it’s also helpful to arrive when they open (or before at Chichen Itza, so you can get in line early and into the site that much quicker upon opening). The day tours will start arriving and by 11 am, the sites will be busier. And hotter.


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The famous pyramid of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza (Yucatán)

Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The private, guided tour we had was fantastic and the site is large and well persevered. The Pyramid of Kukulcan is absolutely amazing. I’m so grateful we had the opportunity to see it.

We purchased a guided tour through our hotel, which had a private entrance to Chichen Itza. We still had to wait in a short line. The tour was 2 hours long. Our tour guide, Monica, was excellent and provided us with a lot of interesting information about the site and the Mayans who lived there.

For more information, here’s my extensive guide to Chichen Itza!

Can you climb to the top of Chichen Itza?

No. You can’t climb the pyramid at Chichen Itza. If you want to climb Mayan ruins, try Coba Ruins or Ek Balam.

One of the standing ruins of Tulum. Slightly green grass in front, with a brilliant blue sky in the back and three small, fluffy white clouds dot the horizon.

Mayan Ruins at Tulum (Quintana Roo)

We went to the Mayan Ruins in Tulum at midday. It was hot and really busy. So, maybe I’d have enjoyed it a little more if we’d gone closer to opening, as we did with the others. We skipped the line by purchasing a tour (45 minutes).

Our tour guide was interesting and provided us with conflicting information from what we learned at Chichen Itza. Martin was a fascinating guide. He made sure we stopped in the shady ares whenever possible, which was helpful. Bear in mind that the Tulum ruins do not have a lot shady spots!

These ruins might be better if you choose to go down to the beach. We didn’t exercise that option because there were a lot of stairs to get down to it and our young children were already pretty tired from the tour.

People climbing the pyramid at Coba.

Coba (Quintana Roo)

I almost missed out on the Coba ruins and I’m so thankful we were able to make it there. It’s the only site we didn’t take a tour (which is a little bit of a bummer for me). However, we did rent two pedicabs and the drivers took us on the short tour of Coba. Coba is massive and only very little has been excavated. I can see this site becoming the new Chichen Itza as buildings are uncovered (when money permits).

The Coba pyramid was our second stop and we were free to spend as much time climbing it as we wanted. My 5 year old son and I climbed the equivalent of three stories high. I was afraid I’d get to the top and be too scared to get down. My son knew no fear, so I was worried he’d be a little reckless for the uneven climbing. Unlike me, my husband went to the top. My four year old daughter opted to stay mostly on the ground.

Once we returned from our pedicab ride, we discovered there were some areas we could climb and explore near the drop off point. One building was only partially excavated/restored, still half covered by the jungle. I was in awe.

A brown, dry packed soil trail, through trees that are actually part of the jungle at the Coba ruins. There are three bicyclists in the distance.

One of the bike and walking trails at Coba.

Pedicab and Bike Rentals at Coba

I strongly recommend renting bikes or a pedicab to get around the site. We did the short pedicab tour, which included 3 stops (including the pyramid). If my kids hadn’t been worn out from our third ruins in three days, I’d have opted for the longer tour and would’ve been interested in hiring a guide (I don’t know if you can have both).

The pedicab ride and pyramid climbing was a highlight for my kids (ages 4 and 5 at the time of our visit).

Is Coba Pyramid Closed to Climbing?

The Coba pyramid climb is still available, as of April, 2018. It does not cost additional money

Panoramic view from the top of the Coba pyramid. You can see climbers climbing up in the foreground, the cleared part directly in front of the pyramid, and the green treeline in the background.

The panoramic view from the top of the Coba pyramid, all the weirdness of people moving included!

Coba vs Chichen Itza vs Tulum

If you can only go to one of the three, which should you choose? That is a tough call! Each are different.

Chichen Itza sees a lot of visitors each year. It’s very busy. It is also the most expensive of the three sites. Due to the site’s popularity, private tours are offered in multiple languages (I counted at least 6-8). I am glad we visited. Candidly, I doubt I’ll get there a second time.

The Tulum ruins were my least favorite of the three. Parking was fairly convenient. I liked skipping the line when we decided to purchase a private tour (after using the restrooms, which are located outside the entrance and I don’t believe there are any inside). Maybe I didn’t give it a fair shake because we went at a busy and hot time of day. Our kids were tired after the tour, so we also couldn’t explore it anymore.

Oh Coba, it was my favorite of the three. Because climbing is still allowed, it felt more interactive, even without a tour. The site is really big, so renting a pedicab or bike is ideal. Young kids will like the pedicabs and climbing, too. My kids also enjoyed Coba the most, but that could also be in part because we did not take a tour of this site.

The ocean view at the Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico.

The view from the Mayan ruins in Tulum.

Coba vs Tulum

Between Coba ruins and the Mayan Ruins at Tulum, I’d pick Coba. Sure, you’ll get more instagrammable pictures at the Tulum Mayan ruins, but I found Coba to be a lot more fun and less crowded. Both are easy to get to and have ample parking. Coba does require more driving (or advance planning to find a bus/taxi/colectivo).

Again, I did not swim while visiting Tulum and it’s possible that would’ve swayed my opinion on the site! It’s definitely worth a visit, even being my least favorite of the three.

Stone pillars going on forever in perfectly lined rows of four, were part of the marketplace a 1000 or so years ago.

There is so much more to Chichen Itza than just the amazing Pyramid we all know.

Mayan Ruins Yucatan Are Worth Visiting

Each of these famous Mayan sites have something different to offer. If you can see all three (and Ek Balam), do it! Hopefully, these insights can help you choose which one or two of the three to see if you have time constraints.

Go forth, travel, and explore some Mayan ruins with your kids!

Have you been to any of the archeological sites in the Yucatan peninsula? Which are your favorites?





2 thoughts on “Mayan Ruins in Yucatan: Coba vs Chichen Itza vs Tulum

  1. Sue says:

    Been to Coba and Tulum. Still need to get to Chichen Itza. I really loved Coba and I agree with your comments on Coba vs. Tulum.

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