Riviera Maya is a popular holiday destination on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. The area is renowned for its coastline of pristine beaches, mangroves, lagoons, ecological reserves, adventure parks and amazing cenotes.
The area is also famous for the many ancient Mayan archaeological ruins, but only at one site in the Yucatan Peninsula do you have the unique opportunity for an unforgettable experience to explore ‘Indiana Jones style’ by climbing a pyramid.
Just 109 kilometres from the resort of Playa Del Carmen is the ancient city of Coba. It’s well worth a day trip to step back into this ancient world, the site of the second tallest Mayan Pyramid in the Americas. It’s the only one where visitors are still allowed to experience a pyramid climb. Although Coba was rediscovered in the 1800s, the archaeological site wasn’t opened to the public until 1973.
At 42 metres (138 feet) tall the temple pyramid of Nohoch Mul, which means “great mound,” has 120 steep and uneven steps where visitors can follow in the footsteps of the ancients to clamber up one of the sides to the summit.
Climbing up this steep sided face is quite an experience as at times it’s necessary to scramble ‘on all fours’ and you definitely need a head for heights as you near the top. There’s a thick rope which runs up the middle of the steps for those that may need some assistance and the security of something to cling on to for the climb.
Don’t worry about looking too ungainly as it’s a bit of a scramble for everyone and there’s usually some humour and banter exchanged on the way. Whichever way you choose to climb probably the best tactic is to keep going and don’t look down until you reach the top!
After the exertion in the heat and humidity to reach the summit it’s wise to take a moment to catch your breath before the reward of taking in the spectacular views over the lush green landscape of the jungle canopy and the chance for some memorable photos to record the occasion.
If you have an active imagination then perhaps you can picture the scene of a millennium ago as some unfortunate ancients took in their last view, as like many Mayan temples this was a site of ceremonial and ritual sacrifices to the Gods.
After enjoying the panoramic view of the vastness of the jungle canopy there’s the climb down and this can prove more awkward than the climb up as you edge your way down, step by step. Although you do see the occasional person trying to jog down! And of course you have to navigate your way past those climbing up who are usually head down and scrambling up towards you!
The whole experience of climbing up and down the pyramid is exhilarating and there’s a sense of achievement at completing the feat.
After all it’s not everyday you can say that you’ve climbed a pyramid!
A good way to round off the visit is to take a walk around the many paths amongst the ruins under the shaded jungle canopy. A short walk on ancient paths.
There are numerous tracks or roadways, known as sacbes which you can explore on foot or by rental bike.
One popular way to tour the area is by hiring a taxi bike, a fun way to travel around the ruins and trails letting someone else do the hard pedalling while you sit back and enjoy the sights.
One of the best preserved structures is a ball court that the Mayans used for a strange game which involved getting a ball through a stone goal hoop placed high on a sloped bank. The rules of the game and how it was played remain one of many Mayan mysteries that are still not understood today.
Next to the court is a huge and impressive Ceiba tree. Mayan mythology revered the Ceiba tree as the symbol of the universe, a ‘sacred tree of life’ with roots leading to the Underworld, linking the earthly and spiritual worlds. Mayans believed the Ceiba tree offered protection, success, knowledge, prosperity and eternal life. Our guide advised us that it’s considered good luck to place hands on the trunk of a Ceiba tree, so for the chance of some good fortune we duly followed the tradition.
This was a day trip with a real difference, the opportunity to get up close to history, discover a place once home to an ancient civilisation and the unique experience of climbing a pyramid in the footsteps of the Mayans.