nohoch-mul-pyramid-side-viewFor most people, a visit to the Mexican Riviera – a.k.a. the Caribbean side of the Yucatan – lasts for around a week and costs $3000 to $5000 dollars. How is it then, that we’re able to stay here for months and spend less than $400 a week?

Partly it’s because we rent a condo at a monthly rate – around $750/mo, even though we’re only a block from the beach. And partly it’s because we mostly cook and eat at ‘home’, and groceries are inexpensive in Mexico.

But it’s also because we do tourist activities for a lot less than what most tourists pay. This past weekend, we visited the Mayan Ruins in Coba and climbed the famous Nohoch Mul Pyramid. We had a great time, and I want to illustrate the difference in cost (and fun) of taking a trip with or without hiring a tour company.

Coba Mayan Ruins – Tourist Style

Get up early and get outside! The tour bus can pick you up any time after 7am. Actually get picked up at 7:30am. You’ll be greeted by your very friendly tour guide and hopefully feel excited! Spend the next 30 minutes stopping at other hotels and resorts picking up other tourists until your bus is nice and full. Drive for about an hour, then take a restroom break at a Mayan Tourist Shop.

mexican-tourist-trapYou tour guide will tell you how poor the indigenous people of the Yucatan are and recommend that you buy something. He won’t mention that this particular tourist shop gives kick backs to the tour company – or more likely is owned by the tour company – but you’ll probably notice that they sell the same stuff available everywhere in the Yucatan, except that it’s all double the price.

Next stop, an early lunch at an ‘authentic’ Mayan restaurant, where they serve bland rice, beans, meat, and iceberg lettuce cafeteria style. With luck the food will be hot and the drinks cold, but it is what it is.

Finally you’ll be taken to the Coba Mayan Ruins, where you’ll spend the next 30 minutes listening to the tour guide. I like info as much as the next person, but I’d rather read about Coba on Wikipedia in air conditioning on my laptop, then listen to a tour guide standing in the sun in 90 degree heat with high humidity – but that’s just me.

coba-taxisThen you’ll walk and walk and walk. The main tourist attraction in Coba is the Nohoch Mul Pyramid, and it’s a good mile walk. Before you get there you’ll have plenty of chances to listen to your tour guide talk about other assorted buildings – some of which are very cool (ball courts and the cross road temple), and some that are underwhelming (most of the Stelae). During this time you’ll start to find your tour guide and your fellow tourists annoying.

Reach Nohoch Mul, and climb to the top – this whole trip was worth it! Once everyone else in your tour group is on top too, wish that you weren’t, so climb back down. Once everyone’s down, head back to the tour bus (a good mile back). Ride for 2 hours back to your resort town on a bus packed full of sweaty and tired tourists. Spend 30 minutes dropping other tourists off before you reach your hotel. Swear that you’ll never take a tour again!

Cost $85 each – or $170 for 2 people!

Now how do we know all this? Because we made the mistake of hiring a tour company to visit Chichen Itza – the most famous Mayan site – back in 2006 on our first visit to Cancun. I think that set us back more than $100 EACH! On the bus ride home I swore I’d never do THAT again.

Coba Mayan Ruins – Rich & Kat Style

coba-ballcourtSleep late – finally get up at 8am and have coffee. Head to the bus station at around 8:30am, and catch the mostly-empty 9am bus to Coba. Stop a few times on the way down to pick up and drop people off, and catch a bathroom break at Tulum. Head into the jungle and get dropped off at Coba (the town)

Ask for directions in bad spanish to the archeological zone – and get pointed in the right direction. Walk the 1/4 mile to the Coba Mayan Ruins, and buy our tickets. Once inside the ruins, view the buildings near the entrance, then rent 2 bikes to ride into the Nohoch Mul Pyramid.

Stop along the way and view the other cool buildings – including the 2 ball courts and the Cross Road Temple, and wish tourists wouldn’t keep getting in my photos (kidding).

panuchosArrive at Nohoch Mul and climb to the top – Yes! Take our time, as we don’t have a group waiting for us. Head back down, and ride around the ruins some more – including seeing some of the ruins where the tourists don’t go as they’re almost a mile in the other direction. No big deal on a bike, but not worth it if you’re walking.

Leave the ruins when we’re ready, and head back into town. Find an authentic Yucatan restaurant and feast on Panuchos (open-faced Yucatan sandwiches – spicy and very tasty), Enchiladas, amazing pico de gallo and chips, and 2 ice-cold Sol Cervezas each – with lime of course.

Catch a nearly empty bus back to town, grab a row of seats each, and sleep the whole way home. Arrive in town and walk the 5 blocks back to our place.

Cost $31 each – or $62 for 2 people.

rich-on-nohoch-mul-cobaNote that we could have done it for less by skipping the bike rental ($6 total) and the 4 beers ($8 total). Now which would you rather do?

I know that setting off in a foreign country on your own can be a little intimidating, but I’ve found that it’s also a heck of a lot more fun. People in Mexico are very friendly and are always willing to point you in the right direction, and worst-case there’s always a bus, collectivo (a small van bus), or taxi to take you back to civilization if you get lost.

Until next time, keep on trekking!


Hi, I'm Rich - Perpetual traveler, photographer, writer, and web designer. Thanks for reading, and happy trekking!


  1. Lesley Thomason Reply

    It was interesting to read your trip to Coba. We will be visiting Mexico in December 2015 and staying not far from Akumal. So for us to visit Coba ruins will the best way to travel to flag down a collectivo to take us to Tulum? Then is there a bus to Coba from Tulum? Or would the collectivo take us direct to Coba? How often do the buses run on the return route? We would appreciate your help as we would rather travel independently. Geat reading your experiences! On our last trip to Mexico we stayed in Playacar and caught the bus from Puerto Carmen to Tulum ruins and enjoyed doing this ourselves instead of being with 40 others!!

    • Rich Reply

      Hi Lesley – Thanks. We miss the Yucatan and plan to go back soon! Regarding Coba – the bus we took from Playa Del Carmen was I believe a ‘second class’ bus as it had stops down the coast on the way to Tulum. One of the stops was definitely in or near Akumal, so you may be able to take a bus the whole way. Alternatively, there should be second class buses you can take to Tulum, and then transfer at the bus station there. Collectivos are everywhere done the coast, and they’re cheap and easy. That said, I don’t remember seeing many collectivos on the road to Coba.

      The ADO bus runs back to Tulum from Coba twice in the afternoon on the earlier side – something like at 1:30pm and at 3:30pm. You’ll be ready to go by then – it’s hot and humid in the jungle!

      The Tulum ruins are so uniquely beautiful with the beautiful Caribbean right there. I took some of my favorite photos of Mexico there – great memories. 🙂 Have a great trip!!

  2. Nice comparison of two tours – you travel in my kind of style – inexpensive and laid back! I only took a tour-guided trip once – in China. While there met some independent travelers and wished I had done likewise.

    The food sounds so delicious!

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