Coba is located 108 miles from Cancun. It used to be a very popular for tourists but it declined over time because visitors were more interested in seeing the better known sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza. However, tourism to Coba has begun to increase once again because it does have significance and uniqueness and is not nearly as crowded.
The name Coba means "ash grey water." As with many other sites, the name was probably not its earlier designation. However, the name Coba seems appropriate because there is a lake called Coba whose water does have a greyish cast at certain times of the year. Additionally, other nearly lakes have similar natural-based names: Chacluk ("red mud"); Xkanha ("yellow water"); Sacalpuc ("mound of the army ants"). The only exception is Lake Macanxoc, which means "not learning to read." This oddity does not seem quite as strange, however, when one considers that learning declined sharply during the Decadent Period of Mayan history and inhabitants were no longer able to understand the hieroglyphic inscriptions on many of the surviving stelae.
Researchers differ regarding how long people lived in Coba - some say, based on pottery fragments, that Mayans were there during the Preclassic period (0 - 400 a.D.). However, dates recorded on stelae fix settlement at a much later time.
Since this inland area possessed abundant water resources it was an ideal site for settlement. The same was true for Chichen Itza.
By the time of its height during the Classical period Coba's urban area covered at least 44 square miles. Unfortunately, lack of funding and perhaps governmental indifference has allowed only a small portion of the ruins to be made available to modern visitors.
During its heyday Coba was undoubtedly the most important and powerful city-state in east central Yucatan.
One of the characteristics of Coba that distinguish it from other archeological sites is the number of white roads that the Maya call "sacbeh" - from the words "sac" (white) and "beh" (road or way). The white earth is called "sahcab" and when spread out and compacted (particularly when wet) it becomes quite solid. Flattened stones, which were covered with mortar (a mixture of lime and sahcab) were placed along the sides of the roadways. Forty-five of these roadways have been identified at Coba and are classified as: 2 regional, 8 zonal and 35 local. The zonal and local roads connected the large area of Coba itself. Of the 2 regional roads, one goes to the Caribbean (thus indicating cultural and commercial ties) and the other extends more than 100 kilometers to the site of Yuxuna (which is just south of Chichen Itza). This would strongly indicate that Coba was the main power controlling this area for quite some time.
Another unique feature involving Coba is the unusually high number of stellae memorializing women. Evidence of this includes portraits with symbols of authority and prisoners placed at the feet of these individuals. Thus, it can be concluded that royal women played important roles in this society from time to time.
The last uniqueness which makes Coba worthy of visiting is its architecture. In general, all Mayan construction had the following shared characteristics: well-defined bases (such as the false arch); buildings built on superimposed platforms that decrease in size; buildings set on top of quadrangular or elliptical pyramids; and decoration of facades in relief.
Overall, the style of Coba structures is comparable to general Mayan patterns and even resembles sites found in Guatemala. However, there is a major difference in Coba construction and craftsmanship. The structures of Coba are in many ways defective and inferior to those found at Uxmal, Chichen Itza and Kabah. The workmanship at Coba is, upon close inspection, rough, rustic and crude. Coba inhabitants must have realized this because they sneakily tried to hide construction defects (such as poorly cut and placed stones) by covering the exterior of the structure with thick layers of stucco. The problem was, however, the stucco either wasn't thick or smooth enough to successfully and totally disguise the shoddy work. Lastly, a further attempt was made to hide the bad plaster job by painting brightly colored pictures on the stucco.