Riviera Maya offers sightseers a look into both ancient cultures and unique landscapes. More than a millennium ago, ravelers made their way through the Yucatan jungles following Sacbes, white stone roads connecting the villages and cities of the Mayan empire. Forty Sacbes still lead from Coba, a thriving Mayan trade epicenter that reached its apex of power during the years A.D. 500 to 1100, including the 60-mile Sacbe leading to Yaxuna, another archaeological site. See Mayan Calendar
But civilizations often pass unnoticed into history and Coba seemed destined for such a fate. Abandoned for reasons now unknown, the jungle took over, covering Coba with vines and vegetation and its 6.500 building, temples and pyramids spread over 80 square miles disappeared from view. But Coba wasn´t lost forever. Rediscovered in the 1890s, its restoration began in the 1970s. Unlike some Mayan sites that are totally reclaimed, the majority of Coba still lies beneath the jungle canopy, creating a mysterious city still untamed by modernity.
But that doesn´t mean there isn´t a lot for visitors to do. Rent a bike and ride on a Sacbe or pedal along with the city. Climb to the top of Nohoch Mul, the highest pyramid, at 138 feet, in the Yucatan Peninsula or up the stone stairs of Coba´s second-highest pyramid, the Temple of the Church, for a magnificent view of Macanxoc, one of the four nearby lakes and the reason for Coba´s name, Man for the waters of the wind.
Tulum, once a major seaport is nestled atop cliffs overlooking the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea. After entering, follow the gravel pathway that leads to the ancient city itself. Tulum´s centerpiece is The Castle, with its steep stairway topped by a temple whose columns are carved in the shape of rattlesnakes.
Both a watchtower and a lighthouse to steer ships, El Castillo stood sentinel over this walled city, protecting it from invaders and sheltering those within. Stop at the Temple of the Frescoes with its faint traces that tell the stories of the Chaac, the god of rain and Ixchel, goddess of the women, weaving and the moon. Wander to the outer ring of the city, where the pathways are less smooth. Here the Templo del Dios del Viento is distinguishable by its round base and the House of the Cenote, named for the underground lake whose dark waters can be glimpsed beneath it. Escape the blazing heat by swimming in the sandy cove nestled into the base of the cliff 40 feet below Tulum, but save some energy for the walk back up.