A how to guide on getting to Coba from Playa del Carmen, including prices and various transportation options
(for specific advice on catching the collectivos skip to here)
(all pricing and timetables current as of November 2018)
Our preparation begins the night before with a stop at the Ado bus terminal in Playa to inquire as to times and cost for the bus to Coba (9 am, 158 Pesos each).
Then we headed back via taxi to our airbnb for the evening to prepare for the morning. AVOID THE TAXI STANDS ON 5TH AVENUE! 5th Avenue is the main tourist road in Playa. The first stand wanted 150 Pesos to bring us back to our airbnb but we walked up to 10th Avenue (about the equivalent of one block) and flagged one down off the street at a cost of 50 Pesos.
In preparation for morning we packed a backpack with some water, snacks, sunscreen, towels and swimsuits (as we were planning on stopping at the beach in Tulum on the way back) - however here are a few things we wished we'd brought: hand sanitizer or baby wipes, bug spray, a hat, a couple more snacks or a packed lunch so we wouldn't have had to stop to eat after our visit.
The next morning we started off our day with breakfast at our airbnb on the north side of Playa del Carmen. Around 8:15 we headed down to the street corner to catch a taxi to the Ado bus station at a cost of 50 Pesos.
We purchased tickets to Coba, departing at 9 am, at a cost of 158 Pesos each, attempted to nap on the bus and arrived around 10:45 (in retrospect as we are trying to do things on the cheaper side we should have tried to take a collectivo to Tulum and tried to find one to Coba from there, but we weren't sure where they picked up or how to get one, more on that later).
The bus is clean and comfortable and rather direct, only making a couple stops between Playa and Coba - also there is a bathroom on the bus (we didn't use it but others did and it seemed fine for a bus bathroom).
I also got a quote from one of the local transport companies that would have done a day trip to Coba including a cenote or Tulum stop with lunch and drinks provided, private tour for $110 USD or group tour for $55 USD per person. Collectivos cost 45 Pesos (around $2.50-3.00 USD) per person between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, and I'm assuming something similar from Tulum to Coba.
A taxi for the day would likely run you around or above $100 USD (approximately 2000 Pesos)
The entrance to Coba costs 70 Pesos each - the bus drops you off about 300 meters from the entrance, just keep walking in the direction that the bus was taking when it dropped you off and you'll get to it.
There are bathrooms just outside the entrance (toilet paper and paper towels by donation - as in much of Mexico) but keep in mind that there are no bathrooms within the park, so definitely make a pit stop here on your way in.
Wear bug spray! We forgot and while the mosquitos didn't touch my partner they had a literal feast on my legs! I read online somewhere that they have bug spray by the bathrooms but we forgot to check when we came in.
It's not as hot as we expected it to be (except at the pyramid) as you're mostly in the jungle under tree cover. (We put sunscreen on before we entered the park but it probably wasn't necessary until we reached the pyramid)
You come in and there's some ruins almost immediately to your right, definitely worth checking out!
One of two ball courts on site is located there. This is the ancient Mayan sport where the winner recieved the prize of losing his head! It was considered an honor to do so, and the game could take up to a couple of days before someone would win!
A few minutes walk in from there is a stand where you can rent a bike or get driven around on a seated bike cart "taxi" (not sure how much a round trip costs but we chose to walk in and take the cart out, the cart out was 75 Pesos)
Head back out to the path and partway up the road splits (the site is basically Y shaped), you can go 1 km to the right to see the "paintings" or 1 km to the left to climb the pyramid (if you intend to do so I'd recommend going soon, they've been saying they're going to stop allowing people to climb for years but the latest rumor is that it'll be stopped at the end of this year (2018)). Right where the road splits is an ancient temple.
We decided to take a right and head to the "paintings" first (large carved stone tablets) to avoid the rush of people heading to the pyramid when we first came in. There's something like 300? in total but only about a dozen or so are on display. Still very interesting.
We heard some rustling in the trees and looked up to discover monkeys having a snack in the trees! Even an adorable little baby one :-)
We then headed back out to the split and walked to the pyramid.
We arrived at the pyramid and proceeded to make the treacherous trek up - this was very awesome but very steep and consisted of somewhat slippery rock steps (due to the frequency of use, I'd recommend not wearing flip flops - although many people did).
There is no shade when climbing the pyramid, take your time and bring water. We also brought a snack to sustain us along the way. There didn't appear to be any food within the park itself (although there are a bunch of restaurants just outside the park). However there is a place to buy water and other cold beverages just before the pyramid.
The views from the top are amazing! There's a rope up the center of the steps that you can use to help yourself get up or down.
After we descended we were both rather hot and tired so decided to take the bike cart taxi back out instead of walking.
We decided to grab a quick lunch at Restaurante Xaibe just outside the parking entrance to Coba: 1 pineapple water shared 25 Pesos (omnoms), chichinito tacos 110 Pesos, cheese empanadas 110 Pesos. Food was good albeit maybe slightly overpriced for what we got.
We had planned on taking the Ado bus to Tulum (which was leaving at 3:10 pm) to go to the beach (the bus tickets are sold just outside the parking lot entrance at a taxi stand/restaurant - assuming you didn't buy a return ticket), but as we walked in to buy our tickets another couple was also looking to get bus tickets but asked if we'd share a taxi with them as the cost was slightly more in a taxi but quicker and they wanted to stop at a cenote on the way (the bus wouldn't have stopped). The taxi wanted 440 Pesos to Tulum (/4), however we had it drop us off partway. We definitely got ripped off (partly because he was expecting a Tulum fare when we got in and partly because he could tell we were tourists, but we stopped partway and he still charged us the same as he would have to Tulum. I should have negotiated but we were hot and exhausted after climbing the pyramid at Coba heh, but it should have been max around 200)
The taxi dropped us off at Cenote Aktun Ha (aka "carwash" cenote), cost to enter the cenote is 50 Pesos each (I'd recommend bringing snorkel gear if you stop here, we didn't but the people who did got some wicked views, they do rent or sell snorkel equipment there but I'm not sure of the cost).
Swimming in the cool cenote felt absolutely amazing after the hot climb up the pyramid! There were also many cave divers coming in and out of the water while we were there, was very neat and almost a little unnerving to see scuba divers underneath you while you swam! The water is crystal clear and very refreshing!
We also saw a turtle lounging in the sun on a branch, and were treated to a tiny fish spa as we entered the water, as a couple of the little minnows decided to check out our legs! Alternative to being nibbled on by tiny little fish they have a diving platform and a swing rope if you're brave enough to jump right in to the cold water! Initially it feels very cold but after a couple of minutes you get used to it and it feels amazing!
After we finished at Cenote Atkun Ha we flagged down a taxi outside the entrance on the side of the highway to Tulum at a cost of 120 Pesos (/4).
The taxi dropped us off across the street from what kind of looks like a bus stop with a grass hut roof which is where the collectivos pick up from (one comes by about every 5 minutes until approximately 10 pm, but you're not guaranteed a seat as they pick up until the van is full and then drop off and pick up at many points along the way).