Teotihuacan, Mexico

This magnificent archaeological area is located in a branch of the Valle de Mexico surrounded by mountains. Teotihuacán, the largest pre-Hispanic city in Mexico and the location of the enormous Pirámides del Sol y de la Luna (Pyramids of the Sun and Moon), was also the centre of the most significant pre-Hispanic kingdom in the nation.

The Calzada de los Muertos, a grand avenue lined with the former palaces of Teotihuacán’s nobility, is the site’s major thoroughfare. The pyramid-adorned La Ciudadela, which is thought to have been the residence of the city’s supreme monarch, is located to its south. The impressive Templo de Quetzalcóatl, with its serpent decorations, is enclosed within the citadel’s walls.

The impressive, 230ft (70m), 248-stepped Pirámide del Sol, the third-largest pyramid in the world, is on your left as you go north. The Pirámide de la Luna, which is flanked by the 12 temple platforms of the Plaza de la Luna, marks the end of the avenue. Nearby attractions include the exquisitely frescoed Templo de los Caracoles Emplumados, the Palacio de Quetzalpapálotl (Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly), and the Palacio de los Jaguares (Jaguar Palace) (Temple of the Plumed Conch Shells). The Palacio de Tepantitla is located northeast of the Pirámide del Sol and has Teotihuacán’s most well-known fresco, the Paradise of Tláloc. To help make sense of it all, there is a museum on site.

Multiethnic communities were split into neighbourhoods in Teotihuacán, which served as a key hub for migration for people from the south. These racial and social tensions, according to studies employing DNA tests conducted in 2015, are thought to have contributed to Teotihuacán’s demise.

The city’s grid system was established in the first century CE, and the Pirámide del Sol, which stands above an earlier cave sanctuary, was finished by 150 CE. Between between 250 and 600 CE, the rest of the city was built. Its decline and eventual demise in the eighth century were expedited by social, environmental, and economic forces.

The two large avenues that converged near La Ciudadela divided the city into parts (the Citadel). The Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), one of them, runs roughly north-south and was so named because the later Aztecs thought the large structures bordering it were enormous graves constructed by giants for Teotihuacán’s first kings. The larger buildings have a talud-tablero architectural design, in which the rising portions of stepped, pyramid-like constructions are made up of both talud (sloping) and tablero (upright) elements. They were frequently painted in vibrant colours and covered in lime. Residential compounds, some of which included magnificent frescoes, made up the majority of the city.

Centuries after its fall, Teotihuacán remained a pilgrimage site for Aztec royalty, who believed that all of the gods had sacrificed themselves here to start the sun moving at the beginning of the ‘fifth world,’ inhabited by the Aztec themselves. It remains an important pilgrimage site: thousands of New Age devotees flock here each year to celebrate the vernal equinox (between March 19 and March 21) and to soak up the mystical energies believed to converge here.

Ticket and data availability

M$75 can be paid for tickets at the gate on the day of the event. If you’re taking a group tour, your ticket is already included, so you can skip the line. Do not let the hawkers detract from an excellent day here. Bring your walking shoes, a hat, and some water. Medium-sized baggage can be stored in the guardabultos (lockers).

How can I travel there?

Mexico City lies 50 kilometres (31 miles) northeast of Teotihuacan. There are a few nice lodging choices in San Juan Teotihuacán, a little village just over two kilometres from the archaeological zone, if you wish to get at the site early in order to beat the crowds and do not want to join a sunrise tour.

Autobuses México-San Juan Teotihuacán operates buses to the ruins every hour during daylight hours from Mexico City’s Terminal Norte (M$52, one hour) from 7 am to 6 pm. Ask which gate your bus departs from before turning left to gate 8 as you approach Terminal Norte. Verify that your bus is going to “Los Pirámides” and not the nearby town of San Juan Teotihuacán (unless you are heading to accommodations in San Juan). On occasion, armed robberies still take place on these buses; to find the most recent advisories, look up “Teotihuacán” on the website of the US State Department.

Buses at the ruins arrive and depart from a location close to gate 1, as well as making stops at gates 2 and 3. Using any of the five entrances is permitted with your ticket on the same day. Just inside the main east entrance is the site museum (gate 5).

After 1pm, return buses run more often. At six o’clock in the evening, the final bus back to Mexico City departs; some make a stop at the Indios Verdes metro station, but most continue to Terminal Norte.

In contrast, there are many trips to the ruins that leave from Mexico City’s Zócalo metro station or hotels, are more affordable for solitary visitors than hiring a guide alone, and are more convenient. Daily minivan trips with or without visits to the Baslica de Guadalupe are offered by Capital Bus and Turib’s. These tours include a bilingual guide and an entrance cost. There must be reservations.


Top tips

It is fascinating to explore the Teotihuacán site, but it is exhausting to fend off the persistent hawkers. At the ruins, crowds can be very large. Going early pays dividends because they are busiest between 10am and 2pm, on Sundays, on holidays, and around the vernal equinox.

It’s best to take it easy while touring the vast ruins due to the heat and altitude. Most guests walk at least a few miles, so pack water and a hat because the midday sun may be very harsh. Rain showers in the afternoon are frequent from June through September.

At the gates, English-speaking advisors may be purchased for roughly M$600 per group. If you’re going alone or with a very small group, a scheduled tour with a guide out of Mexico City can be a better deal.


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