The number one thing that I wanted to see and do while in Mexico City, was to visit Teotihuacan. Massive pyramids of stone standing in the highlands just north of the capital – these behemoths are the largest in the world that you can climb.
Getting to Teotihuacan
There are many different ways to get to the pyramids at Teotihuacan. The method you choose should reflect what you wanting to get out of the experience and how much of a budget you are on. They are about 25 miles north of Mexico City, so you can’t simply walk there.
- To beat the crowds, be sure to arrive early. This means that you will have the option of using your own car, a taxi, or an Uber.
- If you are less concerned about arriving early in the day, you can take public transportation to Autobuses del Norte station, where you can then take a comfortable bus ride to the pyramids.
- If you want it easy, and you don’t care too much about price – you can take a guided tour, where you will be picked up from your hotel and have everything arranged for you.
After seeing a few videos and pictures of incredibly big crowds at Teotihuacan, we decided that we should get in early. Briana also read somewhere that you could catch the site of hot air balloons if you got there before the park opens (unfortunately this didn’t end up working out for us). We didn’t trust trying to take a taxi, so we took an Uber. This is where I made our first mistake – which you should avoid. You should be sure to put in the address as:
55800 Teotihuacan, State of Mexico, Mexico
And if you have the option, further specify the pyramids and try to get to Gate 2. There are 3 Gates you can enter at.
We began by grabbing some water from a local convenience store and then grabbing an Uber.
I Made a Mistake
I did not put in the correct address. Upon ordering our Uber, I simply put in Teotihuacan – which is a city north of Mexico City, but not the pyramids. This led to some confusion later on. Our driver picked us up around 8 in the morning and away we went. They did take quite a while to arrive (around thirty minutes), though, which delayed us to the point that we wished we had just taken the bus or slept in a little more instead. Our path meandered through the primary roads of the capital but soon gave way to rough streets and tiny villages.
I thought we might be lost, but signs for the pyramids kept appearing, so I assumed we were on the right track. It was taking much longer than it should have though. Finally, in the middle of an alley way, the driver stops and says we’ve arrived.
There was an obvious problem, but within a few minutes, and a quick talk with a local police officer, we managed to find our way to the pyramids. Sadly, what should have been a $25 – $30 USD Uber ride became a ~$60 USD ride due to my incorrect routing. Briana’s dad graciously picked up the tab.
We got in a little late, but ultimately, it turned out fine. Just be sure to specify exactly where you want to go!
Arriving at Teotihuacan
We arrived later than we intended due to both issues with Uber, but the site was still pretty empty. We made our way up the road from Gate 2, which faces the the Pyramid of the Sun. Entrance to the ruins costs $70 Pesos (~$4 USD), which is really cheap compared to most sites of such grand scale.
After passing the ticket booth, there is a road that leads towards the main area – lined with vendors. Most of the vendors where not active yet. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the venders weren’t as pushy as we’d read – a simple “no gracias” was all it took to be left alone.
The enormous compound consists of four main parts:
- The Pyramid of the Sun
- The Pyramid of the Moon
- The Avenue of the Dead
- Cuidadela / Feathered Serpent Pyramid
It is oriented where the Pyramid of the Moon is on the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead, with the Pyramid of the Sun on the eastern side of the Avenue of the Dead halfway down, and the Cuidadela / Feathered Serpent Pyramid on the south end of the mile and half long Avenue of the Dead.
Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. It is impossible to miss, as it stands at 216 feet tall, and 760 feet wide. It is also the largest pyramid in the world that you can climb.
We approached it in the cool morning air, and began our ascent. It looks big from afar, but you can’t really grasp just how big it is until you begin to climb it. It just keeps going up, and you can’t see the summit. As you go, you get winded and hear the sound of jaguar and eagle whistles from the vendors below.
Luckily, the pyramid is stepped, so there are multiple places to take a rest and look back on how high you’ve climbed. There are rails to assit you up and down – but the friendly stray dogs don’t seem to need them.
Upon arriving to the summit, you’re given an awesome view of the surrounding plains, mountains, and site. We stayed at the summit for close to a half-hour, just admiring the views before continuing down.
Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramid of the Moon is on the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead and has it’s own plaza, surrounded by numerous smaller temple mounts.
Although not as tall, the Pyramid of the Moon is still huge. The steps to to the first platform are also far steeper than any others at Teotihuacan. We climbed to the platform and then rested there for a while. We enjoyed the sites and views before moving on. You can’t climb to the summit here though, because the top is more in ruins than the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
It should also be noted, that you should wear plenty of sunscreen. At over 7,000 feet elevation and a lower latitude, exposure to the sun is more intense and sunburn happens quick – as we figured out. We quickly applied some sunscreen, but too late. We continued for the rest of the day to use an umbrella and wear jackets to shade ourselves as much as possible.
Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl
On the west side of the Plaza of the Moon lies the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl. Although smaller, be sure not to miss it. The area consists of two parts: the upper and lower areas.
The lower area contains some well-preserved murals of jaguars and altar spaces. There is also a temple that is underneath the Palace. In this area, you can see a great mural of a feathered serpent.
The upper area consists primarily of ruins. However, there is a well preserved courtyard of Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl that contains many columns with great relief carvings.
Just outside the palace is Gate 1. You can enter / exit the site here, or you can check out the numerous vendor stalls. Here we picked up some banana chips to satiate our hunger until we returned to the city or got food and a few affordable souvenirs.
History of Teotihuacan
The structure of Teotihuacan is that of a planned city complex. At it’s height, it is estimated to have been the home to around 200,000 citizens. Construction began sometime between 50 and 500 CE.
The pyramids were constructed sometime between 200 and 250 CE. The complex as a whole consists of 15 massive pyramids along the Avenue of the Dead.
Unlike today, the tops of the pyramids were only ever visited by royalty, priests, and sacrifices. The Teotihuacans practiced extensive human sacrifice – as did much of the region – and would kill prisoners of war, citizens, and children to appease the gods.
The methods were brutal and bloody. Decapitation, crushing, removing the heart – the methods were extreme. Thankfully, these are no longer practiced today.
When the Aztecs arrived in the 1300s, Teotihuacan was already in ruins. The original names of the site have been lost, but we now know them by way of the Aztecs. They believed that this was the birth place of the gods.
Calidad de los Muertos
The Avenue of the Dead stretches the entire length of Teotihuacan, and consists a project just as massive an undertaking as the the pyramids themselves. The avenue diverts the San Juan river, which allowed for better irrigation and water control.
Along the entire length, are great plazas, temple mounts, temples and pyramids. The walk takes a long time to make your way through, considering the up and down nature of climbing the many steps.
The Avenue of the Dead also provides ample opportunity to see old ruins, newer constructions, and reconstructions. Here is a preserved mural of a puma.
This pyramid had a temple built atop it.
You can tell what has been reconstructed by the look of the buildings. Reconstructed buildings have stone that was found on site, brought together with a local motar, with small black volcanic rocks in the mortar between the stone. It creates a nice look that also helps you to easily identify what is original.
La Ciudadela and the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent
After a very long hike along the Avenue of the Dead, we finally arrived at the last of the primary sites for the day. The Ciudadela is a massive plaza that consists a field of grass surrounded on all sides by low temple mount constructions.
On the far side of the plaza rests one last pyramid – or rather two. At this point, Briana and her dad decided they didn’t want to climb the pyramid as we’d already walked and climbed so much. I decided that I wanted to check it out anyways.
So I climbed the pyramid and found that on the other side of the pyramid was yet another. So I descended the pyramid and came across the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. This pyramid was far shorter than the others, but much more exquisitely decorated. Numerous carved heads of serpents lined the walls and stairs.
The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent was used specifically in the sacrifice of children.
Other Notables at Teotihuacan
Across from the Cuidadela is Gate 1. Gate 1 has a small visitors center and restaurant that you can visit. However, the prices are very much tourist prices, and if you have the patience you can get a better and more affordable meal back in Mexico City.
There is also an on-site museum on the south side of the Pyramid of the Sun. We didn’t visit because we were very tired – we had been trekking around the area for around 6 – 7 hrs by this point and were a bit hungry and eager to get back with our worsening sun burns – and we had just had a good look at the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Anthropology Museum the day before.
It is also worth noting that the weather can be temperamental. When we arrived, the temperature was around 60F, but when the sun came out it would shoot up into the mid 80s within a couple minutes. At such a high elevation, the weather can change quite quickly. We were also lucky to be arriving at the end of the rainy season when everything was green.
Getting Back to Mexico City
There is a bus that arrives every fifteen minutes at Gate 2 that goes back to Mexico City to the Autobuses del Norte station. A round trip will cost $100 Pesos or $50 Pesos each way.
We found the bus ride to be pretty enjoyable overall. Although it was crowded at first, a few people got off and we were able to get seats shortly. We were then treated to a better view of the north side of Mexico City.
The ride took a little over an hour to get to the bus station – which does not have good food. Along the way, police came on board to document who all was on board. This may happen, and it’s a simple safety precaution – nothing to be worried about.
All in all, Teotihuacan is an awesome experience that you should not miss on your visit to Mexico City.