Located about 50km northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacan was the first of several archaeological ruins we visited in Mexico. Considering its proximity to a big city and that I had never heard of the Teotihuacan civilization until I went to Mexico, my expectations were pretty low. It couldn’t possibly match that the wonder of the world, Chichen Itza, right? What I learned during my visit to some of Mexico’s best archaeological sites is to try not to compare. It’s always easy to spoil your visit and think that a place isn’t any better than the last. The best approach is to observe with fresh eyes and appreciate each unique work of history as it is. With Teotihuacan, however, since it was my first, I had none to compare it with yet so seeing its true beauty was fairly easy.
There is probably a more poetic way to express the beauty of the once city of Teotihuacan but let’s make things simple – it’s amazing. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, we saw an overview of the vast complex of structures in Teotihuacan, a place that some people have referred to as the “City of Gods”. One could spend a whole day admiring the stunning small temple structures, colourful murals and some of the world’s most magnificent ancient pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. No wonder Teotihuacan is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since the late 1980s.
The Teotihuacan civilization developed between the 1st to 7th Century AD, and it was among the largest cities in the world at the time. One of Teotihuacan’s claim to fame was its distinctive architecture known as talud-tablero. This architectural style consists of a sloping surface called “talud” and a platform structure called “tablero”. Variations of the talud-tablero architecture are found in other Mesoamerican cultures including Tikal in Guatemala.
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Pyramid of the Sun (Piramidé del Sol)
At a height of 70m, the Pyramid of the Sun dominates the ancient city of Teotihuacan. There are 248 steps to the top but it is an easy climb, and there are a few platforms to take brakes. Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun was truly memorable because it was my first one, and it is one of the few ancient pyramids that people can still climb all the way up. It is quite crowded though, as some people believe that climbing to the peak provides some sort of cosmic energy. Although I didn’t feel any spiritual difference, the experience is exhilarating and the view from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun is gorgeous!
The Pyramid of the Sun is also the world’s third largest ancient pyramid. The Great Pyramid of Cheops in, Egypt, is the second largest. The largest pyramid is the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Mexico, which we also visited.
Pyramid of the Moon (Piramidé de la Luna)
At the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Pyramid of the Moon. It is smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun but looks almost the same height as it is built on higher ground. In front of the Pyramid of the Moon is the Plaza of the Moon which contains 12 temple platforms and an altar at the center used for religious purposes. It is also possible to climb the Pyramid of the Moon. There are no rails to the stairs so be cautious on your way up and down. Don’t worry, the magnificent view is worth the effort!
Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos)
The main layout of Teotihuacan is organized along the Avenue of the Dead, with the Pyramid of the Moon at the north end and the Citadel, which contains the Temple of Quetzacotl at the south end. Along this avenue, you will find lot of temple-like structures and some interesting souvenirs along the way. The sound of a howling jaguar and a soaring eagle will ring your ears every now and then as whistles with these sounds are quite popular among visitors. (I got an eagle whistle for $20 MXN, which is about $1 USD!)
Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly (Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl)
It is said that the structures in Teotihuacan were once painted in beautiful colours (Pyramid of the Sun was painted in bright red). Although we cannot see these colours on the pyramids today, there are still some parts of the Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly which show how colourful the ancient city was in its glory days. There are also several interesting murals on the walls in this area.
Temple of Quetzalcoatl (Templo de Quetzalcoatl)
No, we are not talking about the thunder-element summon in Final Fantasy VIII (Although it may have been inspired by the ancient god). Quetzalcoatl is a feathered-serpent god of the Teotihuacan civilization. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl, found in the citadel, is adorned with beautiful stone carvings. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the carvings, which were apparently on another side of the citadel. We didn’t research this place enough and thought it was just another temple so we did not bother to go up and we missed the stone carvings. Make sure you go up the temple and go further inside the Citadel to see the carvings!
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Tips for Visiting Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan is located near Mexico City. Buses to this archaeological ruins can be found in Mexico City’s Terminal del Norte, just outside of the Terminal del Norte Metro Station. Just say “Teotihuacan” or “Los Piramides” when you buy your ticket. The fare is about $40 MXN. Make sure to go early. You will find the bus the same place where they drop you off in Teotihuacan for your return (Gate 1).
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Entrance fee to Teotihuacan is $64 MXN and the archaeological site is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Don’t underestimate the size of this archaeological site. It is huge. Make sure to bring plenty of water, put some sunscreen on and wear a hat (hats are cheap here so just go ahead and buy one).
Bring a copy of the Teotihuacan map or load Google maps for this area. We took a bit of time to find the museum and the Temple of the Quetzalcoatl, so a map will definitely be useful. For your information, the museum is located near one of the other gates just before you reach the Pyramid of the Sun. The admission to the museum is included in the entrance ticket.
Have you been to Teotihuacan or other archaeological ruins in Mexico? What did you think of the place? Let us know.
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