Teotihuacan: Massive Pyramids near Mexico City
Mexico City is a daunting, chaotic metropolis that is currently the 6th biggest city in the world (by population in the metropolitan area). The colonial centre is a great place to explore, but a day trip to Teotihuacan is the undisputed highlight of any trip to the city known locally as DF (Distrito Federal). These massive pyramids near Mexico City were built around 2000 years ago and are some of the biggest in the world. Here’s a quick look at what you’ll see and some tips on how visit Teotihuacan without a tour.
Welcome to Teotihuacan
The remains of this ancient city only hint at what an amazing place it must have been at its peak. Teotihuacan was founded around 100 AD and was probably the biggest city in the Americas at the time (and at least the 6th largest in the world). There isn’t too much concrete information about who built the magnificent monuments or who later destroyed them. One theory is that an internal uprising decimated the ruling class and its buildings. With this lack of information in mind we decided not to hire a guide; instead we wandered around the ruins making up our own stories about whatever powerful civilization called this place home.
The Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun is thought to be the 3rd largest pyramid in the world (there are some doubts about that claim though). The cool thing about it is that you can climb right to the top, something that is now forbidden at a lot of the other ancient sites in Mexico. The stairs leading up the pyramid were really congested — this is definitely not an off the beaten path destination. Most of the other tourists were locals, and a lot of them bought their kids these little devices which mimic (very loudly) the sound of a jaguar. It got annoying very quickly. There are over 200 steps leading to the top of the pyramid but the view is well worth it. From the top you can see the smaller (but more attractive) Pyramid of the Moon as well as lots of other small structures.
The Avenue of the Dead
The Avenue of the Dead is a wide walkway framed by small pyramids and platforms. At the end of the avenue lies the Pyramid of the Moon. It’s a striking sight and you can easily imagine lavish processions taking place there. The Avenue of the dead is best seen from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon, which thankfully has far fewer steps than its big neighbour.
The Pyramid of the Moon
The view from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon has to be the most impressive “ancient city from above” view I’ve ever seen. The Avenue of the dead and the Pyramid of the Sun combine to impress even the hardest to please people – even the masses of tourists look cool from up there!
The Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly
So far we had seen a couple of behemoth pyramids, but there was a shortage of the “finer” details you might expect from a historical city. That all changed when we saw the intricate carvings and colourful, well restored murals at the Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly. The artistic side of Teotihuacan really impressed me — I’m sure this detail once stretched throughout the whole city before time took its toll. Apparently the pyramids used to be covered in colour as well — what a sight that must have been.
The museum at Teotihuacan isn’t all that interesting but there are some creepy human remains. You could easily skip the museum, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl
We actually walked straight past this place thinking it was just a small and more unimpressive version of the Pyramid of the Moon. Big mistake!! There are lots of serpent heads and other detailed reliefs carved into parts of this pyramid — I’m still annoyed that we missed it (I guess a guide might have been useful after all). The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is located close to the entrance; don’t miss it like we did.
A Day Trip to Teotihuacan: FAQs
- How much does the entrance ticket cost? The entrance ticket to Teotihuacan only costs $64 pesos (around $3.50) – it’s a great deal compared to other ancient ruins in Mexico.
- How do you get to Teotihuacan independently? First take the metro to the south bus station. Riding the metro is an experience in itself – salesmen walk through the carriages peddling all kinds of products. It could be known as “The Great Metro Bazaar”; thankfully it was all aimed at locals and they didn’t bother us, which allowed us to look on as people bought books, tools and other everyday household items. Once you’re at the south bus station, go to the counter and say you’re going to Teotihuacan — it’s easy, even if you don’t speak Spanish. It’s a very common route and it’s safe (and much cheaper than taking a tour).
Teotihuacan makes for a great day trip from Mexico City — if you were thinking of skipping the sprawling capital then maybe this impressive ancient site will make you reconsider.
FURTHER READING: 8 of the Best Ancient Ruins and Pyramids in Mexico
Have you visited these massive pyramids near Mexico City? What is your favourite historical site? Let me know in the comments below!