Of all the ancient cities out there, Teotihuacan might just be my favorite.
Last weekend Luke and I went on a trip with Olympus Tours and had one of the best guides I’ve ever had. Don’t you love when that happens? He showed us little secret paintings hidden under stones, he explained the history of Teotihuacan really well, he made hilarious jokes, and he gave us some great tips on other things to see around Mexico City.
I know a lot of people prefer to skip the tours and go it alone, but when it comes to historical sites, it’s always nice to get information and guidance. I really do recommend touring Teotihuacan with a guide (ask for Jose). You learn so much more about it, you hear anecdotes and stories that locals have heard all their lives. You get a better peak into Mexican culture and you also get to drink tequila at 10am.
This tour also included a trip to the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, but I’ll write about that separately. Let’s talk about the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan is home to the third largest pyramid in the world (the largest is in Egypt, and the second is also in Mexico). It’s thought to have begun being built in 100 BC and remained a thriving Mesoamerican city until around 550AD.
I had originally thought that it was a Mayan or Aztec city, but it’s actually WAY older than that. It’s believed that the Aztecs probably lived in the area later after the city had “burned” and used the resources that the Mesoamericans left behind.
At its peak the city was over 11 square miles and probably had about 150,000 inhabitants. Most of those buildings are lost now, but what remains is worth several hours of your time.
What You Can See Now
The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest one there at 64m (210ft), but the Pyramid of the Moon is pretty enormous too (43m/140ft). According to Lonely Planet Mexico, the two are actually the same height due to the fact that the Pyramid of the Moon is on a hill.
When we arrived, we walked into the entrance near the Pyramid of the Moon and climbed halfway to the top. You used to be able to walk all the way to the top, but they’re currently doing some renovations after discovering the pyramid housed several tombs. Halfway is enough though, because the steps are SO steep and SO big. I was literally using my hands to pull myself up the steps.
From the top of the Pyramid of the Moon you have the most incredible view down the “Avenue of the Dead” as you can see in the above picture. Smaller pyramids line the road on both sides and at the end on the left is the enormous Pyramid of the Sun.
We took our time climbing up a few of the smaller pyramids and walking along little side paths until we got to the base of the third largest pyramid in the world. There’s something quite magical about standing next to something so old, something so mysterious, and something that makes you feel so small.
Then it was time to climb the steps. They weren’t as steep as the other pyramid, but there were way more to climb (248 to be exact). When we got to the top the view back over was insane. The whole region is surrounded by mountains and we were lucky enough to avoid the rain and have nice clear views across the valley.
How to Get There
Getting there is really easy if you do one of the tours in Mexico City. They’ll pick you up from your hotel or hostel and take you the 40 miles North in total comfort. Then they’ll drop you off after a fun filled day, probably plied heavily with tequila and pulque. The tour includes your entrance fee to the park.
If you still want to go it alone, you can take a bus to the park from Mexico City’s Northern bus terminal. They leave every 30 minutes and take a bit over an hour each way. The roundtrip ticket costs about 90 pesos (about $4.50). The bus will drop you at Puerta 1 (Gate 1) and there you’ll buy your tickets to enter the park for 65 pesos (about $3.50).
What to Wear
Teotihuacan is slightly cooler than Mexico City, so be sure to pack an extra layer. It was a windy November day when we went, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15C) and it drizzled intermittently. We were told that the weather at Teotihuacan is either incredibly hot or quite rainy. Make sure you check the weather in the morning before you head out and don’t forget your sunscreen.
The park isn’t overly large, but you’ll be doing tons of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and layers that you can easily take on and off. After climbing up to the top I was sweating so much, but a few minutes up there with the wind and I was kind of chilly.
Other Things to Know
There are tons of hawkers trying to sell souvenirs all over the park. Everything from blankets and rugs to whistles and jewelry. They are quite persistent, but if you smile and politely decline (no, gracias), they will move onto the next person. Our guide told us that the souvenirs are actually quite authentic, but be sure to barter for a better price.
If you have only been in Mexico City for a few days, be aware that Teotihuacan is even higher up than the city and climbing those steps at such a high altitude will feel really difficult if you’re not used to it. Take your time and bring water.