Visiting Teotihuacan will take your breath away.
If your first glimpse of the majestic pyramids doesn’t make you gasp then climbing them will. The city sits at an elevation of 2,300 metres and the climb to the top will make even the fittest athlete huff and puff.
It’s worth it for the views though.
The mind-boggling size and scale of Teotihuacan make it one of the most impressive ruins we saw in Mexico. And to risk controversy, I think it makes a better New Wonder of the World than Chichen Itza does.
Yes, I think it’s that good.
So What Is Teotihuacan?
For a start it’s old.
Like 2000 years old.
It was so big it: covered 21 sq km, had a population of more than 100,000, is compared to the Pyramids of Egypt and was home to some of the largest structures in the New World.
No wonder it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But no one knows who built it.
There are different theories going around but it’s thought that Teotihuacan was a multi-cultural city of immigrants. People took refuge there when natural disasters destroyed their homes as it was a city of great power. In fact, its influence stretched all the way down to Central America.
To help maintain their power and keep control of the people, the ruling elite performed ritual animal and human sacrifice.
Enemies captured on the battlefield were brought back to the city where the people could witness their ritual killing. Decapitated bodies have been found at the site and I can only imagine the horrifying bloodbath it must have been.
But things started to go pear-shaped around 750 AD.
Researchers don’t know what happened, but after a thousand years of dominance, the city suddenly lost power. Whether it was drought, civil unrest or war nobody really knows. But parts of the city burned and although people remained living there it never fully recovered.
Hundreds of years later the city was discovered by the Aztecs and it became a place of worship and pilgrimage. They named it Teotihuacan, pronounced tay-oh-tee-wah-kahn (does that help?) which means “the birthplace of the gods”.
The city’s original name remains a mystery.
Pyramid of the Sun
Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun is on everybody’s list of things to do in Teotihuacan.
Believed to have taken over a hundred years to build it’s one of the world’s largest pyramids coming third to the Pyramids at Giza. It measures 75 metres high and has a base width of 225 metres almost equaling Egypt’s Great Pyramid.
There are fabulous views of the Pyramid of the Moon at the top but it’s a heart-stopping climb up 243 stairs to reach it!
The outer lime based structure was originally covered with bright murals and images that have eroded over time. They would have been much prettier than the grey stone blocks we see today.
Avenue of the Dead
Walking along the Avenue of the Dead it’s obvious that this is a culture that revered something bigger than themselves. Something that’s lacking in our own society where showing your bum on Instagram can make you a star. (OK it does need to be a good bum!)
The Aztecs gave the Avenue of the Dead its disturbing name because they thought the mounds along its sides were tombs. As it turns out they weren’t tombs at all but residences and pyramids that lined this magnificent walkway.
It was built over a channel used to drain rainwater into the nearby river and it connects all the important monuments in the city. From the Citadel to the Pyramid of the Sun and on to the Pyramid of the Moon, it’s thought to have ended close to the nearby mountains.
Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramid of the Moon sits on high ground where it can dominate the landscape and the worshippers below.
Built over several stages it became the second largest structure in Teotihuacan. It’s surrounded by smaller platforms where thousands of residents would come to see the sacrificial rituals that took place there.
The tomb of a male skeleton has been found near the base of the pyramid. Believed to have been bound and sacrificed, the body was surrounded by offerings of obsidian, greenstone and sacrificial animals.
Temple of the Feathered Serpent
The Temple of the Feathered Serpent, also known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl is the smallest of Teotihuacan’s pyramids. It’s located within the walls of the Citadel at the southern end of the Avenue of the Dead.
It takes its name from the carved heads of the “feathered serpent” deity that decorate the side of the pyramid.
In the 1980s archaeologists discovered more than 130 skeletons in mass graves around the temple. The bodies were found with their hands tied behind their backs and are thought to be victims of sacrifice.
Sensing a theme here?
Teotihuacan Archaeological Museum
Be sure to pop in to the museum, it’s the perfect place to catch your breath after all that climbing and get away from the crowds.
It houses a large collection of artefacts discovered during excavations at the site.
Museums aren’t for everyone but we enjoyed walking around it and if you’re already here why not check it out?
For some reason we didn’t take any photos of the museum but here’s a couple more of the site we thought you’d like.
Tips For Visiting Teotihuacan
- To miss the crowds arrive as early as possible and avoid weekends – Mexican residents have free entry on Sundays.
- The site is huge and involves a lot of climbing so allow yourself plenty of time to explore. And don’t forget to factor in rest breaks!
- Leave the heels at home and wear comfortable shoes. You’ll break an ankle otherwise.
- Dress for the weather. It was hot and dusty when we were there. Bring a hat and sunscreen and protect your eyes with sunglasses.
- Food options are limited and non-existent out on the site so bring snacks and lots of water.
- Perhaps it’s the nurse in me but I always like to have panadol and band-aids in my bag. You never know when a headache might strike and spoil your day.
- This goes without saying – bring a camera!
How to get to Teotihuacan
Add some adventure to your day trip to Teotihuacan and catch a local bus. It’s dirt cheap and the locals will want to talk to you.
We were given lots of tips about Teotihuacan by a local woman on our bus.
Top tip: Don’t buy any silver, it’s fake.
But the highlight of the trip was when a man with a guitar jumped on the bus and started singing!
Buses leave regularly from the northern bus station, called Terminal Central del Norte. You can find your way there by local bus or you can take the metro.
When you enter the terminal turn left and walk down to the end of the station. There’ll be lots of different ticket booths but you want the one that says “piramides” if you have any problems just ask someone. People are always willing to help.
After you buy your ticket you’ll be sent through to a waiting room where you’ll see many buses lined up. Don’t panic. Just look for the one that says “piramides” and ask someone to be sure it’s the right bus.
The journey takes about an hour and the driver will yell “piramides” when you’re at the site. Take note of your surroundings when you hop off the bus as this will be where you get the bus back to Mexico City.
Now all you have to do is have a great day!
Want to read more about Mexico? Here’s our post on the colonial town of Guanajuato.
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