Around 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, you’ll find the incredible ancient city of Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán actually means ‘the place where the gods were created’. It was founded by Aztecs in the 1400s, where it had been abandoned for centuries. It’s a fascinating mix of ancient pyramids and ruins, in what was once Mexico’s most important city. Surrounded by mountains, the key attractions here are two key pyramids: the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Pyramid of the Moon. This is primarily due to the Mayan fascination with astrology, and is a theme throughout ancient ruins in Mexico. After an awesome day exploring the Frida Kahlo Museum, we left early to get a little more culture. Entry to Teotihuacán costs around 75 pesos each (that’s around $5CAD), so it’s quite a bargain.
Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacán
The first thing you’ll see, and central to the Teotihuacán site, is the 1.5 mile long Avenue of the Dead. It’s essentially the main road of Teotihuacán. The Aztecs gave it the name because the mounds on either side appear like tombs, despite them actually being small residences alongside the street. It connects important spots in the city, from the Citadel to the Pyramids of both the Sun and Moon. The road also points towards the sacred Cerro Gordo, a now extinct volcano. As with much Mayan culture, the astrological alignment of the Avenue of the Dead is precise along with the buildings and pyramids. This is to align the buildings with the sun setting on specific dates.
Along the Avenue of the Dead, you can read signs which give you a little more information on the history and culture of the area. You can spot some incredible Aztec art and hieroglyphics which still manage to retain some of their colour. You can simply meander along the avenue at your pace, taking in the ancient sights and architecture.
There are various vendors selling native pottery and accessories. Be warned many of them sell an item that creates a panther hiss when you blow into it. It’s quite alarming when you don’t expect it! In the wrath of the hot sun, I totally understand why Mexicans created the sombrero (literally ‘shadower’). I certainly could have used one myself.
Pyramid of the Moon
With the sun already in full force at 9am, I’d highly recommend taking your trip to Teotihuacán early on. This also means you get to avoid the bucketload of tourists coming in on coaches around midday. We had a wonderful view of a relatively empty ancient city, without too much sun. Catch an Uber from the city at rush hour, and it will cost you around $50CAD – not too bad really if you can split the cost. The journey itself takes around an hour and it’s pretty scenic.
The first pyramid we tackled is the Pyramid of the Moon, before it got too busy. For this I highly recommend wearing sensible footwear, because the steps can get a little scary in places. There is a rope, however, for you to keep steady on the ascent.
The Pyramid of the Moon is thought to have been created for residents to watch the sacrificial rituals. There’s an altar atop of the pyramid which seems to reinforce this idea. The earliest human sacrifice appears to be around 200AD, and tombs inside contain both animal and human sacrifice.
The views from the top are breathtaking. It stretches for as far as the eye can see across the landscape. Be sure to climb it first when there are fewer people around. Both of us actually preferred the view from the Pyramid of the Moon than that of the Pyramid of the Sun. What’s even better was that we were joined by some furry friends who were basking in the hot sun. I’m sure they’re a little quicker than me at climbing all those steps.
Pyramid of the Sun
We soaked in the views before a very cautious descent back down the steps, clutching at the rope. There are more ancient buildings and ruins to explore to the right of the Plaza of the Moon. The history and artefacts are pretty mindblowing. Next up was the Pyramid of the Sun. It was built around 100BC and is one of the largest structures of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. It looms over the Avenue of the Dead and the rest of Teotihuacán at a whopping 66 metres above ground.
It’s crazy to think how they built such a vast structure back then with little equipment. It’s also solid, packed with granite. The climb for the Pyramid of the Sun is a little more taxing, with several more sets of steps. Given the high altitude of Mexico City anyway, you may find yourself a little breathless during the ascent. Once you’re at the top, it’s great to take in the impressive surrounding view from such a historical structure.
La Gruta, Teotihuacán
After climbing both pyramids and wandering around the ancient ruins, we booked in for a special lunch. We arrived at The Gruta for opening, just as the sun was hitting its peak strength. It’s just a short walk from the pyramids, past some beautiful historic buildings including the Museum of Teotihuacán.
The Gruta is particularly famous for its incredible venue. It’s in a volcanic cave, with tiny lights all over the floor and walls. Sunshine pours in from holes in the cave’s ceiling also. My favourite part of the decor is the smattering of colourful chairs which make it look so unique. At certain mealtimes, mariachi and folklore dancers perform on the stage.
We were served the biggest bowl of guacamole, which we were obviously extremely pleased with! It comes with tortilla chips, a variety of hot sauces, and pork rind. We then chose chicken and beef tacos to share. The food was good and plentiful, but nothing on the incredible tacos at Páramo. La Gruta is all about the amazing venue, and it’s worth a visit for that alone.
You can conveniently grab an Uber from outside La Gruta back to the city within around an hour. It’s interesting to watch the city come into view from the car, passing colourful hillside houses like in my terrible photo below. Back in the city, we went to explore Mexico City’s historic centre.
And that’s a wrap on Teotihuacán! Have you visited? Which are your favourite parts of this fascinating ancient city?