Teotihuacan – ancient pyramids of Mexico. Description, photos.


Teotihuacan is the center of the oldest advanced civilization in central Mexico, these ruins are some of the most famous landmarks in the world. The fate of the area’s civilization remains unknown, but what we do know is that it was home to a center of advanced culture, with a population of over 200,000 people. It is hard to underestimate the influence on the development of the entire Mesoamerica of this mysterious place located 40 km north of Mexico City.

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General Information

As you enter Teotihuacan, notice a group of people in traditional costumes gathered around a tall pole. These are the Valadores de Papantla (Valadores of Papantla) . They climb the pole, then one of them stands on top of it and plays the flute, while the others “fly” around – spinning, tied with ropes by their ankles. The performance is repeated several times during the day; when it is over, the performers let the cap fly around in a circle to collect the spectacle’s fee.

Teotihuacan is located 48 km northwest of Mexico City – about an hour by car. Buses leave from the northern city terminal every 30-60 minutes. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon-Sat. Closed: Mon. Organized excursions to Teotihuacan depart from Mexico City; you can join a group bus tour, or you can rent a guided car, which gives you more freedom to explore. Many hotels in Mexico City also arrange trips to the pyramids, offering transportation, meals on the route, and a guide.


The founding of Teotihuacan marks the beginning of the classical period of Mesoamerican history. It undoubtedly became the capital of a kingdom that surpassed even the Aztec state that emerged in its place in terms of grandeur, wealth, and influence. When the Aztecs arrived at the ruins of Teotihuacan in the 14th century, they themselves were amazed by the size of the buildings, although they knew little of who had built them.

Perhaps the first settlers were primitive farmers who came from the north and began to build the city in 300 BC. It is true that these farmers turned out to be extremely skillful builders, as Teotihuacan quickly became a very important place. The active trade links with the rest of Mesoamerica became a source of influence and wealth for Teotihuacan. The city became a thriving economic center with a population of 200,000 people and reached its peak of development between 300 and 600 AD. But all this did not save the city from collapse in about 650 AD when almost all its inhabitants left the city. Traces of fire, preserved on many of the buildings, indicate a possible disaster that drove out the city’s inhabitants. About 100 years later, in the year 750 the Toltec army passed through and Teotihuacan was finally turned into a ghost town.

In the 14th century the Aztecs repopulated its ruins. They gave the city its present name, meaning “the place where a man becomes a god” or “the city of the gods. The size of the city was a source of awe for the Aztecs. They firmly believed that only giants could have created such magnificence and that even the sun and the moon were once born in the city.

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Archaeologists have found that the inhabitants of Teotihuacan worshipped the planet Venus, determining the time of wars and sacrifices based on rituals associated with the phenomenon of the morning or evening star. Numerous burial tombs have been found near the foundations of buildings, containing jewelry, pottery and everyday objects.

Today, the rough stone structures – the three pyramids, the sacrificial altars, the houses, in ancient times covered with plaster and painted with bright frescoes in scarlet tones – remain just as beautiful.

The road of the dead runs from north to south, with the pyramid of the moon in the north and the fortress (citadel) in the south.

Archaeologists exploring the interior of the pyramid of Quetzalcoatl found traces of burials. Each of the tiers was once covered with images of winged serpents.

Heading north toward the pyramid of the moon, look to the right where the crumbling wall is covered by a modern roof. You can still see a drawing of a jaguar there – it will help you imagine how magnificent this complex once was.

The Pyramid of the Sun east of the central Road of the Dead is the third largest pyramid in the world, with a base length of 221 meters on each side and a height of 64 meters. Built on top of an existing structure, it was completed around the year 300, and the view from its summit is one of the unforgettable in Mexico.

The Pyramid of the Moon is surrounded by smaller temples and the palace of Quetzalpalotl, with stunning drawings depicting butterflies, and the view from there to the main street will make you dream of going here again.

The Pyramids of Teotihuacan

When I was planning a trip to Mexico, the pyramids of Teotihuacan were on my “must-see” list along with Chichen Itza, Palenque, Merida, the cenotes and paradise beaches. Yes, and how can you miss the opportunity to walk the famous Road of the Dead and climb to the top of the pyramid of the Sun!

The history of Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan at its peak was the heart of the vast Mayan Empire. The knowledge accumulated over the centuries by the great people, who evolved in the second millennium B.C. and still exists today, formed the basis of one of the greatest cities of its time. It can be compared to the ancient Alexandria, Athens and Rome. Teotihuacan subjugated the city-states scattered across the territory of modern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, and became the religious and administrative center of Mesoamerica.

In Aztec, Teotihuacan means “the place where the gods touched the earth. So the tribes who came from the north in the XIV century called the majestic and abandoned Maya city. What was its true name, when was the first stone laid, why did all the inhabitants left it – all these questions still remain unanswered.

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Despite the long archaeological research, we know very little about the mysterious city. It is believed that the main thoroughfare was a wide (more than 40 meters) Road of the Dead, which starts at the Temple of the Feathered Serpent and stretches for more than 2.5 kilometers past the giant pyramid of the Sun to the area in front of the pyramid of the Moon. Temples, palaces, barracks, markets, and commoners’ houses were built on both sides of this thoroughfare used for military parades and religious processions. The city covered a huge area of up to 30 square kilometers and was populated by more than 200,000 people.

There is a theory that the Road of the Dead was not a road at all, but a fresh water canal. This hypothesis is supported by the barriers that crossed it, which could have been locks. However, the San Juan River crossing the city and nearby Lake Texcoco speak against it.

For many years Teotihuacan was the sun around which all life in the Mayan Empire revolved, until the inhabitants left it in the seventh century. Scientists cannot come to an unequivocal conclusion what caused the fall of the great city: conquerors, natural disasters or epidemics. Be that as it may, the city stood empty for more than six hundred years until it was inhabited by the Aztecs for two short centuries. After the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, Teotihuacan was again abandoned. And today we can see a shadow of the former greatness of the legendary center of the great Mayan civilization.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

The first thing you will see when you get to Teotihuacan is a huge Citadel, in the courtyard which could hold at least 100 000 people. Obviously, this fortified place with high walls was built in case the city was besieged. Inside the Citadel were several temples and mansions. But the main building was a pyramid dedicated to the deity the Aztecs later called Quetzalcoatl, creator of all things, patron of the earth, god of fertility. The architectural style of this pyramid differs significantly from those built along the Road of the Dead, and reminded me of Hindu temples.

All six levels of the temple are decorated with elaborate bas-reliefs and protruding sculptures of dragons. Dragon muzzles scowl along the stairs leading to the top. There are 365 in all, the number of days in the year.

In 2003, under the Temple of the Feathered Serpent discovered an underground tunnel leading to the Pyramid of the Sun at a depth of 18 meters. Inside the nearly 140-meter tunnel were buried many objects of worship, including jewelry. Excavations are still going on, but the expected burial sites of the rulers have not yet been found.

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Pyramid of the Sun

On the other side of the river, north of the Citadel is the giant Pyramid of the Sun, only slightly inferior in size to the world’s largest Cheops Pyramid at Giza. Its facets are as much as 225 meters long and 65.5 meters high.

Once the faces of the pyramid were covered with paintings and on the flat top stood a temple. How it looked and what deity it was dedicated to is a mystery. It was called the Pyramid of the Sun by the Aztecs, who observed that twice a year, on April 29 and August 12, the Sun, at its zenith, hangs just above the top of the pyramid.

Majestic and monumental, it rises above the surrounding hills, and from its top you can catch a glimpse of the entire ancient city of Teotihuacan.

Which, of course, travelers enjoy doing, and I am no exception:) Climbing the pyramid is not as easy as it seems – the steps are of different sizes and heights. For convenience there are strings of ropes along the stairs. I heard from several people that at the top they had a panic attack. So if you’re afraid of heights, it’s worth thinking before you go up.

I had no fear, quite the contrary – it took my breath away with excitement! You stand on top of a huge pyramid and feel all-powerful and powerful, and the whole world is at your feet. It is not at all difficult to imagine, how on the same place there stood great rulers and high priests, and before them thousands and thousands Maya were falling down.

Pyramid of the Moon

Another iconic structure of Teotihuacan is located at the very end of the Road of the Dead. The Pyramid of the Moon dominates a square built with ten temples. It seems to have been the site of important ceremonies, processions and meetings.

Visually it seems that both pyramids, of the Sun and the Moon, are the same size. Such impression is created due to the fact that the latter is located on a hill, which turned out to be another structure erected much earlier. The structure itself is smaller than the pyramid of the Sun – 42 meters in height and 150 meters in width. Inside the pyramid of the Moon was found the burial of a noble man and woman, with whom were buried slaves, cougars, wolves and eagles.

Today the pyramid of the moon has not yet been fully restored, so you can not climb to the top – only to the middle of the steep staircase. But even from here there is a beautiful view of the square, the Road of the Dead and the pyramid of the Sun in the distance.

When to go

Mexico City and Teotihuacan are located in the center of the mainland at 2,000 meters above sea level. Because of this and the winds blowing over the plains and hills, it does not get very hot. From July to February the temperature rarely rises above 21-23 degrees during the day and can drop to 5 degrees at night. Considering that wandering around the pyramids under the scorching sun is difficult for unaccustomed northerners, this weather is quite conducive to a visit.

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March through June is the hotter season – the thermometer reads 25 to 30 degrees. I was in May, one of the hottest months, but I felt quite comfortable in a wide-brimmed straw hat.

When choosing a time to visit Teotihuacan you must take into account another nuance, on Sunday entrance is free for locals, so the pyramids and the Road of the Dead are full of tourists. If you want to enjoy the treasures of the Maya alone, it is worth choosing a weekday.

What to take with you

  • The sun is scorching here, so sunscreen and headgear should definitely go with you.
  • If traveling from July to February, it’s best to pack warm clothes.
  • Climbing the pyramids, crawling the slopes that interest you, and exploring the homes of the locals will be much easier if you have comfortable shoes on.
  • There is a cafeteria at the entrance to the museum complex, so you won’t starve to death, only ruin.) A bottle of water here will cost from $3 and a chicken sandwich from $10. This is why it is better to make sure you get your bread beforehand and take water and food from Mexico City.

How to get to Teotihuacan

The pyramids of Teotihuacan are located just 50 km from Mexico City and there are several ways to get there.

By bus

The yellow subway line (Autobuses del Norte station) leads to the North bus terminal (Terminal Norte), where buses to Teotihuacán are available. The ticket booth is easily identified by the “Teotihuacan” sign and the long line. Comfortable buses leave every 30 minutes from 7 am to 6 pm, the journey takes an hour to an hour and a half (depending on traffic), the ticket costs 40 pesos ($2). Chances are, half of the bus passengers are also going to the archaeological complex, but if you’re afraid of missing your stop, tell the driver at the entrance “pyramides” and he’ll drop you off at the right place.

Buses back to the city stop at the central exit of the Teotihuacan Museum Complex and take you back to the North Terminal.

By cab

If you want to travel in comfort, you can order a cab at the hotel, catch it on the street or at the same North bus station. The cost will depend on your bargaining skills and insolence of the driver and starts at $15 one way.

Take a tour

You can book a tour at a hotel or online for $35-$50. The price varies depending on the conditions (with or without lunch included) and the tour operator’s appetite. You will be picked up by minivan from your hotel around 6 a.m. to be transported to Teotihuacan in time for the 7 a.m. opening. An English- or Russian-speaking guide will accompany you during the walk, and in the afternoon you will be taken back to the city.

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One variation of the tour is a hot air balloon flight over Teotihuacan. Together with a transfer from Mexico City, a glass of champagne and hors d’oeuvres, it will cost from $1000.

By Car

I rented a car since my trip involved driving to the Yucatan through Oaxaca and back. I chose the budget option, and I got a white Chevrolet Aveo with automatic transmission and air conditioning for $35 a day with no deductible insurance. There are also options for $30, and an SUV or minivan can be rented for $120 a day.

For renting you need a driver’s license and international rights (although not all firms you will ask them, in principle, perhaps only Hertz on this point) plus a bank card with a sufficient amount in the account to block the rental time (usually $ 1000-1500).

Gasoline costs $0.7 per liter, the planned costs should include more and toll roads, but if you want to save money, you can always set a navigator to restrict their use.

Speaking of navigators: on the way to Teotihuacan I missed the right exit, and the navigator rearranged the route so that I already thought I would be left somewhere in the middle of the farms of Mexico. The further I drove, the worse the road got. First asphalt was replaced by gravel, and then it turned into just a rut in the middle of the fields. But I must pay my dues, the equipment didn’t let me down and took me to my destination by detours.

Inside Teotihuacan

And now you’ve reached the famous Mayan city. The entrance ticket costs $3 or 57 pesos and allows you not only to explore the archaeological complex, but also to visit two museums (one located near the Pyramid of the Sun and the other near the exit).

In addition to the beautiful and majestic pyramids of Teotihuacan, there are many other interesting places in the ancient city: cabins, wells, and the cutest critters. I, for example, met a mole. What teeth he had!

On the Road of the Dead you’ll find lots of locals offering guides for $5-$10 or selling souvenirs. I loved the eagle and jaguar whistles that made the distinctive sound. I usually do not buy gifts in such touristy places, but here I could not resist, it was only possible to haggle down to 150 pesos ($8) for each.

You can spend a whole day exploring Teotihuokan: recharging on top of the pyramid, exploring the corners and breathing the same wind that the mysterious Mayans breathed thousands of years ago. At 6 p.m. you will be kicked out by the rangers, but you will take the impression of the great city with you.

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