Exploring the Ancient City of Teotihuacan

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Teotihuacan is a Mesoamerican city and UNESCO World Heritage Site that is believed to date back as far as 400 B.C. Much of the city’s history between 400 B.C. and 1400 A.D. remains a mystery. When the Aztecs arrived in the area in the 1400s, it was already completed deserted. It was they that gave the city its name, Teotihuacan, or “The Place Where the Gods Were Created.”

There are two main pyramids inside the ancient city of Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. At 246 feet (75 meters) high and 733 feet (225 meters) wide, the Pyramid of the Sun is one of the largest in the world.

Archaeologists believe that at its prime, the city was home to over 100,000 people and covered eight square miles. If this guesstimation is correct, it would have made it the largest city in the Western Hemisphere during that time.

It’s worth noting that the altitude of Teotihuacan is an incredibly high 7,000 feet (2,121 meters). If you’re not coming from somewhere with a high altitude, it is recommended to save visiting Teotihuacan until the end of your trip to Mexico City, when you have acclimated a little bit. This will make for a much more enjoyable climbing experience.

Things to Do at Teotihuacan

Things to Do at Teotihuacan
There are several sites worth checking out while you explore Teotihuacan. Be sure to walk down the main street that connects all of the sites, Calzada de Los Muertos or Avenue of the Dead.

At the far end of the Avenue of the Dead is La Ciudadela, or the Citadel. Here you’ll find the Temple of the God Quetzalcoatl. It’s believed that this area was the home of the ruler of Teotihuacan.

As you continue down the Avenue of the Dead you’ll pass the Palace of the Jaguars, the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl or the Quetzal Butterfly, and the Palace of the Goddess Tepantitla. Several of these have small paintings still visible in faded reds and blues.

Eventually, you’ll reach the main plaza where you’ll find the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s possible to climb both, but you can only go halfway up the Pyramid of the Moon. Both offer stunning vantage points of the ancient city and the surrounding valley and are great places to take a few photos.

There is also a museum on the Teotihuacan site. You can opt to have the price included on your ticket when you first enter Teotihuacan. It’s only a few Pesos more to include the museum. Inside the museum, you’ll find several murals that have been taken inside to help protect them from the sunlight. There are also sculptures and explanations (mostly in Spanish) on the different areas of the city. It’s a good place to get a better understanding of what is known about this mysterious civilization’s ancient history.

Photography Tips

Tip: Get a high view to see the entire complex
Tip: Get a high view to see the entire complex

One of the best ways to photograph Teotihuacan is from above. Every morning at sunrise, hot air balloons take to the skies and allow you to take photos in that golden hour light from a vantage point that not many get to experience. The hot air balloons need to be organized well in advance but you can easily book a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacan online.

The park does not open until well after sunrise and unless you are visiting during winter, it closes well before sunset, so just visit Teotihuacan as early as you can in order to enjoy good light and fewer people in your photos.

You are able to take photos with a phone or small camera for free, however, if you want to bring a DSLR or mirrorless camera into the pyramids, you will have to pay 45 Pesos (roughly $2.50 USD). If you want to bring a tripod, you need to get special permission in advance of your trip from the Mexican government agency that handles historical sites.

Where to Stay

Teotihuacan is a very easy day trip from Mexico City, so the best place to base yourself is in the city itself. There are a plethora of hotels in Mexico City in popular tourist neighborhoods like Polanco, Roma Norte, and Condesa. Most tours for Teotihuacan leave from the Centro Historico, making Chaya B&B, The Gran Hotel Ciudad de México, and Historico Central fantastic options.

If you want to stay near Teotihuacan and enjoy the nearby town of San Juan Teotihuacan, there are several small hotels in the area. Hotel Quinto Sol has a beautiful courtyard with an outdoor pool, while La Finca del Abuelo offers traditional Mexican breakfasts and rooms with a view of the Teotihuacan pyramids.

How to Get to Teotihuacan from Mexico City

Pyramid seen from afar

Tours

The Pyramids at Teotihuacan are one of the most popular day trips from Mexico City for visitors to the region and it is easily seen on a tour. There are literally hundreds of companies around the city that offer tours to Teotihuacan. Group tours from larger companies like Viator and Intrepid cost between $35 and $50 per person. They often include a stop at a jewelry store, a tequila tasting, a visit to the Basilica of Guadalupe, and lunch.

Private tours with companies like Journeys Beyond the Surface are slightly more expensive, but allow you to build your tour around stops that you are most interested in—these often usually include lunch, a tour of the Centro Historico, and a stop at the Basilica of Guadalupe.

Public Transportation

The cheapest way to get to Teotihuacan is to take the bus. You can take the metro line 5 (the yellow line) to Autobuses del Norte. One ride on the metro costs 5 Pesos (about 25¢). Walk inside the bus terminal and all the way to the left is Sala 8 (gate 8). You will see a ticket counter that says PIRAMIDES. This is where you buy your tickets. Bus tickets (as of June 2019) cost 100 Pesos round trip.

Uber

An increasingly popular and convenient way to get to and from Teotihuacan is to take Uber. You can order an Uber from anywhere in Mexico City and have it take you to Teotihuacan. The journey takes about one hour and costs roughly 500 Pesos depending on the time of day and whether or not there is traffic. Getting an Uber back is easy until about 3 pm. After 3 pm, it’s slightly more difficult to get a ride as most Uber’s have already returned to the city.

Self-Driving

If you have rented a car in Mexico City or have your own transportation, driving to Teotihuacan is relatively easy. Follow Avenida Insurgentes North until it turns into highway 85D. Follow this until you reach the exit for Piramides. This will take you onto highway 132D. Follow this until you reach another exit for Piramides. Your phone GPS should work if you’ve picked up a local SIM card.

Be sure to set off early to avoid any traffic. Parking is available outside of every entrance. 

Opening Hours and Entry Fees

Opening Hours and Entry Fees
Teotihuacan is open 365 days a year from 9am to 5pm. Entry costs 70 Pesos per person. Sundays are free to Mexican citizens and foreign residents with proof of residency. There are concessions for teachers and students with proof of ID.

Be sure to bring cash and if possible, bring smaller notes. It’s not unheard of to be turned away if you only have a 500 Peso note to pay for a single entry. Most restaurants and food stalls outside of the park also only accept cash.

Weather

The weather at Teotihuacan is unpredictable. You may leave Mexico City on a bright, sunny morning and when you arrive to Teotihuacan, it will be cloudy with a chance of rain. It may even by bright and sunny from the bottom of the pyramid and chucking hail when you reach the top. Always be prepared for different weather there.

When the sun is out, Teotihuacan is incredibly hot. There little to no shade, so arrive early if you want to avoid the heat of the midday sun.

What to Bring

Dress in comfortable clothes and shoes that allow you to climb large, steep steps. The site is approximately one square mile, but there are a lot of pyramids and palaces to explore, so you’ll be doing quite a lot of walking. Bring your guidebook if you have one, or a fascinating history of Teotihuacan so you can read key information while your visiting the various pyramids.

Thanks to the constantly changing weather around Teotihuacan, you’ll want to pack a few different items when you head there. A hat is a must, as is sunscreen. No matter what time of year you visit Teotihuacan, the sun there is incredibly strong. During the wet season (June to September), you’ll also want to bring some bug spray.

It’s a good idea to pack a light rain jacket in case of inclement weather when you get there.

As for food a drink, water is sold inside the park, but it’s cheaper to bring your own larger bottle of water. You can pick up a large 2-liter bottle from any Oxxo or 7-11 in Mexico City. You are free to bring small snacks with you, but there are also plenty of places to eat in the area. Walk out of any of the exits and you’ll be greeted by fruit vendors, ice cream stalls, and sit-down restaurants where you can have inexpensive Mexican food. 


Laura Bronner at Teotihuacan
Laura Bronner at Teotihuacan

By Laura Bronner

Laura is a travel writer and blogger at Eternal Expat. 10 years ago, she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel. She hasn’t looked back since. She currently calls Mexico City home.

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