Known as the City of the Gods, Teotihuacán was the metropolis of a mysterious Mesoamerican civilization that reached its zenith around AD 100. Once the largest city in the region but abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, Teotihuacán boasts towering pyramids and stone temples with detailed statues and intricate murals.
Designed according to an astronomical orientation, Teotihuacán was given its name, which means “birthplace of the gods,” by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs well after its collapse around AD 550. It was one of the largest urban centers in the region during its heyday, organized along a grid pattern. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, though less visited than other archaeological sites in Mexico, Teotihuacán remains largely a mystery.
Opt for an early morning tour with an archaeologist to avoid the crowds that descend later in the day and learn about the site’s highlights, including the Moon Plaza, the Sun Pyramid, the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent). Teotihuacán is also incorporated into some tours of Mexico City.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Teotihuacán is a must-see for history buffs and those interested in indigenous cultures.
- The steep climb to the top of the Sun Pyramid includes more than 200 steps so requires a reasonable level of fitness.
- Though the pyramids are not wheelchair accessible, the site itself and the restrooms are.
- The site is closed on Mondays, and Mexican residents receive free admission on Sundays.
- On weekends and holidays, a trolley takes visitors from the entry booths to various stops within the site for a small fee.
How to Get There
Located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacán is accessible by the scenic but long 132D, a winding freeway that can take well over an hour, and 85D, a toll road that will usually get you to the pyramids in about 50 minutes. It's also easy and convenient to take a bus from the Terminal Central del Norte in Mexico City; buses leave at least hourly and are geared toward tourists with limited Spanish skills.
When to Get There
Since locals receive free admission on Sundays, expect more crowds then. Popular Mexican public holidays, such as Independence Day (September 16), the week of Easter, and All Saints Day (November 1) also tend to attract more visitors. In general, in order to beat the crowds, arrive in the early morning either on a private tour or on your own.
Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
About a 50-minute drive from Teotihuacán, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe) is the most-visited religious site in Latin America. In 1531, a man professed to see a vision of the Virgin Mary at the site, and a second image is said to have appeared on his cloak. Millions of worshippers come to the basilica every year to see this sacred cloth, and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day is celebrated December 12.