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A Visitor's Guide to the Teotihuacán Pyramids

The grand pyramid complex of Teotihuacán offers visitors a glimpse of a mysterious ancient civilization dating back to 100 BC. Once the Aztec empire discovered the abandoned site in the 1400s, they named it Teotihuacán meaning "the place where the gods were created."

Whether you take a guided tour or explore on your own, make sure to include this day trip in your Mexico City itinerary. Below I cover logistics, recommendations, and a bit of history to make your visit to Teotihuacán unforgettable!

Transportation Options

More than likely your budget and travel preferences will influence your mode of transportation. If you want everything taken care of, Tripadvisor has private tours available with prices starting at $75 USD per adult. In order to save money, Brad and I opted to skip a guided tour and take advantage of public transit.

Mexico City has a user-friendly underground metro system and each ride costs $5 pesos ($0.25 USD). A metro card can be purchased for $15 pesos ($0.75 USD) at any station and reloaded as needed. Your starting point will determine which line(s) you need to take to reach the Autobuses del Norte station on line 5 (yellow).

Once you exit the station, make your way to Terminal Central del Norte and head left towards Gate 8. A small ticket booth called Autobuses Teotihuacán will be nearby. Each roundtrip bus ticket costs $104 pesos ($5 USD) and buses leave every 20 minutes.

If a busy and crowded metro system or city bus isn't your cup of tea, Uber and taxis are also available to take you to the main bus terminal. We really appreciated the reliability and value of public transit even though it took us a couple of rides to get the hang of it.

What to Expect Upon Arrival

After an hour no-frills bus journey north, we were dropped off at the first gate and purchased tickets for $85 pesos ($4.15 USD) per person. The complex is open every day, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Weekends are extremely busy, especially on Sundays when admission is free for locals. Brad and I visited on a Monday around 10:30 AM. I would recommend getting to Teotihuacán as early as possible to beat the crowds.

As you walk towards the main entrance, English and Spanish speaking guides will offer their services. Brad and I declined since we prepared the night before by watching a few documentaries on YouTube. Our favorite was The History Channel's Ancient Mysteries episode Inside the Puzzling Pyramids of Mexico.

Bathrooms are located nearby the main gate and the Pyramid of the Moon. Vendors will be scattered throughout the site with souvenirs, jaguar whistles, and jewelry. Snacks and water are available for purchase at each end of the complex.

Unfortunately, we couldn't climb any of the pyramids due to Covid-19. After four hours of exploring, we left around 2:30 PM. I believe we would've stayed at least another hour or two if we were able to climb the pyramids and take in the views.

There is a museum included with admission, but we chose to skip it. Alternatively, we visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City which has a vast collection of Teotihuacán artifacts.

Helpful Tips

The bus fare, entry tickets, and vendor stalls are cash only.

There are an abundance of food and drink options at Terminal Central del Norte. I would recommend stocking up before you purchase bus tickets. Brad and I grabbed a few baked goods for breakfast and a couple of Subway sandwiches to eat later at the complex for lunch.

Towards the Pyramid of the Moon is a stall with refreshing popsicles, drinks, and snacks. There are restaurants nearby if you desire to leave the site (tickets allow re-entry).

Teotihuacán is completely outdoors and the sun is intense. I recommend bringing sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. There are a few spots of shade near the structures and trees, but prepare for a hot day even in the winter months.

Wearing sneakers or hiking shoes is a good idea since there are a lot of stairs and the uneven rocky ground is sprinkled with potholes. Comfortable shoes are a must with all of the walking and climbing.

Lastly, don't forget a camera to capture your epic visit!

History and Culture

The construction of Teotihuacán began in the 1st Century, up until a fire destroyed the metropolis in the 7th Century, resulting in desertion. At its height, the Mesoamerican city accommodated between 125,000-200,000 inhabitants.

Archaeologists debate which culture built the city, but some speculate either the Toltec or Totonac empires are responsible. Many aspects of Teotihuacán remain a mystery including the religion, politics, and language of the people.

Teotihuacán's location led to its dominance in trade, specifically obsidian tools. Decorative ceramics, textiles, exotic feathers, and shells were prized exports that also contributed to its continued prosperity.

The residential structures at Teotihuacán shed light on the three societal classes: nobility, military, and laborers. The quality of construction, artifacts discovered inside, and size of the rooms reinforce this stratification.

The people of Teotihuacán honored their deities by creating mesmerizing art and sculpture. Murals and stone carvings of the Great (Spider) Goddess, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Xipe Totec, and others adorn the complex. So far hundreds of buried human and animal sacrifices have been discovered at the site emphasizing the importance of ritualistic practices to appease these gods.

The Teotihuacán Pyramid Complex

Teotihuacán covers approximately 8 square miles and is organized in a grid format containing pyramids, plazas, palaces, temples, and apartments.

The Avenue of the Dead is the main walkway (1.5 miles long) connecting the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, and Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent within the Ciudadela. Brad and I chose to bypass the Ciudadela to start with the Pyramid of the Sun and continued to the Pyramid of the Moon before walking back to the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (Quetzalcoatl).

Pyramid of the Sun

Near the center of the complex is the largest structure in Teotihuacán, the Pyramid of the Sun. The slightly rectangular pyramid faces west and is 216 feet tall with a base of 720 by 760 feet. The orientation aligns with the sunrise and sunset on specific dates. Beneath the pyramid lies a cave that according to legend is the birthplace of mankind.

Pyramid of the Moon

The Pyramid of the Moon faces south and is located at the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead. The pyramid is the second largest structure in Teotihuacán and measures 140 feet tall with a base of 426 by 511 feet. Its main function was ritual sacrifice to honor the Great (Spider) Goddess. Human and animal remains have been discovered within the various levels of the pyramid.

Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (Quetzalcoatl)

At the south end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Ciudadela, a courtyard of 38 acres containing residential complexes and the six-level step Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. Archaeologists discovered hundreds of puzzling clay orbs covered in pyrite (fool's gold) inside of the underground chambers. Stone carved serpent heads representing Quetzalcoatl (feathered) and Tlaloc adorn the outside edges of each tier.

Final Thoughts

Exploring ancient sites is always a highlight during our travels. Walking in the footsteps of this ancient Mesoamerican site was exhilarating. The sheer size is enough to make anyone's jaw drop!

Planning a solo excursion to Teotihuacán took a bit of extra effort compared to a tour, but it allowed us to wander the site on our own terms without time constraints. A stress-free and affordable excursion is at your fingertips with just a bit of groundwork.