The Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan comprise the ruins of one of the first great classic Mesoamerican civilizations.
The city was an important ceremonial center and had about 125,000 inhabitants in its heyday around AD 500. It is characterized by the enormous size of its monuments, such as the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon (71 and 43 meters high respectively). All in Teotihuacan is centered around the Avenue of the Dead, the long and wide road that connects La Ciudadela with the Moon Pyramid.
Map of TeotihuacanLoad map
I visited this WHS in December 2021 and spent 2 nights here to have ample time for taking photos at sunrise and sunset, at the WHS proper, from a distance and from high above, knowing beforehand that climbing the Pyramid of the Sun and of the Moon was forbidden as part of the COVID restrictions in place.
I would agree with Els that prohibiting tourists from climbing the pyramids will remain post-COVID, and it really isn't a bad thing at all. Like Uluru in Australia, the end result is a picture-perfect site for everyone to enjoy safely without the need of too many security guards, railings, etc and much restoration. Moreover, it is very easy to make up for the views from the top of the pyramids by joining a sunrise hot air balloon flight with one of the many companies providing the service. On a sunny day, the views over the empty pyramids, the platforms, the citadel and the avenue of the dead (without the pre-COVID crowds on the pyramids for sunrise).
Unlike Chichen Itza, all the structures at Teotihuacan lack the intricate sculptures and designs, except the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. This temple is an architectural delight almost half way through the avenue of the dead after the Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun. Unlike the steps with sculptures alternating the rain god Tlaloc and the feathered serpent heads, with long undulating feathered serpents in profile underneath them on the rear side, the temple, which is also the third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan, is not in such great shape. However, having visited the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City earlier, which has a whole impressive hall dedicated to Teotihuacan alone, I could compare the temple remains with what they must have looked like in the empire's heydays with the typical Mesoamerican use of red paint complemented on gold and jade decorations upon marble and granite. In the middle of its plaza lies a small structure with interesting tiny red mural paintings.
Always keeping in mind the incredible amount of Teotihuacan artefacts displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and several other museums in Mexico and worldwide, the sheer size of the remaining repetitive structures of this WHS is really mind-boggling and is rightly considered one of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramid complexes built in the pre-Columbian Americas around 2,000-2,400 years ago. Teotihuacan was once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas with a population of around 125,000, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world. Apart from its outstanding pyramids, Teotihuacan's OUV lies in its city complex structure with well-preserved murals, which probably was the first planned urban settlement in Mesoamerica. There are small fragments of murals scattered around most structures in Teotihuacan: a puma with open jaws and large claws in the Puma Complex of the avenue of the dead between the two main pyramids, red geometric decorations inside the Quetzalpapalotl Palace and in the middle of the plaza near the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, and above all the splendid murals of the Tepantitla palace-like housing complex just outside of Gate 4.
The latter was probably inhabited by members of a priestly caste or by members of a leading family in Teotihuacan's society around 300-400 AD. It is really worth visiting, namely for the following murals: a red one of the rain god Tlaloc and another of Tlaloc's paradise in a setting full of butterflies, plants, springs and streams, then an elaborate and colourful one of a procession of priests dressed in beautiful clothes and plumed headdresses, depictions of people making use seeds and/or mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties, others of jugadores playing different kinds of ball games, as well as more murals of round shields and other priestly processions.
The best gate to skip the crowds in the morning is Gate 2 which is just in front of the Pyramid of the Sun. Morning light is perfect for viewing the Pyramid of the Moon and other nearby structures from here. Then you can proceed down the avenue of the dead, against the flow of most groups arriving late after breakfast at Gate 1 (just next to the entrance you'll find the UNESCO WHS plaque here). Parking at Gates 1 or 2 is also a wise choice if you intend to spend the whole day exploring this WHS (it's possible to go in and out on the same day with the same ticket). Towards closing time, you can continue to enjoy the Pyramid of the Sun in afternoon light till the very end as the right gates are just opposite. Make sure not to be far away near Gates 1 or 4 as you'll be invited to exit from the nearest gate, meaning you'll have to walk all the way round to your car! I really enjoyed my visit to yet another one of Mexico's top WHS on the WH list.
Teotihuacan is a bit of a “What You See Is What You Get”-site, and with the consistent use of the same materials and architecture, it even gets repetitive.
Complementary to what has been said already by previous reviewers, I’d like to add some Covid info for visitors as well as direct you to the fantastic murals in the Tepantitla Palace.
Visiting during Covid times
The archaeological site of Teotihuacan is still open every day of the year. What has changed (status of January 2022):
- A cap on the allowed number of visitors has been introduced, which allows for specific amounts of tourists to enter at each of the Gates 1-5. It means that arriving early has become even more recommended (it’s also less hot and less crowded in the early morning). Still, it doesn’t sell out easily, maybe except for Mexican holidays.
- Climbing the two main pyramids is now forbidden. It wouldn’t surprise me if they keep it that way also post-Covid.
- Wearing a face mask is officially required everywhere, but especially the foreign tourists don’t seem to comply with that rule.
What hasn’t changed? The annoying whistle-sellers are still there. All of them!
The on-site information at Teotihuacan really sucks, some 50% of the information panels are so weathered that they are unintelligible. There are also hardly any signposts to the various entrance gates or major monuments. This does not help in finding the Tepantitla Palace. I found out that the path starts to the left of the Pyramid of the Sun; it's the one going slightly uphill. You will then come to Gate 4 and exit the site. Still no signpost to be seen. I eventually had to ask three more times, it's about 500 meters straight ahead across the parking lot and into the next street.
But the search turned out to be completely worth it. This "palace" was the home of a priest or other high-ranking official from Teotihuacan. I was the only one here for the full duration of my visit and could take pictures of the many beautiful murals at my leisure. There are dozens of dancing and playing figures depicted, and tough warriors or priests.
Although the AB text is a bit ambiguous on Tepantitla, you’ll see a little corner on the other side of the road behind the Pyramid of the Sun being included in the core zone in the official map. I believe this is the site of Tepantitla Palace.
Read more from Els Slots here.
I woke up after another cold night thinking "should I skip the pyramids and sleep more? It's easy to do it again from Mexico City on another trip". Glad I didn't. Too cold to fall asleep anyway, so I went to the breakfast buffet to recharge: "last Mexico WHS here I go!"
I actually thought it would be busy but not really, and definitely relative to its size. Compared to El Tajin there were probably only 15% Mexican tourists and that is assuming they even are. El Tajin was ~98% but could be seasonal. Arriving at 8am at the front gate I first checked out the Serpent temple. A guide was there talking a lot about tombs. Unsure if they actually know facts or make it up. Funnily enough there is a sign at the entrance to explain it was NOT made by aliens!! Shame on people to even think so in today's science age (History Channel I'm looking at you). From the distance you can obviously already see the Sun and Moon temples and awe at them. People can climb up? I should have rested up more! It also takes a loooong time to walk towards them. One wow factor is the short climb from a lower area and see the temples arise beyond. Magical. There are dozens of structures along the way with some signs (in 3 languages usually) if you are interested but most people don't bother. Your main goal are those pyramids!
I climbed the Moon temple first because there appeared to be less people and then I would be on the way back already, but that's just me. However, people can easily obstruct pictures at the Moon temple but not so much at the Sun one which is much wider (obviously). The Moon temple gives you an awesome view, probably better the Sun because it looks down the long pathway you just schlepped yourself through to get here. I sat on the top and dangled my legs down to refresh. It's quite chilling here but for the occasional silly jaguar sound (who buys that toy?!). Off to the Sun temple which took me only 1 quick stop to get up, mainly because there were so many people and it all goes slower. Once on top you can sit at the very peak and...take a peek into all directions. This is the highest point and probably higher than Calakmul but the epic jungle setting and being "on top of the treeline" is missing here. Instead you can admire the zone below which is probably better than exploring it bit by bit, most being just walls now anyway.
So did I learn anything about the place? Not really. It is now in my memory for being a beautiful tall bunch of pyramids. I kinda think that's what most people take away. It's probably a bit like Bagan where you take in the scenery and climb a temple (before it was banned) but actually caring what the temples stand for was not of the tourists' interest.
I actually got the ticket stub picture of Teotihuacan, yay!
It is hard to add more to the reviews already here. The pyramids really are an impressive spectacle. Aside from them I really enjoyed the citadel, with its magnificent temple of the Feathered Serpent and also the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl near the Pyramid of the Moon was very worthy of investigation.
We got there fairly early to avoid larger crowds and brighter sun shine, and it worked to an extent. The climb up the Pyramid of the Sun was certainly a lot quieter at nine than it was an hour or so later. However the long hot trek back to gate one started to bring flash backs to our near melting at Volubilis, It was made slightly worse by finding out return buses actually depart from gate two, where we had just walked from. There was a slight improvement in circumstances though as our bus stopped at the metro(bus) station Indio Verdes, which made our trip back to the hotel much easier, and may be of more use for others travelling to/from Mexico City.
A week or so later we got a wonderful view of the pyramids appearing above fields of cacti as we drove in from the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque. In a piece of good timing, shortly before our visit we were able to brush up on our history thanks to an episode of the BBC's Lost Kingdoms of Central America which was devoted to Teotihuacan.
I did enjoy this trip and you could certainly get an idea of how important this massive city once was. Undoubtedly it is a trip not to be missed if you are in Mexico City
[Site 7: Experience 5]
We spent a good 5 hours exploring this vast WHS. Teotihuacan is a place that you should consider careful planning. Firstly, besides what you may find online, its open on Monday. Secondly, prepare for the sun and purchase water. Thirdly, don't think the Pyramid of the Sun is the only highlight of this huge site. Lastly, arrive early before the buses of tourists and vendors. Despite these realities, the site is so vast the numbers make no difference unless you are hiking up the Pyramid of the Sun after 11am.
The best view of the site, is without a doubt from the Temple of the Moon looking out over the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun. Nearby, is a ruined palace site that includes original (& recreated) paintings of this ancient Mesoamerican culture.
I very much enjoyed my time visiting this site, and it should not be missed by anyone who visits Mexico City. On a side note, the Aqueduct of Padre Tembleque is located somewhat near Teotihuacan. At this point I know of no easy way to visit both WHS using public transit in one day. Yet, I am sure this will eventually become a reality.
Seemingly, an inevitable tourist activity when visiting Teotihuacan is hiking the Pyramid of the Sun. The view is certainly special and the climb makes you appreciate the size and labor involved in its construction. If its very busy, consider other views and places to explore, but if you have the time, inclination, and water you might want to make the attempt.
Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.
I did not know why I suddenly woke up at 3AM in the morning, maybe because of tequila I drank last night or the sound of mariachi band that still lingered on my head. Since I could not sleep, at 5AM I used the first metro train of that day to Norte bus terminal, and at 6 AM I was the only passenger on the first bus to Teotihuacan, then at 7.15 I was the only one at the third gate of the historic complex and the guard had to ask me to use second gate instead as no one here to sell the ticket! At 7.30 I was the first tourist of that day to be at the second gate, the gate that directly in front of the famous Pyramid of the Sun. The sun was sparklingly shining behind the pyramid and balloons appeared beside the silhouette giant ancient man made engineering masterpiece. The first image of Teotihuacan really made me happy and full with wonder of its mystery.
I directly walked to the pyramid, crossed the impressive Avenue of the Dead and climbed to the top. It was a great experience to be with this great structure alone, and when I was on the top of the pyramid, the cool breeze of late autumn and the sea of mist making the whole valley of Teotihuacan more unworldly to my eyes. I was on the top of pyramid bathing the ray of light from the sun, until I noticed a group of tourist started to climb the pyramid that I decided to continue my journey. I backed to the Avenue of the Dead, admired the grand view of Pyramid of the Moon and its many small pyramid platforms. Since I arrived early, vendors were still not come to set up their shops, so the view of this famed avenue was truly breathtaking. When I was at the Pyramid of the moon, at first I wanted to climb to the top but found out that only lower platform was allowed, but from that platform, the view of the avenue and Pyramid of the Sun were again impressive and indescribable. After enjoyed both pyramids I also visited the ruins of ancient palace near the Pyramid of the Moon, the palace is still preserved ancient wall paintings and nice sculpted columns.
I finished visiting Teotihuacan at 11 AM the time that the Avenue of the dead was full with tourists and small souvenir shops, an image that so contrast with the serene landscape when I was at 8 AM. I went to gate 1 and took a bus back to Mexico City and safely arrived after lunch time shortly. From all World Heritage Sites I saw during my two weeks holiday in Mexico, Teotihuacan is my favorite site. The site is simply amazing, in my opinion, that it still preserved its sacred characteristic on its architectural design and surroundings, better than other well-known site like Chichen Itza or Tulum. If I have to recommend a site to visit in Mexico City's vicinity, Teotihuacan will be my first suggestion since it is truly a must see.
Luna sin Estrellas
As a Mexican, being at Teotihuacan is a very deep sentiment.
People in charge of the site are doing a good job (yet there is always room for improvement)and we the people need to help too.
I was disappointed to see people on the top of the Sun's pyramid which contributes to its deterioration. I wonder if we even should step on the stairs of the pyramids.
As comparing Teotihucan with Egypt's pyramids, they are different yet they are great gifts of cultures that are remaining us the greatness of the human mind.
Read more from Luna sin Estrellas here.
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