It was once one of the largest, most populated cities in the world, but today the pyramids are all that remains of the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico.
Located close to modern-day Mexico City, the pyramids of Teotihuacan are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that should be on any traveler’s bucket list. Many of the larger pyramids can even still be climbed, offering sweeping views from the summit of these centuries-old pre-Hispanic works of engineering.
It’s a fascinating place to explore, and to help you plan your journey, here’s our guide to Teotihuacan!
A Brief History of the Teotihuacan Pyramids
Teotihuacan in Mexico is inseparable from its history; after all, this is an archaeological site! So it’s good to prepare yourself with a little historical knowledge before you visit Teotihuacan.
The ruins of Teotihuacan and the surviving pyramids are all that remain of what was once the most powerful city in Mesoamerica. The city is not only pre-Hispanic but predates even the Aztecs, who were the force to be reckoned with when Europeans first arrived in the 1500s.
Teotihuacan was first developed in the 1st Century AD, and the city grew to be the largest in the region. It was a center for culture, art, history, and civilization in the Teotihuacan Valley, and held great influence over the rest of the region. The city came to be one of the most populated in the world, being home to tens of thousands of inhabitants. The pyramids you see today were constructed (primarily for religious reasons) at the height of the city’s power. By the seventh century A.D., Teotihuacan was beginning to be abandoned for unknown reasons (at the same time, many Mayan cities in the south were also being abandoned).
The ruins of the city and the pyramids held great influence for centuries to come, however. The Aztecs, who came to build their capital of Tenochtitlan to the south (where Mexico City stands today), made pilgrimages to the temples, and the name Teotihuacan is said to mean “Birthplace of the Gods” in the local Aztec dialect.
After the Spanish conquest, the pyramids fell into further disrepair until archaeological work began centuries later. Today, there’s a newfound appreciation for Teotihuacan, and it’s one of the best-preserved examples of pre-Hispanic pyramids in Mexico.
Map of Teotihuacan
Best Time to Visit Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan is best visited in the winter, spring, or early summer season. The best months to travel to Teotihuacan are November through to May, when the weather is dry and temperatures are cool.
Because the altitude of Teotihuacan is 2,300 meters (7,500 feet), the winters can be surprisingly chilly despite its location in Central Mexico. Winter is a great time for beating the crowds, though (except over Christmas), and if you’re not used to high temperatures, it’s a good time to explore without overheating.
In spring, the sun is shining and temperatures start to rise, but tourist numbers pick up, too. Summer is swelteringly humid, and the weather is characterized by continuous rainfall (not a good time to be outdoors, visiting the pyramids).
Regardless of the time of year you visit, try planning a trip to Teotihuacan mid-week. The pyramids at Teotihuacan are very close to Mexico City, and on weekends they can get seriously busy.
How to Travel to Teotihuacan from Mexico City
Teotihuacan is located north of Mexico City; around 50 kilometers (nearly 32 miles) from the city center. Tours to Teotihuacan depart all day every day, all through the year, and it’s very easy to visit on a day trip from the capital.
Recommendation: We highly recommend this Teotihuacan day tour from Mexico City. On this early morning tour you get to beat the crowds and enjoy this impressive archaeological site just as it begins to open its doors for the day. Visit its different buildings, plazas and murals peacefully, with a magical and mystical atmosphere that will allow you a more authentic experience of this great city of ancient Mexico. Book here.
While organized tours are plentiful, it’s also relatively easy to catch the public bus to the ruins (even if it’s your first time using public transport in Mexico). Public buses depart regularly (every 15 minutes or so) from the Terminal de Autobuses del Norte, Mexico City’s major northern bus terminal.
The bus terminal has its own metro station (Autobuses del Norte Metro) which is on the Yellow Line (Line 5). You can buy a single ticket for the metro, or use a prepaid metro card. Journeys are super cheap, at just five pesos a ride.
You can save a lot of time by taking an Uber to the station, though. They are safe, easy to book on the app, and a surprisingly good value. When you arrive at the terminal, there are signs on different counters advertising the bus to Teotihuacan (complete with pictures of the pyramids to make things clear). Just queue up and jump on the next departure.
The journey can take as little as 45 minutes from the terminal, depending on traffic. There are several entrances and exits to the pyramid complex, but just get off at the first stop by the pyramids (Gate 1). Buy your entrance ticket (a very reasonable 80 pesos for a day ticket) and start exploring.
On the way back, you can pick up the bus again from one of the other exits, rather than walking all the way back to your starting point. Buses run all through the day (the pyramids are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
Of course, you can also rent a car and drive to Teotihuacan!
How Long Do I Need to Visit Teotihuacan?
You can easily visit Teotihuacan on a day trip from Mexico City, but with all the transport and waiting times you can expect to spend all day visiting.
At the pyramids of Teotihuacan themselves, you’ll need at least three to four hours to take in all the sights. This includes walking time between pyramids, some time at the museum, and several breaks for refreshments and lunch.
Can I Spend the Night at Teotihuacan?
You can’t spend the night at pyramids themselves, but you can spend the night in the nearby town. It’s just about walking distance from the pyramids to the center, where there’s a range of accommodations available to book.
Staying overnight isn’t necessary, but it does mean you can get in early to see the pyramids, watch the sunset, or go for a sunrise hot air balloon flight!
Best Things to Do in Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan is spread out after several kilometers, so be prepared for lots of walking throughout the day. You can also rent a bicycle by the entrance if you prefer. If you have your own car, you can drive around the edge of the complex and park in different spots, but you’ll still be doing a lot of walking in and out.
As we mentioned earlier, it’s easier to use the bus, jump off at the first entrance, then pick up the return journey at the last entrance (start at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl by Gate 1 and end at the Pyramid of the Moon by Gate 3).
With that in mind, here are the best things to see and do on your Teotihuacan tour.
1. Temple of Quetzalcoatl
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl (also known as the Temple of the Feathered Serpent) is the third-largest pyramid at Teotihuacan. It’s located by Gate 1 and so is often the first temple to be seen by day-trippers.
It’s not as imposing as the other pyramids you’ll see in the distance, but it’s full of history, some of it rather dark. Mass graves have been found around the pyramid, hidden tunnels lie beneath, and the temple itself lies within what were once the city walls – rather than outside, as the other temples do.
2. Avenue of the Dead
The Avenue of the Dead is 2.5 kilometers (about 1.5 miles) long and runs from the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in a perfectly straight line towards the Pyramid of the Moon.
This was the city of Teotihuacan’s main thoroughfare, and it’s so named because this would have been the route taken by those destined to die on the pyramids.
You’ll walk the length of the avenue during your trip stopping off at the temples and other sights along the route.
3. Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan is found along the Avenue of the Dead, between the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramid of the Moon. This is the largest pyramid in the city and the most iconic and easily recognizable.
It’s also the pyramid that everyone climbs to the top off, so make sure you’re ready for a long slog up the steep steps. It’s well worth the energy expenditure because the views are exceptional (and 360 degrees).
The pyramid is an exceptional work of engineering. It’s thought to date back to 200 A.D. and rises up to 65 meters (about 213 feet) in height – making it the third-largest stone pyramid ever built, anywhere in the world.
4. Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramid of the Moon is located at the far end of the Avenue of the Dead, where the road terminates. The pyramid is 43 meters (about 142 feet) in height and has seven distinct layers that lead to the top.
It’s thought that the pyramid was an important place of ritual sacrifice and religious ceremonies, as many graves have been found around the base and within the layers of the pyramid itself.
5. Palace of Quetzalpapalotl
At the foot of the Pyramid of the Moon, you can walk through the excavated ruins of the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl.
Here you can find extensive murals that have been painstakingly restored, and that demonstrate the level of artistic ability developed in the pre-Hispanic world.
The exact role of the palace is unclear, but it could have been the home for a high-ranking priest, given its location by the temples.
6. Teotihuacan Museum
The small Teotihuacan Museum offers an insight into the history and the archaeology surrounding the pyramids and the ancient city.
There are artifacts and brief descriptions, as well as models demonstrating how the city would have looked in centuries past. It’s lacking in much depth, but does help you to visualize the city as a whole.
7. Hot Air Balloon Ride
One of the most exciting ways to experience Teotihuacan is to take a hot air balloon ride over the pyramids. You can arrange these in advance, and like most hot air balloon rides, they are best experienced at sunrise.
You can book a hot air balloon ride here.
From the air, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of the entire complex and the surrounding valley, which really puts the size and extent of the city into stark perspective.
Tips for Visiting Teotihuacan
1. Visit the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City First
There’s not a huge amount of information about the pyramids when you’re walking around, so it’s a good idea to visit the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City before your trip to Teotihuacan.
The Museum of Anthropology is one of the largest museums in the world, and there’s so much information here on the history of Teotihuacan and the civilization that built the pyramids.
The museum covers almost all known eras of Mexican history, too, so you can really start to piece the story together and visualize how the pyramids fit into the timeline.
2. Leave Early, But Not Too Early
If you’re traveling from Mexico City you’ll need to leave early-ish to get a whole day in. However, you want to avoid rush hour in the city. This goes for anyone traveling by metro, car, or Uber!
Mexico City’s rush hours are notorious, and you’ll find the metro system is packed (literally suffocating) and the roads are blocked up.
Try to start your journey around 9 a.m. to miss the worst of rush hour in the city. You’ll still have more than enough time to see the pyramids and get back again before the evening rush.
Recommendation: By booking a tour you don’t have to worry about getting on the right bus or rush hour traffic. Plus, you get to walk around with an experienced guide who can tell you all about the history of this important pre-Hispanic city. Day tours are cheap and seriously take the stress out of your trip to the Teotihuacan Pyramids. You can book your day tour here.
3. Bring a Hat and Sunscreen
There’s no shade at all once you’re inside the pyramid complex (except at the museum) because everything is so wide open.
During the climb to the top of the pyramids and walk along the Avenue of the Dead, you’re constantly in the sun. So bring a sun hat and wear sunscreen, even in winter.
4. Take a Guided Tour of the Pyramids
While you can walk around the complex by yourself, having a dedicated Teotihuacan guide can really bring the experience to life.
If you didn’t book onto a guided tour in advance, you can hire the services of a local guide to Teotihuacan at the door.
Prices are reasonable, and you’ll leave the pyramids of Teotihuacan with a much deeper understanding of their importance than when you arrived.
The pyramids of Teotihuacan are one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the world, and a must-visit for anyone traveling to Mexico City. The pre-Hispanic ruins have stood the test of time, and offer a deep insight into the complex cultures that rose and fell long before Europeans arrived on Mexican shores. It’s the perfect day trip from Mexico City!