June 6, 2016: Continuing our journey north, we drove to Teotihuacan, a huge ruin site about an hour outside Mexico City.
The ruins of Teotihuacan are among the most iconic in Mexico. The giant Pyramid of the Sun has long been touted as the largest temple in Mexico [though it may not be] and is one of the largest in the world. The city had it’s peak around 500 AD. With a population of 150,000 or more, it was one of the largest cities on Earth at the time. Within a couple of centuries, however, the city declined, much of it was burned and razed, and it was largely abandoned. Far less is known about the Teotihuacanos than the Aztecs or the Maya, and due to some heavy handed “reconstruction” efforts at the beginning of the 20th Century, much of what we can actually see today is a pretty unreliable facsimile of the original city. Nevertheless, it is an amazing site, with far more to see and learn than we could hope to experience in one short visit.
The ruins of Teotihuacan sit next to the town of San Juan Teotihuacan, where we stayed for our visit.
We camped at the Teotihuacan RV and Trailer Park in this big grassy, gated lot.
This campsite, likely because of its proximity to Mexico City, is popular with the European overlander crowd. People both camp here and store their rigs while they explore Mexico City or fly home for a few weeks.
Soon after we set up camp, this van pulled in. Its residents, a friendly Indian-British couple from London, have been driving around in this van for the last three years (and this isn’t their first). After customizing this 4 wheel drive Mercedes Sprinter cargo van into an RV, they drove all the way through Europe, Central and Southeast Asia, then shipped it to Australia and New Zealand, then to Seattle, from where they spent a year driving 35,000 miles around the United States, and now are working their way to South America.
Next, this behemoth showed up, containing a French family of four. They are also en route to South America. Meeting people like these puts serious perspective on the adventurousness of our journey.
On Wednesday, May 18th, we got up early to beat the crowds at the ruins. It’s an easy trip from Mexico City, so we wanted to beat the hoards that would arrive via bus by mid-day.
Teotihuacan covers a large geographic area and there are several gates where you can enter. We picked a gate on the recommendation of our campsite host. Unfortunately, we were too early (or the gate operator was late) and we had to spend some time waiting to get in. While waiting, we took in this balloon getting an early morning view of the site.
Finally, we got in. Indeed, we managed to beat the rush.
As we entered the site, several guides approached us and offered to accompany us around the site, for rates that easily topped any we’ve encountered in Mexico. We had pretty well decided to go it alone, until we got one last offer, with a price that couldn’t be beat:
We decided to climb the Pyramid of the Sun as soon as we entered, while there was no one else around. Our guide happily accompanied us.
We were the first people (and dog) to the top! There were great views of the site and the surrounding area:
Our guide even posed for a selfie at the very top of the pyramid. Sort of:
From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun you also get great views of the Pyramid of the Moon, the other huge pyramid at the site.
Of course we had to record sweaty proof that we actually made the climb.
Back on the ground, we walked around some of the perimeter of the pyramid.
Below is the entrance to a cave that was discovered accidentally in 1971, when workers were installing equipment for a sound and light show. Archaeologists have determined that The Pyramid of the Sun is oriented geographically to the cave and believe this cave may have been the spiritual center of the city. Perhaps even the birthplace of the universe. We did not get to go inside. Of course after our claustrophobic experience in Cholula, we did not really want to:
Connecting the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon is this wide open street, the Avenue of the Dead. It is lined with what were probably residential and religious complexes.
The names of the Sun and Moon pyramids, and the Avenue of the Dead are not, of course, the original names, but what the Aztecs were calling these features of Teotihuacan when the Spanish arrived. The Aztecs had built temples and were practicing some sort of veneration or worship at the site, which was already a long-abandoned ruin when they encountered it. It seems the Aztecs believed the city was build by some super progenitor race, perhaps giants, or even gods, from which they claimed to have descended.
We encountered this original jaguar along the avenue:
Near the Pyramid of the Moon is the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl (say that 5x fast).
Inside is an interesting mix of original artifacts and reconstruction. The stones around the top of the building appear original. The paint below them and the very square columns are reconstructed:
Part of this palace was buried, and after excavation, a roof was built to protect the carving and paint:
Teotihuacan is home to multiple museums. We visited just one of them this time, the “Beatriz de la Fuente” Museum of Teotihuacan Murals. It was located on the edge of the site and was not easy to find, but the contents were amazing:
The last area of the site we visited is called the Citadel, consisting of a very large, enclosed plaza with fairly large temple/pyramid on one end. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good picture showing the layout. If you’re curious . . .
Within the Citadel complex is the Temple of the Plumed Serpent (often called Quetzalcoatl, which is, again, actually the Aztec god’s name), covered in carved heads and sea shells:
At the base of the Temple of the Plumed Serpent is this large tent with people inside clearly performing some kind of archaeological dig.
The day after we visited the site, this article was published in the Smithsonian, explaining what’s going on in the tent. In short, in 2003 after a heavy rain, a sinkhole developed exposing a vast man-made tunnel system under the temple, chock full of previously undiscovered artifacts. This discovery (and that of the cave in 1971) makes clear that though these many of Mexico’s ruin sites have been explored by archaeologists for decades, in many cases, that exploration has only scratched the historical surface.
We could have spent 2 or 3 days at Teotihuacan. We will have to visit again in the future, but for now, we’re off to San Miguel de Allende. We will tell you about that next time.
Here’s our route. For more maps, see our Travel Maps page. If you would like to see larger versions of the pictures in this post, click on the gallery below. Look for the “view full size” link in the pop-up viewer: