Mexico City is HUGE. It’s home to almost 9 million people, encompasses more than 550 square miles and has some of the worst traffic in the world. Knowing that I knew I had to go prepared and so, after making lists and reading travel blogs and getting a ton of recommendations, I picked three things that I absolutely had to see while I was there. Visiting the ruins of Teotihuacan (teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn), located just about an hour from the city center, was on the top that list.
I didn’t know anything about Teotihuacan before I starting investigating what to see and do in and around Mexico City. Even when I got on a plane and flew to Mexico I still didn’t know a lot about the site. I’d heard good things, read blogs about how to get there and looked at a few photos, but mostly I wanted to be surprised by it and I wanted to do the learning in Mexico, not in my living room flipping through guidebooks and travel blogs.
As I discovered once I got to Mexico, Teotihuacan includes the third largest pyramid in the world, the Pyramid of the Sun, pictured above, and encompasses around two kilometers of ruins that run along what is known as the Avenue of the Dead.
Established around 100 B.C. and under construction until around 250 A.D., the city likely contained a population of around 150,000, making it the sixth largest city in the world during its peak. It was, according to National Geographic, “one of the first great cities of the Western Hemisphere.”
Fast forward a few hundred years, to the 7th or 8th century A.D., and the city collapsed. Maybe it was invaders or an internal uprising or maybe it was a catastrophic agricultural type of failure. No one really knows for sure, although there are lots of theories.
One of the fascinating things about Teotihuacan is that nobody knows who built it. The Aztecs showed up about 1,000 years after it was built and were very, very impressed. They gave it the name Teotihuacan, meaning “birthplace of the gods,” and claimed a common ancestor with whoever the hell it was who built the incredible site.
Getting to the site was pretty easy. We took an uber to the central bus depot, Autobuses del Norte, and then followed, these directions to navigate through the bus depot and onto our bus. Everything was exactly as described – go inside, turn left, find the right counter and head outside to wait for your bus and it would have been pretty straightforward getting to Teotihuacan too if our bus hadn’t backed into another bus on the way out of the bus station. We ended up having to wait for another bus and the delay cost us around thirty minutes, but really, it was all sort of hilarious and ridiculous and I didn’t care at all once we finally made it to Teotihuacan.
Entry to the site cost $70 MXN, or about $3.70 USD. There are vendors lining your way in selling all manner of Mexican giftables, along with roving vendors scattered throughout the site. I bought a hat on the way in for about $90 MXN and it proved to be invaluable over the next several hours spent wandering around the sun.
Unlike lots of other really old pyramids in the world, you can climb the biggest one at Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Sun, which claims the title of the third largest pyramid in the world. It is steep and exhausting, but we all agreed we got to the top quicker than we expected and while it was definitely an effort, the view was pretty fucking great.
Then there’s the Pyramid of the Moon, which you can climb half of and which sits at the top of the site. I’d say if you’re only going to climb one pyramid, climb this one. The stairs felt steeper and there were fewer natural resting points but the view is incredible and allows you to look down the entire Avenue of the Dead and gives you an impressive view of Pyramid of the Sun.
After wandering around for a few hours, we were hungry. There is very little shade at Teotihuacan and we’d expended a fair amount of physical effort climbing all the pyramids.
Everything I’d read about the site told me the best place to get lunch was at La Grunta, a restaurant inside of a cave just a short walk from the ruins. We decided to try it, each of us craving a good meal and a cold beer (or three). We followed the trail behind the Pyramid of the Sun to the parking lot and then followed the black La Grunta signs to the restaurant. It led us down a gorgeous road and while we weren’t expecting much from a tourist-touted establishment next to one of Mexico’s biggest attractions, we were impressed from the start.
The place was busy when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon so service was a little slow, but once we ordered, our beers came quick and our food followed shortly after. I even managed to cool down enough that I had to put my jacket back on because, you know, it was in a fucking cave and caves are delightfully cool.
After we ate, we headed back to Teotihuacan for a bit more wandering. It was almost 5 p.m., closing time, and there were only a handful of people still wandering around.
When we first came in, there were a bunch of wild dogs hanging out on the outskirts of the site, but it seems to be their’s by night. I talked to some of them as we headed to the exit. They were curious, polite and funny.
We stayed until about 5:30 p.m. or so and then made our way out of the park, via Gate/Puerta 2. There’s an insection just outside the gate along with a bus sign and within a few minutes, our bus was there to take us back to Mexico City.
We saw a lot during our time in Mexico City, but this was definitely one of my favorite sites. To climb a 2,000-year-old pyramid, the third largest in the world, to walk paths walked by hundreds of generations before me and to be in a place so well-preserved and magical was incredible.