I had heard of Chichen Itza before coming to Mexico, but the reality is, there are dozens of equally impressive archaeological sites in the country. Teotihuacan is just an hour from the centre of sprawling Mexico City, and this enormous Mesoamerican complex is pretty marvellous. And luckily, it’s super easy to get to the Teotihuacan Pyramids from Mexico City. Initially, I was tossing up whether to go to Teotihuacan during my first few days in Mexico City because there had been mixed reviews from people in the hostel. But the common thread was that if you ditch the tours, take local transport, and see the complex at your own pace (and early in the morning), it is well worth it.
Nestled in a valley surrounded by green mountains, this pyramid-filled complex is unlike anything I had seen before. And although it’s a valley, the complex is 7000 feet above sea level. It’s not completely clear when the city Teotihuacan, once the largest in Mexico was created, but it is estimated to be around 1 CE, about 1000 years before the Aztecs. It was likely already in ruin by the Aztec epoch.
Although the entire complex is bewilderingly beautiful, the most striking parts are the two main pyramids: Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. The two main Pyramids are connected by the (morbidly named) Avenue of the Dead. You are still able to climb the pyramids here, and although I’m not sure how I feel about doing that and the potential damage it causes, it is an experience.
If you have the chance, I would strongly recommend visiting Teotihuacan if you have a few days in Mexico City. By getting there when the complex opened at 9am, I was able to make this a half-day trip rather than a full-day and was able to be back enjoying some Mexico City taquerias in the afternoon.
SHOULD YOU GET A TOUR?
I’m really not a tour person, so this is probably not the most unbiased opinion you’ll get. If you want to have a guide to learn the history of Teotihuacan, this is the biggest positive point for getting a tour. There is not a lot of signage in the complex so it can be hard to know what’s going on and it can be annoying to have to look everything up at times.
By seeing Teotihuacan as a day trip from Mexico City using local transport, it only cost 239 pesos (around $18AUD), compared with the cost of a tour which was 580 pesos (cheapest price I saw in Mexico City). It was relatively easy and pain-free to do, and allowed me to walk around the complex freely, spending as little or as much time at different places.
If you are able to walk well by yourself, feel comfortable navigating public transport, and are happy to look up the history on your phone as you go along, then it is way easier and cheaper to just do it yourself.
COST OF VISITING TEOTIHUACAN
Adult Entry Price: 75 pesos
Return Bus Ticket: 104 pesos
Getting to the Bus Station: 70-80 peso Uber each way, or 5 peso Subway ticket each way
WHAT TO BRING TO TEOTIHUACAN
- Camera with charged battery
- Decent shoes for walking (it would be slippery climbing the pyramids in flip/flops or non-grippy shoes)
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat because there is virtually no shade
- Cash for the bus and the entry ticket
- Backpack so your hands are free for any climbing
- Ventolin if you have asthma like me, it can be dusty and you’re walking a lot!
GETTING TO THE TEOTIHUACAN PYRAMIDS FROM MEXICO CITY INDEPENDENTLY
This is less complicated than people make it out to be – so don’t stress when people say you have to get a tour or cop an expensive Uber (700 – 800 pesos each way) all the way there.
How to get to Teotihuacan:
- You need to make your way to the bus station Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, you can either do this by grabbing an Uber (around 70 pesos from Centro Historico) or by catching the metro Line 5 (yellow)
- Head to Sala 8 which is clearly marked
- You will see a booth with a bus company named Teotihuacan (with a yellow and blue pyramid logo)
- Purchase a bus ticket (52 pesos one way, 104 return) and make sure you ask when the bus is leaving and from which gate
- Go through security
- Find the right bus gate (and double check it’s going to the pyramids, because that would be awkward)
- The bus takes about one hour and will drop you at one of the gates to the complex where you walk towards the booth and purchase your entry ticket
The buses are reasonably comfortable and often the seats are reserved. I opted to purchase a return ticket even though it’s no cheaper, just for the peace of mind. If you’d rather keep your options open then you can purchase your return ticket from the driver on the bus home.
GETTING BACK TO MEXICO CITY FROM TEOTIHUACAN
My bus dropped me at Puerta 1 (it might’ve gone to Puerta 2, but I’m not too sure), but the buses back to Mexico City leave exclusively from Puerta 2. This is the exit/entrance right in front of the Pyramid of the Sun so you can’t miss it! If you’re lost, people were generally happy to point me in the right direction.
To get to the bus to Mexico City from Puerta 2:
- Walk out the gate past all the souvenir shops
- Exit and continue walking all the way past the car park out to the road
- Walk right for about 20 metres
- Cross the road
- There is a blue bus stop sign (which is conveniently facing the other way to the exit so you won’t see it until you reach it…) but this is where the buses to Mexico City will stop
BEST THINGS TO SEE AT TEOTIHUACAN
PYRAMID OF THE SUN
The Pyramid of the Sun is the most famous of the pyramids and the tallest. It’s also the only pyramid that you can climb all the way to the top – and the views are pretty amazing. The climb is short but steep with about 200-250 steps. With the sun, steepness, and altitude of the valley, it does puff you out and there were honestly a fair few people which made me start running through acute management of AMI in my mind just in case.
Visiting the Pyramid of the Sun is the most popular thing to do, and with the tour bus/car park entrance right in front of it, it’s usually what tour groups go straight for. If you get here early enough, you can have the walk a little bit less crowded. I would avoid doing this walk in the hottest part of the day.
PYRAMID OF THE MOON
You can climb halfway up this beautiful pyramid and the views back down over the Pyramid of the Sun and the Avenue of the Dead are breath-taking. Although still steep, the effort required to climb this pyramid is a lot less than the Pyramid of the Sun. In front of the pyramid, there are twelve beautifully constructed platforms which are believed to have an astronomical meaning.
WALK DOWN THE AVENUE OF THE DEAD
This long avenue is named Avenue of the Dead as the structures lining it resemble tombs. It is a real experience to walk along the Avenue of the Dead and see the Pyramids in all their might. You are able to wander off to the side to explore the complex further, just make sure you don’t run into any cacti!
SOME NOTES ON VISITING TEOTIHUACAN
- If you have poor mobility, it will be difficult. There are steps everywhere, even to cross what you would assume would be flat, has steps up and down.
- There are a lot of touts/souvenir sellers around, don’t engage or touch the items unless you are generally interested in purchasing them
- It is really hot out there with bare minimum shade so please bring sun protection!
- Arrive as early as you can to explore the area with less heat and fewer people
- If you’re feeling confident, ditch the tour and opt to explore Teotihuacan by yourself, it’ll save you a ton of money, give you freedom and it’s not difficult!