Teotihuacan: Planning Your Visit

Wide shot of the plaza at Teotihuacán

TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

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Pirámide del Sol, 55825 Méx., Mexico

Teotihuacán (pronounced "tay-oh-tee-wah-KAHN," with the emphasis on the final syllable) is a large and majestic archaeological site located about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Mexico City. It's famous for its large pyramids dedicated to the sun and the moon, but the site also contains beautiful murals and carvings and several museums through which you can explore the city's fascinating history. This is one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Mexico, and a must-visit attraction on a trip to Mexico City.


The construction of the city of Teotihuacan began around 200 BC. Since the ethnic group and the language spoken by the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is unknown, they are referred to simply as "Teotihuacanos." At its peak between 300 and 600 CE, this was one of the biggest cities in the world with around 200,000 inhabitants.

Teotihuacan was abandoned around the year 800, which is considered the end of the Classic Period in Mesoamerica. The causes of the fall are not known, but it's possible there was a prolonged drought or an epidemic. There could also have been a conflict with another group or an internal conflict—some of the buildings show evidence of destruction by fire. It appears this site was not just merely abandoned, like many of the Mayan archaeological sites.

The Aztecs considered Teotihuacan a sacred site even though it was abandoned long before their time. Teotihuacan is the name that was given to the site by the Aztecs, meaning "city of the gods" or "where men become gods."

More recently, in 2003, Sergio Gómez, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, discovered a man-made tunnel after a heavy rainstorm left a sinkhole at the foot of a large pyramid known as the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. Upon further research with a high-resolution, ground-penetrating radar device, he found the tunnel ran from the Citadel (the center of the city) to the center of the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, making it some sort of underground road.


The ruined city features plazas, temples, a canalized river, and palaces that housed priests and nobles. Such structures—the Teotihuacanos were considered skilled urban planners—include the Citadel, the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Avenue of the Dead. While visiting the site, keep in mind that the actual city of Teotihuacan extended over 12 square miles (20 kilometers) and was intensely populated.

The Citadel: When the city was inhabited, the Citadel was the center of the city of Teotihuacan; but today, it is the southernmost point that's open to visitors. This fortress is marked by a large open space with surrounding temples that were most likely used for ceremonies.

Temple of Quetzalcoatl: If you walk across the square and climb the steps on the opposite side, you can view the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. (Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important gods in the Mesoamerican pantheon whose name means "feathered serpent.") The decoration on the facade of this building shows alternating heads of the serpent and another figure sometimes called Tlaloc (the Aztec rain god). The building is also decorated with snails and shells, both symbols of water.

Pyramid of the Sun: This huge pyramid is one of ancient Mexico's largest structures. It is nearly 200 feet high and 700 feet wide. Unlike the pyramids of Egypt, Mexican pyramids don't have a point on top, but instead are flat and most often used as bases for temples. The Pyramid of the Sun is built on top of a 100-yard-long cave that ends in the shape of a four-leaf clover (discovered in 1970). In ancient Mexico, caves like this represented passageways to the underworld—the womb of the earth.​

If you're not afraid of a few stairs (around 250 of them), the views from the top of the pyramid are excellent. In fact, during the fall and spring equinox, Teotihuacan is packed with folks who dress in white and climb to the top. Once there, they stand with arms outstretched to receive the special energy of the site on that day.

Pyramid of the Moon: After taking in the scenery from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun (and if you’re still up for more climbing), make your way to the Pyramid of the Moon, the second-largest pyramid in modern-day Teotihuacan. This feature, which is located at the end of the Avenue of the Dead, was once used as a stage for performing the ritual sacrifices of both animals and humans. Upon this pyramid sits a platform meant for ceremonies honoring the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, the goddess of water, fertility, the earth, and creation. 

Avenue of the Dead: The Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos) forms the main axis of the ancient city. It stretches to the north from the Citadel all the way to the Temple of the Moon. Rather than being directed exactly north-south, the Avenue of the Dead was aligned at 16º northwest to position it with the setting sun on a precise date. Lining the avenue are low buildings thought to be palace residences.

Visiting Teotihuacan

Location: Teotihuacan is located in the State of Mexico, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Mexico City.

Hours: Teotihuacan archaeological zone is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.

Admission: General admission is 70 pesos per person and it's free for children under 13. It's also free for Mexican citizens and residents on Sundays.

Tours: Many companies offer day trips to Teotihuacan from Mexico City. One option is the Turibus Teotihuacan, an all-day excursion that includes a visit to the Basilica of Guadalupe, as well as stops for lunch and shopping at an arts and crafts center. Private tours are great for those who want to spend more time exploring the ruins. And, an archeological tour is the best choice for history buffs and aspiring archeologists.

Travel Tips:

  • There are five entrances to the archaeological site. For a full tour, enter at the south end of the site (Entrance 1). Then, walk the length of the Avenue of the Dead (about 1.25 miles or 2 kilometers).
  • For a shortened tour, many groups begin at the Pyramid of the Sun (Entrance 2). This is a good option if your time is limited or you prefer not to walk.
  • Don't forget to take water, a hat, and sunscreen.

Getting There

If you would like to spend more time exploring the site, go it on your own. The most direct route from Mexico city is by car via Mexico 132D (it's about a 1.5-hour drive). You can also hire a taxi or a private guide to get you there, or you can easily use public transportation. To do so, take the metro to the Central del Norte station. From there, find a bus that goes directly to the ruins; the buses are marked "piramides."

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Teotihuacan: Planning Your Visit