The Pyramid of the Sun is quite an impressive structure. That’s a person way up there on top.
About 20 years ago, which seems a lifetime ago, I came to Mexico for a study abroad summer session. One of our day trips was the pyramids of Teotihuacan. It was an incredible experience that I now wanted to share with my son. So I did.
My son thought he’d be super cool and not try to nap before we left. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a teenager. I opted to wear my granny rebozo instead of a jacket, reasoning that it would double as a blanket on the trip. It’s really quite impossible to point out the flaws in logic to a middle-age adult. However, besides those obvious lapses in judgment, our trip was mostly disaster free for once.
We left at 1 am from the bus station in Moroleon for our trip to Central Norte de Mexico (North Central bus terminal in Mexico City). This was the most costly leg of the journey at $497 pesos one-way per person. I noticed while we were checking in, that there were discounts up to 50% available for students and teachers during vacation periods. Unfortunately, neither my son or I have school identifications to take advantage of the reduced rates. I plan on remedying that situation before our next trip!
We arrived shortly before 7 am in Mexico City. We opted to splurge on cappuccinos (31 pesos per cup) to help wake us up. We also had to shell out 5 pesos each bathroom trip, however, it was totally worth it. The bathrooms were clean and toilet paper was unlimited even if it required a bit of hokey pokey to get through the full-body turnstile.
Buy your tickets to see the pyramids here!
After freshening up, we set out to find the ticket counter for the pyramids. We ended up turning the wrong way in the terminal so it took us a bit longer than anticipated to get going, however, the blue pyramid was a big clue that HERE we could buy the tickets. We arrived 5 minutes before the next scheduled bus out to the site was due to depart. Tickets to and fro were 46 pesos each way per person and the trip took about 45 minutes.
You can take a hot air balloon tour over Teotihuacan.
We arrived before the compound was open for business, so we sat in what seemed to be the security guard break area and watched the hot air balloons pass by for about 20 minutes. My son said there was no way he was getting in a one of those, so we crossed that off the things to do list.
The admission price was $65 pesos per person again with a discount for Mexican teachers and students which we couldn’t take advantage of. We were literally the first people through the gate. We stopped to use the facilities again and delightfully found them to be quite clean. Two for two– score for the bathrooms! The souvenir shops at the entrance were not open yet, but some of the mobile vendors were already there.
The first man we came across was selling lovely silver bracelets. Of course, we really had no need of lovely silver bracelets, so we didn’t buy any, however, he was amiable enough. He said we should follow a certain path and leave at a different gate to get the bus back to the central. He also said that we should buy the items from the indigenous vendors as their items were hand-crafted rather than the cheap Chinese imports that the little stores sold. He said we should climb the Pyramid of the Sun and hold our left hand up to the sun in a fist at noon to absorb the blessing of the sun in the form of cosmic energy. We thanked him and went on.
Some of the remaining Plumed Serpent heads at the Temple of Quetzalcoatl at Teotihuacan.
Our first stop was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Although the structure itself appeared in ruins, there was a lot of activity going on. Apparently, archeologists have recently discovered sacrificial victims buried around the site leading to previously unknown information about the unknown ancient culture that built these massive structures in Teotihuacan. Both the Temple and the human remains have been dated to sometime between 150 and 200 CE.
The archaeological dig near the Temple is extensive.
One of the even more recent discoveries is the tunnel beneath the structure, 15 meters below ground and 130 meters long, that ends in what appears to be funeral chambers beneath the pyramid, discovered in 2011. The tunnel and chambers are also dated to about 200 CE. In 2014, large quantities of mercury were discovered in one of these chambers along with jade statues, jaguar remains, a box of carved shells and rubber balls.
There is some speculation that the Temple was actually a large calendar. At one time, the structure may have had up to 260 feathered serpent heads. Each head has an open mouth which may have held a moveable marker.
Centuries later, much of the original pyramid was covered by a stone platform. This renovation, which occurred sometime in the 4th century, drastically changed the appearance of the structure and is thought to be a result of changing ideologies, from spiritual to political domination.
My son and I climbed around on the structure for a bit. Access was limited with the idea of monument preservation in mind.
We headed back to the Avenue of the Dead and heard the strangest animal sound. Turns out it was a jaguar whistle. Oh, we just had to have one of those! Unfortunately, the vendor wanted 200 pesos for it, which seemed a bit high. So instead, my son bought a crystal pyramid from a different vendor. The asking price was 70 pesos, but the vendor said as it would be the first sale of the day, he’d lower the price to 50 pesos. Trato hecho (Done deal)!
Atop the Pyramid of the Sun with the Pyramid of the Moon in the background at Teotihuacan.
Our next stop was the Pyramid of the Sun. Scaling its 246 feet was made easier than my ascent 20 years ago by the addition of cables, but it still was quite a feat! This pyramid is the third largest in the world and the largest structure in Teotihuacan. Although the pyramid is currently associated with the sun, it’s more probable that it was dedicated to Tlaloc, the water deity whose ancient name translates as “encierro del sol” (He that entraps the sun). The pyramid was built over sacred caverns which are only now being explored. Additionally, the remains of child sacrificial victims have been found at the corners of the building thought to have been made at the ritual dedication at the start of construction. In 2004, 12 human remains and several animal remains were found in a vault in the pyramid also thought to have been sacrificed.
Local lore states that in order to absorb the cosmic energy present at this holy site, you should stand at the very top of the Pyramid of the Sun and raise your fisted left hand.
We didn’t have enough energy to climb the Pyramid of the Moon, which is the oldest of the three main structures. In this courtyard, ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, also known as the Chalchiutlicue, companion to Tlaloc, were held. She was the goddess of fertility, childbirth, marriage, water and crops. She personified both life and death as she was the destroyer of the fourth world, causing the devastating flood in retaliation to Tlaloc’s abuse against her.
The ancient Great Goddess of Teotihuacan
Some archaeologically digging in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.
There was some excavating going on here too however, I wasn’t able to find any information on what may or may not have been discovered recently.
Standing in front of the Pyramid of the Moon with the jaguar whistle.
We bought one of those jaguar whistles here from an indigenous vendor in the courtyard in from of this pyramid. As it was his first sale of the day, he reduced the price to 100 pesos. It’s the coolest thing and my son frightened all his friends with the weird, wild sound.
Getting a little cranky with all the up and down walking.
Then, we took a wrong turn on our quest for the on-site museum and were in this series of never-ending up and down courtyards for awhile. Our legs were already jelly and that bright idea of staying up all night that my son had, finally caught up with him. He started to get a bit cranky.
The model at the museum was neat, but not nearly as amazing as the Pyramid itself.
We turned on what appeared to be a goat track and fortunately, found ourselves in front of the museum which turned out to be well worth the effort. Our entrance tickets were good for the museum, so there was no additional cost, which was just dandy. There was a good selection of artifacts on display and a huge model of the entire Teotihuacan complex.
Some of the vendors had their own altars set up asking for blessings on the day’s earnings. However, you won’t find any Hail Mary images. The old gods are honored here.
There was a little store beside the museum so we did a bit of shopping. My son bought a hieroglyphics necklace, which broke almost immediately after we arrived home. However the quartz and obsidian necklaces that he bought from the indigenous vendors more than made up for that poor buy.
We started getting hungry so we set off with nourishment in mind. There seemed to be no restaurants anywhere. We followed the smell of frying onions to the back of a shop where there were a few tables set up behind the rows of chips and soda. They only had tortas de huevo which kinda resembled an egg McMuffin on a croissant, but we were starving, so anything at that moment would have been fine. Two sandwiches, two teas, and a bag of chips nearly broke the bank at $200 pesos. Well, we were starving.
Smack dab in front of the souvenir shop/restaurant were the remains of a residence. Of course, we had to tour it, even though Mr. Crankypants hadn’t fully recovered, even with a full belly.
The front of the residence we toured.
The remaining walls of the residence
The inner courtyard of the residence.
We wandered around a bit more and discovered a herb garden. There were only a few plants, however, each had a marker with its name and its traditional medicinal use. This is the type of stuff I love!
Palo dulce is one of the medicinal plants my husband uses to treat our animals.
There was also a nice area of statuary.
Our next stop was to take a little siesta under a tree not far from the garden. I dozed for about 15 or 20 minutes or so, but my stubborn son did not close his eyes. When I woke up, the clouds were darkening, so we decided to head toward the exit.
Napped a bit under this tree.
We joined the swarm of people heading out, stopping just long enough to buy some ceramic skulls that the vendor offered for a two for one deal because of the coming rain. We made it to the bus stop right before the heavens opened up, only the bus was already full, so we had to wait about 15 minutes for another one.
The view from atop of the Pyramid of the Sun.
We arrived back at the bus terminal hours before our scheduled trip home. Taking the bull by the horns, I went and successfully changed our tickets at the ticket booth. I have to admit, I was pretty proud of myself and my Spanish skills on this trip. Yeah me!
We had just enough time to treat ourselves to Subway subs before the bus back to Moroleon left. My son had the intention of sightseeing via the bus window, but the moment he sat down, he was out for the count. He slept the entire trip back, which took twice as long as the trip to DF. I watched 4 movies on the bus tv screen, dozing a bit during the boring parts. It really seemed like a never-ending bus ride, but we did finally get back in one piece.
A little more history about Teotihuacan:
The name “Teotihuacan” was given to this area by the Aztecs when they discovered the ruins around 550 AD. It translates approximately as “the birthplace of the gods.” or “place of those who have the road of the gods” reflecting the Aztec belief that the gods created the universe here.
The once thriving city was abandoned centuries before the Aztec arrived. Evidence of the burning and destruction of the temples and upper-class dwellings supports the theory that there was an internal uprising. This civil strife was probably the result of a period of drought related to global climate change after a catastrophic volcanic eruption and subsequent ash fallout.
These ancient ruins make the list of the 13 wonders of Mexico and are definitely worth a visit.