Posted by: Alex MacGregor | January 30, 2014

The Pyramids of Teotihuacan

Most people keen on seeing pyramids make a beeline for Cairo, which is unfortunately in a state of turmoil that would dissuade even me from visiting. But fear not, because you can still see some pretty incredible pyramids a whole lot closer to home.

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The ancient city of Teotihuacan.

I naturally followed the storied Cape to Milan tradition and shunned the many guided tours from Mexico City that lead to the pyramids. I figured that, heck, we’ve gone to way greater lengths in the past to avoid being part of a tour group–this one was a no-brainer.

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This meant a ride on the Mexico City Metro to the Terminal Norte bus station. Metros in developing world megacities can range from awesome to mediocre (to really terrible, but thankfully I’ve never experienced one of those), and Mexico City’s metro definitely falls on the awesome end of the scale.

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It’s fast, super cheap, has amazingly quick headways (I’m talking maybe three minutes during rush hour), and the system maps are adorned with these nice little graphics representing each station.

(Practical note: if you’re looking to save some time and you speak Spanish, head to the Potrero station and catch the express bus to the pyramids from there. It’s the same exact bus, and you can save an annoying metro transfer and twenty minutes of the bus crawling through inner Mexico City’s traffic.)

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An hour or two later, there you are.

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The southernmost set of ruins, where they lot you off the bus, is called the Citadel. The larger pyramids loom in the background.

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Intricate carvings.

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The Avenue of the Dead is a 2-mile long street that runs the length of the complex.

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The Avenue of the Dead

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Before long, you get to ruins of the normal residential areas of the city. These were my favorite parts of the whole complex.

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Over 100,000 people lived in the city at its peak.

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The different areas restrict access in various ways, but if you poke around enough you can wander back surprisingly far into the ruins and gain a sense of solitude–just you and the ruins. I speculated for a while about how these living quarters would have functioned way back when.

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The Pyramid of the Sun is the biggest drawcard. Since pyramid-measuring is subject to all sorts of subjectivity, I’ll just say this one ranks among the largest in the world and leave it at that.

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The sides don’t look that steep from below…

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….but it’s a completely different feeling once you’re climbing up!

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I tried to challenge myself by going up the entire thing without resting, and it definitely was no easy task, given the altitude. I stopped for about ten seconds at each one of the platforms to make sure I wasn’t going to faint–that would have been a pretty ugly scene on the steep, stone stairway!

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The top of the pyramid, where there used to be a grand temple.

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The view over to the Pyramid of the Moon.

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You really get a sense of the scale of the complex from up here. It’s massive.

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For a break from the crowds, you can walk around on the lower platforms, which I found offer a pleasing sense of geometry.

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Back on the Avenue of the Dead, the temples go on and on.

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The city was founded around 100BC, and lasted about a thousand years. It was already abandoned in the time of the Aztecs, and during the Spanish conquest.

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Colorful murals, such as these, would have covered all the buildings in the city.

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The Pyramid of the Moon, surrounded by numerous smaller pyramids.

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The whole complex from the top of the first level of the Pyramid of the Moon (the rest is closed off, but I had already climbed about as many steps as I wanted to that day anyways).

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Looking south down the Avenue of the Dead, perfectly backlit in the midday sun.

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Adjoining the Pyramid of the Moon is a restored palace.

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Carvings and murals within the palace.

At this point, I was two miles north of where you started and had been walking around in direct sunlight for three hours. I opted to leave from the north entrance and take my chances on transport from there. When I got to the road, a taxi driver was unfortunately the only person to ask for directions. Taxi drivers are terrible people to ask, since they can easily con you into riding in their cab (coincidentally, at the pyramids in Egypt a guy tried to do the exact same thing: he told us one entrance to the pyramids was closed, and that we needed to ride his taxi to the other–a blatant lie).

The taxi driver informed me that the “local” bus stops here, and for the express bus, I’d have to go back to the other entrance. He was being completely honest. I hopped on the first bus that came (it was lucky that a bus came right away, forcing the issue), which wound around city streets for an extra 45 minutes on the way back to Mexico City.

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I, along with a couple friends I made who also found themselves on the local bus by mistake, got off at the Indios Verdes metro station–a major bus hub in northern Mexico City–to save time. A lovely bit of chaos: buses, market stalls, and throngs of people. Welcome back to DF!

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Responses

  1. […] in a neighborhood of Mexico City called La Condesa. The friends I made on the local bus back from Teotihuacan that afternoon were headed there, so I tagged along, which was good because I wouldn’t have […]

  2. […] to Mexico City, I talked about the postcard tourist attractions of the Centro Historico and the Pyramids of Teotihuacan. But the world’s great tourist cities don’t just have a few big-time attractions. What […]


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