248 Steps to the Top: Teotihuacan (Mexico City part 3)

My first vague inclinations toward Mexico City were because of its artistic heritage: I wanted to see the streets Frida Kahlo walked down. But then I learned about Teotihuacan, & I absolutely had to go.

This place is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. To call it stunning is a major understatement, but no other word seems to apply. It is magical. Haunting. Tragic. Beautiful. Teotihuacan defies explanation, but I'll give it my best shot.

The Pyramid of the Sun, 3rd largest ancient pyramid on earth.

Just a short bus ride north of Mexico City is the Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan (pronounced, I believe, teo-tea-wah-ken). At its most populous & prosperous it was the largest city of pre-Colombian America, a focal point for ancient life, & a major exporter of fine obsidian which was revered throughout the Mesoamerican empire. So densely populated multi-level apartment compounds were built within the city to house residents. I have never imagined an ancient city with apartment complexes, but Teotihuacan had them. Besides its iconic pyramids, the site is also home to astonishingly well preserved wall murals & residential communities.

The city is still quite mysterious. No one really knows who its founders were, or why they choose this location; though the majesty of the surrounding mountains provides some ideas. Teotihuacan's fall is just as mysterious. Was there an uprising of the lower classes? A famine? Or was the city attacked by invaders? There is archaeological evidence to support all these theories. All I can tell you is that Teotihuacan is one of only two places I've been on the planet where you can feel the energy of the place coming up out of the ground (the other place being Stonehenge).

The pyramids are actually merely the foundations of the buildings which once towered over the city, & which were burned during th. Many of them are still undergoing excavation, & you can watch workers as they tirelessly dig out & restore surfaces. Some are blocked off to climbing, but most you can scale with a little determination (& a bottle of water); including the astonishing Pyramid of the Sun, which stands as the third largest pyramid on earth.

 
Sizing up the Pyramid of the Sun before I embark on the climb.

The pyramid gets its name from the Aztecs, who came upon Teotihuacan centuries after it was abandoned by its civilians. To reach its summit you must climb 248 (giant) steps. Standing at the bottom of the pyramid this task seems absolutely daunting, but once you get going the climb does go by relatively quickly. & it's well worth it for the view from the top.

I took *a lot* of panoramas here... & none of them do the place justice.

My converse had a great view from the top of Pyramid of the Sun!

The nearby Pyramid of the Moon is only slightly smaller, & while you can't climb all the way to its top, you can make it about halfway up for excellent views of the sprawling city complex below you & the Avenue of the Dead: the main roadway connecting the structures of Teotihuacan.

The Pyramid of the Moon

Climb as many of these pyramids as your legs will allow. Each gives a new perspective of the city & the gorgeous valley in which it sits. Bring bottles of water & snacks & be ready to pack everything out, as there are limited trash cans on the grounds. Bring a hat & extra sunscreen, shade is almost non-existent, & you're going to be wandering around for a while. Make sure your camera battery is charged, because you're going to want to take *a lot* of pictures, & you'll still find that none of them do the place justice.

The Avenue of the Dead & the Pyramid of the Sun (on the left) from Pyramid of the Moon.

The small museum on the grounds is exceptional & very educational. The gift shop is a cute place to buy postcards or other trinkets, but their credit card machine is regularly down so make sure to have cash. Perhaps the most interesting souvenirs are from the dozens of vendors dotting the site offering you "Aztec" jewelry & other trinkets. I bought a clay whistle which makes a sound like a jaguar roar which I've been having a great time freaking my cat out with. All these vendors are cash only (like most of Mexico) so if you want knick-knacks bring your paper money. & maybe make your purchases after climbing the pyramids.

My silly souvenir.

How to get there:

It's easy to get to Teotihuacan from Mexico City by taking the bus to the "Archaeological Zone" from the main bus terminal in the north of the city called Autobuses Del Norde. Buy tickets at gate 8, from the booth with a pyramid on its placard (pictograms are helpfully everywhere in Mexico). As of October 2017 the round trip bus fare was 100 Mexican pesos, & it's another 70 pesos for entry into the park (roughly 9 US dollars total). Plan to spend an entire day here, the archaeological site is massive & every inch of it is fascinating. Pro tip: on Sunday's the park is free to all Mexican residents, so it is extra crowded, stick to Tuesday-Friday for the smallest crowds (cultural institutions in Mexico are usually closed Mondays).


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