How To Visit the Pyramids of Teotihuacan
A Guide to Doing It Right
Teotihuacan, an ancient Mesoamerican city located approximately an hour outside of Mexico City, was a thriving metropolis that flourished between the 1st and 7th centuries CE. It is believed to have been one of the largest cities in the world during its heyday. The outside world "discovered" Teotihuacan in the 19th century, although local indigenous communities had long known about its existence and considered it a sacred place. The ruins of Teotihuacan captured the attention of European explorers and scholars in the mid-19th century. The first systematic excavations at Teotihuacan took place in the 1920s, marking the beginning of extensive archaeological research at the site. Since then, ongoing projects and studies have continued to shed light on this remarkable ancient city.
Tidbit - An interesting aspect of Teotihuacan is its resistance to outside influence. The locals play a crucial role in preserving and showcasing the site. The people who sell goods and provide tours within the archaeological site are all locals, ensuring that the community benefits directly from tourism. Licenses to operate within Teotihuacan are granted exclusively to locals who live in the surrounding area. These licenses cannot be sold but are passed down through generations within the same family. This means that anyone you encounter with a badge in the park has likely been working at Teotihuacan alongside their family for decades.
Let's start with the basic facts so that you can prepare in advance.
When is Teotihuacan open?
Fortunately, Teotihuacan is open 365 days a year. Last Christmas, I took a group of visiting friends on a hot air balloon ride there and had a blast. The site is also open from 9 AM to 5 PM every day, with entry to the park closing at 3 PM. So, there's plenty of time to explore and enjoy the wonders of Teotihuacan.
Best time to go?
My suggestion is to get there first thing in the morning, as soon as the doors open. Why? Because you get to start your trek before everyone else. If you truly must, you can make a mad dash to the sites and get all your social media pictures before the crowd. Additionally, it's worth noting that there is no shade at Teotihuacan, so arriving early helps you beat the scorching sun as the day progresses.
Teotihuacan is open every day from 9 AM to 5 PM, 365 days a year. The Teotihuacan Culture Museum is open from 9 AM to 4:30 PM every day, while the Museum of Teotihuacan Murals is open from 8 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Sunday.
How long should you stay?
I have personally been to Teotihuacan three times, spending about three hours there each time before I saw everything. I would say three hours is the minimum time you should spend to see "enough." If you arrive at 9 AM, you can cover nearly everything and be ready to depart around 1 PM. Some people choose to take a break at 12 PM to grab a bite to eat and then continue exploring until around 3 PM or so. It ultimately depends on your pace and level of interest, but three hours provides a good starting point for a comprehensive visit to Teotihuacan.
First option - Airbnb Experience
Based on all my previous posts, you should know that I am not a budget traveler. If there is an expert or an exceptional experience, I see no reason to skimp. Airbnb offers opportunities to have an expert guide you through your experience. While you can search Airbnb yourself, I personally recommend two hosts that I am familiar with and can vouch for.
Alejandro is a Teotihuacan local who has lived with his family less than a mile from the site for multiple generations. I highly recommend his Airbnb experience (link: https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/469261). Alejandro offers a comprehensive tour of the park, providing expert insights and knowledge. He will pick you up, guide you through the park, and even take you to a local spot for lunch, giving you an authentic taste of the area. Afterward, Alejandro invites you back to his family's property to learn about chocolate, enjoy a drink, and more. What sets Alejandro's tour apart is that he never pushes you to buy anything from the people within the park or from himself. This is a personalized tour, not a manufactured tourist program, ensuring a genuine and enriching experience of Teotihuacan.
Armando also offers a fantastic tour experience at Teotihuacan, which you can find on Airbnb (link: https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/974482). Similar to Alejandro, Armando provides transportation and lunch as part of the tour. What makes his tour unique is the added food experience, allowing you to indulge in local cuisine during your exploration. There is a detour to a gift shop outside the park, but rest assured that Armando doesn't push anyone to make purchases. The shop is run by locals, not a corporation, ensuring that the items are still handmade and your money directly supports the local community rather than going to wealthy individuals.
How to get there:
There are two options for visiting Teotihuacan: Park Guided Tour and Self-Guided. But first, let me explain how to get there from Mexico City. You'll need to arrive at the Autobus Del North Station, which can be reached by Uber, metro, taxi, or any mode of transportation. The cost will depend on your chosen mode of transportation. Inside the station, you'll find the Autobuses Teotihuacan desk, dedicated to shuttling visitors to the site. The round-trip ticket costs about 100 pesos, and the journey takes approximately one hour, with drop-off at Gate 2. If you're staying at a hotel, you can also inquire if they arrange transportation.
Option 1 - Park Guided Tour:
If you don't want to go the Airbnb route but still desire a guided tour, you can purchase a ticket and enter the park. Once inside, you'll find multiple individuals offering tours. Prices can range between 400 to 800 pesos per person, and some guides may speak multiple languages. There's room for negotiation, but considering the value of their expertise, the offered price is often fair.
Option 2 - Self-Guided Tour:
For a more budget-friendly option, you can choose to explore the site on a self-guided tour. Simply purchase tickets at the site and embark on your own adventure. You'll receive a map to navigate the area independently. However, keep in mind that while this is the cheapest option, you might miss out on the detailed history of Teotihuacan. The site's history is continuously updated through ongoing excavations and new discoveries, which are often not easily accessible online. Local knowledge and insights from park guides play a significant role in understanding the site's historical significance.
*I did not mention other tours - You can Google tours to the site, but you'll find tours run by large companies. Personally, I don't recommend these. After visiting the area multiple times and gaining respect for the site and the surrounding city, I believe it's important to make an effort to support the local community directly and avoid contributing to national or international tour companies.
Extras - Hot Air Balloon Rides:
Although I generally discourage large tour companies, experiencing a hot air balloon ride requires booking through a tour company. One option is to search for available tours on Airbnb or use platforms like Viator. You'll be picked up very early in the morning, around 6 AM, from Mexico City. Be prepared for potentially cold weather upon arrival. After signing in, the company will divide participants into groups for the balloon ride, accompanied by a champagne toast. Customized options are available for both small and large groups. Despite the chilly conditions, I had a great time during my Christmas morning hot air balloon ride.
In the end, Teotihuacan is an incredible day trip that should not be missed, whether you're on a short visit or staying in the city for an extended period. It is a must-do experience. Even if you're only in Mexico City for a weekend, I highly recommend making an effort to cross Teotihuacan off your list. Have fun and enjoy your time exploring this remarkable ancient site!
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