Last updated on April 24th, 2018 at 01:57 pm
As frequent travelers and homeschoolers, we always try to make learning the history and culture of the places we visit a priority. On our last extended trip we had the pleasure of visiting four incredible cities in Mexico; Puerto Vallarta, Guadalajara, Guanajuato, and Mexico City. Each city had something amazing to learn about; the conservation efforts in Puerto Vallarta, the most important zoo in all of Latin America in Guadalajara, and the Mummies of Guanajuato each made lasting impressions on all of us.
But, one experience, on a day trip from Mexico City left us absolutely awestruck. We were intrigued by its mystery, and stunned by its huge size and incredible preservation.
We can honestly say taking a day trip to visit the Teotihuacan Pyramids, about 50 minutes outside of Mexico City was the most incredible experience we had during our entire trip.
An unforgettable family memory, a trip to Teotihuacan with kids is an absolute must if you're visiting Mexico City.
Here’s how we did our own self-guided family tour!
The City of Teotihuacan, a Brief History
Teotihuacán (pronounced teo-ti-wa'kan) is a vast archaeological complex located 40 kilometers northeast of modern-day Mexico City. The ancient city's construction began as early as 100 BC and it grew and flourished.
At its height, around 500 AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It had a population estimated around 125,000 making it at least the sixth largest city in the ancient world at that time!
But, somewhere between 550AD and 750AD, the city began its decline. During its collapse, it endured a fire that caused great damage, famine, and various invasions. But even despite the calamities all was never truly lost.
There are many mysteries surrounding Teotihuacan. First, it is not known who first built it or the exact succession of inhabitants It had. But experts do know the name Teotihuacan was given by the Aztecs. It means “ The place where the Gods were created”.
It is best known today for its immense size, intricate grid layout, and incredible step pyramids. Some facts are known about each part of the city that still exists today. Artifacts that remain help experts begin to piece together the story of Teotihuacan.
Here’s what we saw the day we visited.
The City of Teotihuacan Today
Incredibly many structures are still standing at Teotihuacan. At its peak, it’s believed the core covered 20 square kilometers.
Today you can still see how expertly the city was laid out. It was organized using a well thought out grid plan. Today Teotihuacan is best known for the size of its monuments. Particularly, the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is anthropologically important for its complex multi-family compounds. Ancient day apartment blocks, where the city’s residents once lived. Also, a wide road called The Avenue of the Dead, and a small portion of ancient murals that have been exceptionally well preserved.
Here’s a little bit about the major monuments around the archaeological site.
The Pyramid of the Sun
This is the best place to start as it has 248 steps to reach the top. It gets pretty hot as the day progresses so starting your visit in the morning is highly recommended. Entering the site through the third entrance (Puerta 3) will put you closest to the Pyramid of the Sun.
The Pyramid of the Sun is massive! It’s 75 meters high and 220 meters wide making it the third largest pyramid after The Great Pyramid of Cholula (also in Mexico), and The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
It’s imposing size is even more impressive knowing it consists of over three million tons of stone built by hand! No metal tools or animals were used in its construction.
In the 1970’s archaeologists found a tunnel inside the great pyramid that led to a set of chambers that stored more than 50 000 ritualistic artifacts. Experts figure the chambers were used for rituals and even as tombs for the city’s elite.
The Pyramid of the Sun had powerful religious significance for the ancient people of Teotihuacan. And some of that ritualistic importance continues to this day. Every year, on the Spring Equinox, visitors flock to the top of the Pyramid to celebrate the rights of Spring.
The Pyramid of the Moon
The second largest pyramid on the site, The Pyramid of the Moon, sits perpendicular to The Pyramid of The Sun at the end of The Avenue of the Dead. It is the smaller of the two great pyramids but the steps to the top are much steeper. Definitely worth climbing though, as the view from the top is amazing! You can see all the way up The Avenue of the Dead past The Pyramid of the Sun.
The Pyramid of the Moon was the first large structure built in Teotihuacan. Research suggests it was built in stages. It began as a small platform and then grew to be a 46-meter high pyramid. There is evidence that human and animal sacrifices, as well as other offerings, took place there. Tombs inside revealed sacrificial artifacts including tools of obsidian and greenstone.
In front of the pyramid on the Plaza of the Moon are 12 small squat pyramids with larger platforms on top. The platforms served as viewing stages for ancient city’s residents to watch sacrifices and rituals performed at the top of the Pyramid of the Moon.
Today they offer great photo ops of the Great Pyramids.
The Murals and Hieroglyphic Writings of Teotihuacan
There are incredibly well-preserved murals that exist in Teotihuacan. The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, adjacent to The Pyramid of the Moon, houses some of the most detailed. The art includes depictions of important Gods like Tlaloc, the storm God, a deity referred to as “The Great Goddess” and animals like coyotes, owls, jaguars, and the feathered serpent. There is also indicate hieroglyphic stone carvings throughout the Palace.
At the entry, you can pay for a guide to explain the murals and hieroglyphics throughout Palace of Quetzalpapalotl or tour it on your own as we did.
The Avenue of the Dead
There is a wide road 2.5 kilometers long that runs between the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. It’s called the Avenue of the Dead for what some believe the mounds on either side that look like tombs, though they weren’t.
The road, kind of like main street Teotihuacan, now varies in width (45 meters at some points and up to 90 at others). Experts believe it was much wider in its prime.
The Temple of the Feathered Serpent
The third largest pyramid in Teotihuacan, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, is a bit farther out from the rest of the monuments on the archaeological site. It’s a six-level step pyramid adorned with serpent heads along the sides of the steps. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is notable for its carvings and also for the discovery made in the 1980’s. More than one hundred sacrifice victims were found buried beneath it.
There is an onsite Museum as well. It is to the left, at the back corner of the Pyramid of the Sun. There are many artifacts on display and it is nice and cool inside. There is also a large-scale replica of what the are may have looked like long ago that was really cool to see.
How to Get to Teotihuacan
There are a few different ways to get to the Teotihuacan archaeological site. The cheapest way is via public transportation which is the way we chose to go. Here’s how we did it.
We took the metro (5 pesos) to Terminal Central del Norte (also known as Autobuses del Norte metro station). The station is right across the street from the metro stop.
Inside the bus terminal, go left all the way to the end. The name of the bus company is called Autobuses Teotihuacán.
Purchase return bus tickets to “Los Piramides”, the cost is 56 pesos (about $3 USD) each for Adults and 28 pesos for kids. Buses leave about every 20 minutes and seats and are assigned.
Busses leave and return all day. You can catch any one you like on the way back, so spend as much or as little time visiting the pyramids as you like.
People at the ticket office speak English so asking questions is no problem.
There are also various tour bus companies that operate tours from Mexico City to Teotihuacan.
There are a few different options for meeting points depending on how you want to travel and how much you’re willing to spend. You can take a private tour with a pickup, a group tour with or without pickup but at a pre-designated meeting spot, or a small group tour with dinner with a local family (also with a pre-designated meeting spot).
A Few Practical Tips for Visiting Teotihuacan with Kids
The site at Teotihuacan is not stroller friendly. We recommend using a carrier for really little kids. Also, there is a lot of ground to cover and a fair amount of climbing which is uneven so comfortable, well-fitting shoes are recommended. We wore runners and Mak wore quick lace-up Keen sandals and we all avoided sore feet and twisted ankles.
Also, there is no shade and the sun beats down in the late morning and all afternoon. Make sure to have sunscreen and wide brim hats for everyone. A sunshade is recommended if using a child carrier.
Here are other things to have on hand and keep in mind:
- Bring water and snacks for the bus ride. It takes about an hour to get to the site and an hour back as well depending on traffic. You can buy water and snacks at the site but having a few for on the way is a good idea especially with kids.
- Also, the snack and water vendors are just outside the archaeological site. Make sure you have enough water and snacks in your packs when enjoying the pyramids. There are a few vending machines by the washrooms near the onsite museum as well.
- The site is open 9am-5pm daily but try to visit as early as possible due to the no shade thing. It gets hot really fast and there’s is a lot of physical activity climbing the pyramids.
- The entry fee is 70 pesos about ($5) for adults, kids under 12 years of age are free.
- Plan to spend 4 to 5 hours exploring the site it’s really big and time can get away on you because the sites are mind-blowing!
We all thoroughly enjoyed visiting Teotihuacan. Learning about the site before visiting made the experience even more meaningful here are some of the sites we used to learn about the area before we visited.
Have you visited Mexico City with your family? Do you have any more helpful tips for a trip to Teotihuacan with kids? Please share your experiences in the comments below.