Teotihuacan is an ancient city situated in the highlands of Central Mexico. It’s famous for its large pyramids and family compounds. It is still being excavated to this day. It’s such a magnificent complex that it would be worth coming to Mexico City just for visiting Teotihuacan.
The civilization of Teotihuacan was distinct from other Mesoamerican communities nearby. It was established well before the Aztecs build Tenochitlan (today Mexico City), but it traded and shared cultural commonalities with the Aztecs. You can even see architectural similarities.
Teotihuacan is still largely mysterious and little is known about life here compared to other ruined civilizations. In fact, historians still don’t know what prompted the city’s rapid decline. One thing is clear, though — Teotihuacan was a highly technologically and spiritually advanced civilization.
The best places to learn about the history and culture of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan are the site museum and the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. But it’s impossible not to be enthralled by wandering around the ruins themselves, even if you have little background knowledge. This is one of the most magnificent historical parks in Mexico — and probably in the whole world.
Most visitors book tours to get to the ruins. But visiting Teotihuacan without a tour is just as easy, and it allows you more freedom to explore the site at your own pace. In this post, I’ll walk you through how to do a Teotihuacan day trip by bus, what to see, and practicalities.
Visiting Teotihuacan by bus
The first step to visiting Teotihuacan from Mexico City is to get to the Northern Bus Station (Terminal Norte) in Mexico City. The bus station is on Line 5 of the metro. When you get there, walk to the line of ticket counters and take a left. You’ll see a ticket counter with images of pyramids on it — that’s the bus company you want.
Buy your ticket (50 pesos) and ensure that your bus is going from Mexico City to the Teotihuacan pyramids — “piramides” in Spanish. You only need a one-way ticket, as you can easily purchase your return trip when you’re ready to leave. Buses run every 20 minutes.
If you’re accustomed to the luxury of first-class Mexican bus travel, prepare to be disappointed — the only buses running to Teotihuacan are beat-up, slow, old, crowded second-class buses. But hey, they get you there. (Want more info about bus travel in Mexico? Check out my backpacking guide.)
The bus stops a few times on the way, including one security stop. Policemen get on, look through a few bags, and take photos of everyone. Don’t worry — this route is perfectly safe now (even the State Department approves), but it used to be a common target for bus robberies.
It takes about an hour and a half to reach the Teotihuacan pyramids by bus. The driver will drop you in the parking lot, but it’ll be obvious where to go to enter the site. Just follow the souvenir stalls.
Top things to see at Teotihuacan
The ruins site itself is massive. For your 70 pesos, you get the main ruins, a few clusters of smaller ruins, and a handful of excellent museums.
Directly in front of you when you walk in the gate is the Ciudadela. This compound houses the temple of Quetzalcoatl — perhaps the most architecturally interesting temple. It’s named for the “plumed serpent God” — one of the most commonly featured gods in central Mexican lore. Climb the first staircase to see the pyramid covered in serpent heads and bas reliefs of feathered serpents.
From Quetzalcoatl, you can see the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The long paved road connecting you to them is known as the Avenue of the Dead. Stroll along and stop in at the different structures along the way — they’re mostly small dwellings. Many of them were homes of laypeople back when Teotihuacan was inhabited.
After about a kilometer, you’ll come to the base of the Pyramid of the Sun. It’s the third-tallest pyramid in the world, and the largest in Teotihuacan. Its meaning has unfortunately been lost over the centuries. You can hike to the top — the staircase gets pretty steep at the end.
Just past the Pyramid of the Sun, at the far end of the Avenue of the Dead, is the Pyramid of the Moon. This (slightly) smaller pyramid was possibly meant to be an altar for the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. You can’t climb all the way to the top of this one, but you can go most of the way and get great views of the Plaza of the Moon.
When you’ve had enough of the pyramids, head inside to the site museum. It’s fairly small, but houses artifacts found at the site and throughout this corner of the ancient world.
Off the beaten path Teotihuacan
Most visitors to the pyramids stop after covering the sights listed above. But you’ll get much more out of your trip to this ancient city by exploring its quieter corners. This is one of the biggest reasons to visit Teotihuacan without a tour — most tours skip everything beyond the main highlights.
Don’t miss the Palace of the Jaguars and surrounding buildings. They contain fascinating (and fairly well-preserved) murals of a jaguar praying to a rain god. One theory is that these murals were symbolic of war, although very little is understood about them overall.
In a little-visited corner of the park, you’ll find Atetelco Palace — home to some more remarkably well-preserved murals. Check out the coyote! Again, little is known about this structure or its murals.
If you want to know more about the culture and traditions of the people who lived in Teotihuacan, pay a visit to the Mural Museum. These paintings — some restored, some reproduced — provide a window into the spirituality, mythology and daily life of the city. Most tourists skip this part when visiting Teotihuacan, but it’s a highlight of the complex. If you go here before exploring the rest of the complex, you’ll be able to identify the fading murals in in the Palace of the Jaguars and Atetelco Palace, among others.
Practicalities for a day trip to Teotihuacan
Crowds at Teotihuacan
The first thing you need to know about visiting Teotihuacan is that it’s Mexico’s most-visited ruins site. That’s right — it gets more visitors than Wonder-of-the-World Chichen Itza. At peak times, the crowds climbing the largest two pyramids are overwhelming.
The best way to avoid the hordes of tourists? Get there early. Like 9 am early (that means leaving being on the bus from Mexico City to Teotihuacan by 7:30). Trust me on this.
What to expect from visiting Teotihuacan
The second thing you need to know is that a day trip to Teotihuacan involves a lot of walking. Even if you only visit the main ruins along the Avenue of the Dead and the museum, you’ll walk more than 4 kilometers. Add in a couple fairly steep pyramid climbs, and it makes for a long, exhausting day in the sun. Make sure you wear comfy walking shoes like these trusty Teva sandals.
Additionally, the stairways up the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon are very steep. If you’re prone to vertigo, you may want to stop halfway up. You don’t miss out on much of a view by going further.
You can buy water and snacks from a couple small shops in the park — there’s one by the museum and another by the Palace of the Jaguars. Hawkers sell water and tacky souvenirs all along the Avenue of the Dead. There is one restaurant in the park, but it looked pretty mediocre and it’s pricey. Better to enjoy a picnic in the grass along the Avenue of the Dead.
Teotihuacan entrance fee, opening hours, and how to get back to Mexico City
The Teotihuacan entrance fee is 70 pesos. Purchase your ticket from the counter the bus drops you off at. Teotihuacan opening hours start at 9 am and run until 5 pm.
Finally, when you’re ready for your Teotihuacan day trip to come to an end, head to where the bus dropped you off. Buses run frequently, but they’re crowded. You may have to stand on your way back.
You won’t regret visiting Teotihuacan on a day trip from Mexico City. It’s easy and it’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in all of Mexico! (Read about other awesome places in Mexico here.)
Have you done a Teotihuacan day trip? What did you think? Leave a comment!
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