While reading online about how to visit Teotihuacan we didn’t find much information on how to go for sunrise, but we knew we didn’t want to take an overpriced tour and go with a big group!
So what time does Teotihuacan open? The opening hours according to Google say 9am to 5pm. This is misleading because as we found out, it’s definitely possible to go earlier. You can actually enter as early as 7am and tickets cost 75 pesos per person ($4).
Believe us, it’s worth it to be there as the sun rises over the pyramids, when the hot air balloons are flying, and before tour buses arrive. However, many people don’t realize this is an option. Below you’ll find things to know before you go and the best way to visit independently for an unforgettable sunrise! If you follow our itinerary you should be done by noon, avoiding the hottest time of day and the crowds…
WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT TEOTIHUACAN
Located just a short distance from Mexico City, lies the most impressive archaeological zone in all of Mexico. The Pyramids of Teotihuacan are essentially one giant unsolved mystery. Here are some fascinating facts that we do know…
- No one knows for sure which civilization built the ancient city, but archaeologists think Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state, once inhabited by Otomi, Totonac, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya, and Nahua peoples.
- Teotihuacan is believed to have been built in 100 BC with major monuments still under construction until 250 AD.
- It was the first major city in the Americas and the largest civilization of the pre-Hispanic era. The compound covers 21 square kilometers (8 square miles) and had a population of 125,000-200,000 people at its peak.
- Although Aztecs were responsible for naming the site Teotihuacan, meaning “birthplace of the gods”, they were not its original inhabitants. The Aztecs didn’t discover Teotihuacan until the 1400s and by that time it had been abandoned for centuries.
- Archaeologists uncovered evidence of human sacrifices, most likely done to commemorate the completion of buildings and certain significant times of the year. Captives were decapitated, had their hearts removed, or were buried alive.
- The Great Goddess (Spider-woman) of Teotihuacan is the site’s most important deity. This powerful female goddess was associated with the underworld, earth, death, and creation.
- Teotihuacan was a hub of political power and economic activity, the wealth of its people came from control of the obsidian trade. Obsidian is a natural shiny black glass, that appears in volcanic areas. Because of its sharpness, it was used for spearheads, knives, tools, and weapons.
- Many of the artifacts are now inside Museo Nacional de Anthropologia (National Anthropology Museum) in Mexico City. It’s a great museum and worth seeing before you visit Teotihuacan.
- The site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
Read next: 9 Experiences You Can’t Miss in Mexico City
According to history.com
It’s unclear why Teotihuacan collapsed.
Around 600 A.D., major buildings were deliberately burned and artworks and religious sculptures were destroyed, suggesting an uprising from the poor against the ruling elite.
Another theory holds that invaders sacked and burned it—though Teotihuacan exerted its military power over other cultures, the city lacked fortifications and military structures.
Pyramids aligned with constellations and the Orion mystery
One of the things we were most surprised to learn is that the major structures of the city are astronomically aligned. They’re based on a ritual calendar of 260 days, pointing to the sunrises and sunsets of the winter and summer solstices. This calendar was used in ancient Mesoamerican societies for the timing of religious purposes and ceremonial events.
Furthermore, the alignment of the pyramid trio at Teotihuacan is almost identical to that of the three pyramids in Giza, and the alignment at both sites reflects the three stars of Orion’s Belt. Coincidence?
LAYOUT OF TEOTIHUACAN
The area contains three significant structures: the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Teotihuacan was laid out on a grid with a north-south axis, similar to other Mesoamerican cities.
Pyramid of the Sun
Pirámide del Sol is the largest monument at Teotihuacan and the third-largest pyramid in the world. It reaches 65m (213 ft) high consisting of over 3 million tons of volcanic rock. It’s estimated that it took one hundred years to build, all without any modern tools. How insane is that?
During excavations in 1971, researchers found manmade tunnels underneath the pyramid. They also found burial sites of children at the corners of the structure, leading them to believe that they were part of important sacrificial rituals.
Pyramid of the Moon
Pirámide de la Luna sits at the north end of the Avenue of the Dead and is the second tallest pyramid of Teotihuacan reaching 43m (141 ft). Its appearance seems to imitate the mountain directly behind it, Cerro Gordo, an extinct volcano.
Researchers believe the platform on the pyramid was used for public ritual sacrifice and ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. Several tombs have been unearthed containing human remains along with animal bones, weapons, statues, obsidian, and other things.
The Citadel & Temple of the Feathered Serpent
La Ciudadela is a large plaza that formed the religious and political center of the city. Templo de Quetzalcoatl is within the plaza and has alternating stone carvings of the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl and the water god, Tlaloc.
During the 1980s, more than one hundred sacrificial victims were discovered in mass graves beneath the structure. Both men and women were found. The men had weapons and were wearing necklaces made of human teeth, suggesting they were warriors.
In 2015, archaeologists found liquid mercury in a tunnel under the temple in what was thought to be a clue that could lead to a royal tomb.
Avenue of the Dead
Calzada de los Muertos is a 2.4km (1.5 miles) long path running north and south through the center of Teotihuacan. The San Juan River was redirected to run perpendicular to the avenue. The pathway was given this name because they believed the structures lining it were tombs. Recent studies have shown that they were not tombs, but small palace residences.
HOW DO YOU GET FROM MEXICO CITY TO TEOTIHUACAN BY SUNRISE?
Take an Uber
This is how we did it and we think it’s the easiest way. Be sure to check the sunrise time before you go. Keep in mind you’ll need a local SIM card or a phone with roaming enabled. Make sure to set your destination to “Piramide del Sol”, not just “Teotihuacan” as that refers to the town.
It’s about 45km from Mexico City, so plan on an hour’s drive. We recommend leaving 1-1.5 hours before sunrise in case of traffic. It should cost you between 500 and 700 pesos. Plus a toll road along the way for 77 pesos. Be sure to have your driver drop you off at Gate 2 (Puerta 2), the entrance leading directly to the Pyramid of the Sun.
Rent a car
Renting a car is always an option, but we recommend getting it the day before unless you don’t mind arriving later in the morning. There are parking lots outside all gates.
*There is an option to take the bus to Teotihuacan and it’s much less expensive, but as far as we know you won’t make it early enough for sunrise. Buses leave every 20 minutes from the Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte (Bus Station).
ITINERARY FOR TEOTIHUACAN
Begin at the Pyramid of the Sun
Pay for your tickets with the guard (75 pesos) at Gate 2 and climb up 248 steps to enjoy the sunrise with glorious views of the surrounding valley. If you’re lucky, you might even be alone up there! This was our favorite part of the whole complex.
Next head north towards the Pyramid of the Moon
Although you can only hike halfway up, the perspective of the city from the first platform is truly amazing. Snap some photos over Avenue of the Dead stretching to the south. From this viewpoint, you really feel the size and immensity of the entire complex. Be sure to spend some time taking it all in!
Head down the stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon and your next stop will be on the right, in the southwest corner of the plaza.
Visit the Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly
Don’t miss the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl where you can find intricately carved columns, well-preserved murals, and restored frescoes. This richly decorated courtyard contains images of the Teotihuacano owl symbolizing warriors and the ruling class. Rediscovered in 1962, it’s believed the area was once the home of a high ranking priest.
You can also find art inside of the Palace of the Jaguars (Palacio de los Jaguares) and the subterranean Temple of the Plumed Snails (Templo de los Caracoles Emplumados).
Make your way to the museum to learn something
Continue past the Pyramid of the Sun (notice how many more tourists are now climbing up) and follow the signs for “Museo”. The entrance fee is included in the original ticket and it’s nice to learn more about the civilizations that lived there. The signage is bilingual.
There’s a diorama of the ancient city, some pottery, and recreations of the burial sites. Our favorite part was the virtual reality experience. The presentation is in Spanish, but the 3D visuals are impressive enough that you’ll enjoy the ride even if you don’t understand it all. You’ll also find baños here.
Take a lunch break
After climbing stairs all morning our legs were burning and our stomachs were growling. We brought lunch with us and found a low key spot to have a picnic. The botanic garden next to the museum offers some nice shade.
If you don’t pack a lunch, there are also places to eat outside the different gates and you can re-enter the site with your ticket. La Gruta is a popular restaurant located in a cave outside Gate 5.
Head south towards the Temple of Quetzalcoatl & La Ciudadela
It’s a long sunny walk down the Avenue of the Dead for your final stop of the day. There are several excavated sites you can explore and you’ll also get a glimpse of the San Juan River.
When you reach the end of the road, you’ll find the Temple of the Feathered Serpent on your left. Climb up the stairs for a nice view. This is where most people begin, but if you’re taking our advice we recommend doing things in reverse and ending here!
GETTING BACK TO CDMX
You’ll exit the site through Gate 1. If you drove a rental car you’ll need to get back to Gate 2. You can either walk back or grab a taxi waiting outside of Gate 1. You can also hire an Uber from here.
If you want to save a little money you can take the bus back to Central de Norte. The bus stop is a 5-minute walk from Gate 1. It costs 52 pesos/person and takes about an hour. From the bus station, you can catch a cab or take the metro back into the city.
USEFUL TIPS & WHAT TO BRING
- Leave extra early to catch the sunrise
- Plan to spend 4-5 hours at the site
- Avoid Sundays if possible, the most crowded day of the week
- Bring some snacks or pack a lunch and take plenty of water
- Wear shoes suitable for walking/climbing
- Bring warm clothes if you’re going early in the morning, it can be colder than you think
- Alternatively, it can be hot during the day and there’s little shade, pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses
Like many other archeological sites, most of the fun is imagining what it must’ve been like during its peak. What makes any visit to Teotihuacan fascinating is that there is so little known about its origin. It makes you wonder if the gods really were born here…
Looking for another cultural experience? Celebrating Day of the Dead in Oaxaca
Are you going to visit Teotihuacan for sunrise or have you been? Let us know your thoughts below…