I visited the best archaeological sites in Mexico – which pyramids are worth visiting?
If there is one thing I’ve always considered orgasmic, it is the history of Mexico. I have been fascinated by the archaeological sites in Mexico and the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, Tolteca, Mixteca tribes and all the other native Indians living in the Mesoamerica. I’ve been obsessed with those cultures since I started studying Spanish which was when I was at the secondary school
I even wrote both of my BA and my final MA University thesis about the Aztecs, their religion, sacrifices, pyramids and their Gods. I loved to learn about the topic and wrote almost 100 pages in around 3 weeks.
To visit Mexico was one of my biggest dreams. Not just because of white sand beaches and light blue sea, tasty food or lovely people who are happy even when they do not own anything. I couldn’t wait any more to walk around the Mexican ruins which fill me up with joy and eternal happiness.
Three months of traveling from one place to another were not enough to visit all the ruins in Mexico. But I did visit quite a few. And then when I returned again and again, I would add a new pyramid to my list.
The best archaeological sites in Mexico
I started my exploration in the state of Querétaro with the not very known El Cerrito pyramid – you can’t climb this pyramid which was populated by Teotihuacan, Toltec, Chichimec and Otomis Indians. A local friend of mine from Queretaro took me there on a day trip. It was there where I found out that many hills around Mexico have hidden pyramids under them, that are unexcavated yet and were overgrown with vegetation.
Then, in the state of Jalisco, I continued with quite newly discovered Guachimontones archaeological site probably built by the Teuchitlán tribe. Guachimontones is one of the only two round pyramids in Mexico, together with Cuicuilco close to Mexico City which I didn’t get the chance to visit yet. I could feel interesting energy at Guachimontones. Something different.
When I crossed some more states along the Pacific coast, I got to Oaxaca state and visited two very different ruins: a hill covered with big Monte Albán site of Zapotec origin and a few km away smaller Mitla of both Zapotec and Mixtec origin.
In the deep Lacandon jungle of Chiapas (when it comes to the natural wonders, the nicest out of 32 states of Mexico) my breath was taken away by three Mayan settlements: Palenque, Bonampak and even deeper in the woods next to the Guatemalan bourder also Yaxchilan. Each one of them is totally different from the others. Palenque is huge, then very colourful Bonampak and so mysterious Yaxchilan full of howler monkeys.
I could not miss probably the most famous Mayan ruins of Mexico – Chichén Itzá in the state of Yucatan. Togethe with Chichen, I explored also Uxmal – both during the day and the night light show. During my visit in October 2014 I also had a chance to explore Ek Balam located in the same Mexican state of Yucatan.
Finally coming to the Quintana Roo state, there were two more ruins I was dying to visit. Both of Maya origin, Tulum ruins on the cliff overlooking the sea, and Coba ruins in the jungle. The Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba is the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula.
On the way back to Mexico City, I spent a couple of days in Puebla, where I didn’t love just its colourful streets but 10 minutes away I fell in love with another archeological site Cholula with the biggest Mexican pyramid in its days. Cholula is considered to be the largest pyramid in the world.
But not all the ruins are set somewhere in the jungle. In the pure city centre of Mexico City, just a few metres from the Cathedral, there’s situated Templo Mayor which was the main temple of the Aztecs in their Tenochtitlan capital.
The last archaeological site I visited in Mexico was the biggest one and one of the two most famous ones – Teotihuacán. Sitting up on top of the Pyramid of the Sun with great company and observing the huge Alley of the Death rebuilt by the Aztecs was something I will remember for ever and ever.
Beside the best archaeological sites in Mexico, I also visited three archaeological museums full of great pieces: Cultural Centre of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca town, La Venta Museum of the Olmecs in Villahermosa and the biggest and most famous – the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
There is a huge number of archaeological sites in Mexico. I’ve heard that it’s around 38,000.
1,864 archaeological sites are supposed to be somewhere just in the Yucatan peninsula, so imagine their number in the whole country. The number of discovered ruins is growing every day. Unfortunately, for now we have to satisfy our archaeological needs with a very small percentage of discovered ruins which are open for public.
During my second visit to Mexico in May 2013, I went again to Teotihuacan to regain magical energy. On the way there we stopped for a while at Tlatelolco at the Square of the Three Cultures in Mexico City. It was my third visit to Mexico City and even after studying so much about Mexico at the University, it was the first time I even heard of those ruins! They took my breath away! Tlatelolco is one of the best examples to observe how the Spaniards tried to convert the native inhabitants into Catholicism and built churches on top of the their pyramids and temples.
Archaeological sites I visited in Mexico:
- Tlatelolco in Mexico City – Aztec ruins
- Templo Mayor in Mexico City – Aztec ruins
- Teotihuacan – Teotihuacan/ Aztec ruins
- El Cerrito – Teotihuacan, Chichimec, Toltec and Otomis ruins
- Cholula – Toltec-Chichimec ruins
- Guachimontones – probably Teuchitlan ruins
- Monte Alban – Zapotec ruins
- Mitla – Zapotec and Mixtec ruins
- Yaxchilan – Mayan ruins
- Bonampak – Mayan ruins
- Palenque – Mayan ruins
- Chichen Itza – Mayan ruins
- Uxmal – Mayan ruins
- Coba – Mayan ruins
- Tulum – Mayan ruins
- Ixchel temple ruins in Punta Sur of Isla Mujeres – Mayan ruins
- Ek Balam – Yucatec-Mayan ruins
- Archaeological site in Xcaret – Mayan ruins
- Xel-Ha – Mayan ruins
- La Venta in Villahermosa town in Tabasco – open air Museum with Olmec ruins and artifacts
TIPS when visiting pyramids in Mexico
Each archaeological site of Mexico is absolutely different from all the others. However, there are some tips for all of them:
- it is always really hot at all the ruins so take just very light clothes
- wear a hat or a cap or anything to cover your head
- take a BPA-free plastic bottle of water with you. You will definitely need loads of water when climbing up the pyramids. Remember, that you cannot buy anything inside the area of many archaelogical sites.
- go to the toilet before you enter the archaeological site as there’s usually no bathrooms right next to the ruins
- you have to pay an extra fee if you enter with a video camera, but not with a digital photo camera. But many times it’s possible to hide it (not that I’m saying you should 😀 )
- it is much better to visit with a tour guide who will explain you the history of the ruins. If you do not go with a travel agency and have no guide with you, there are many available local guides waiting at the entrance to the ruins. But discuss the price beforehand. And the bigger group you are, the lower the price per person. Deal!
- climb only the pyramids that are open to public. Not all of them are still alowed to climb. I was told that sooner or later every single pyramid will be closed for climbing, so do it now when it’s still possible… Go up and enjoy the view!
I learned one more thing:
- The archaeologists are trying to get to the point when the visitors will be able just to enter the ruins but not to get to the top of the pyramids, as they are being destroyed by walking. Said in a very unpleasant way, each time a visitor falls down from the pyramid or get seriously hurt, the pyramid is closed for climbing ever since. The same happened with the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo) in Chichén Itzá which INAH closed for climbing after a female visitor fell down from and died in 2006.
TIP: All the Mexican pyramids are just one of the 26 reasons why I love Mexico.