Traveling to Mexico is an experience like no other, and your journey is not complete without visiting at least one of the impressive archaeological sites in Mexico.
Some of the greatest attractions of Mexico are the archaeological sites that grace the land and history of the country. From the pyramids of ancient cities to stone altars dedicated to the gods, each of the archaeological sites in Mexico is truly one of a kind. These ancient treasures speak to the rich history and wealth of beauty that can be found in Mexico.
The following article from Go Mexico Guide names the top archaeological sites in Mexico to put on your bucket list. Take a peek at what makes Mexican culture so extraordinary…
Top 10 Archaeological Sites in Central Mexico
by LAURA on AUGUST 22, 2010
in CENTRAL HIGHLANDS,DESTINATIONS,MEXICO CITY
Many of Mexico’s most impressive archaeological sites are located in the southern state of Chiapas and on the Yucatán Peninsula, but visitors to Mexico who plan to travel in and around Mexico City also have the opportunity to marvel at some of the country’s ancient man-made wonders. There are many lesser-known archaeological sites located in the central highlands, some just an easy day trip from the capital. The architecture of these sites may be less visually stunning or well-restored, but the experience is often far more unique and memorable. There are fewer crowds, the structures are open to climbing and entrance fees are rarely more than a few dollars.
1. Teotihuacán – Mexico, Mexico
Arguably the most well-known archaeological site in central Mexico, the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacán is a must-see attraction for visitors to Mexico City. Located about an hour northeast of the city in Mexico state, Teotihuacan was once Mexico’s largest ancient city. Teotihuacan’s main attractions are two spectacular pyramids, Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and Piramide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon). The Pyramid of the Sun is the third-largest pyramid in the world, surpassed in size only by Egypt’s Cheops and Pyramid Tepanapa in Cholula. Visiting Teotihuacan from Mexico City is easy. Autobuses Mexico-San Juan Teotihuacan runs buses from Mexico’s North Bus Terminal to the ruins with departures every 15 minutes.
2. Calixtlahuaca – Mexico, Mexico
Located in the Toluca Valley in the central Mexican highlands, Calixtlahuaca was the capital city of the Matlatzinca culture. Calixtlahuaca is one of the few ancient Aztec-period cities where both the impressive architecture and extensive residential districts are preserved. Calixtlahuaca was first excavated in the 1930′s and a life-sized stone sculpture of Ehecatl, the Aztec god of wind was discovered in the site’s largest circular temple. Since 2006 a team of archaeologists from Arizona State University have been working at Calixtlahuaca and their findings have led them to conclude that the site is the third-largest Aztec-period city in central Mexico. The Calixtlahuaca archaeological site is located 10km outside of Toluca, the capital of Mexico state.
3. Teotenango – Mexico, Mexico
Visitors to Calixtlahuaca may also want to check out the ruins at nearby Teotenango. Located 25km south of Toluca in the Matlatzinco Valley, Teotenango was an important pre-Hispanic city originally founded by the Teotenancas and later conquered by the Matlatzincas. Only a small part of the 1400 meter site has been excavated and preserved. Visitors can tour more than 40 excavated and partially-restored monuments. The main entrance to the city is through the Plaza of the Jaguar marked by a carved image of a seated jaguar shown wearing a medallion around its neck and eating something resembling a flower or heart. The Teotenango archaeological site is situated on Tetépetl Hill just west of the town of Tenango de Arista.
4. Xochicalco – Morelos, Mexico
A Unesco World Heritage Site and one of central Mexico’s most important archaeological sites, Xochicalco is believed to have been the commercial, cultural or religious center of the Toltec, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec and Aztec cultures. The site is made up of a collection of white stone ruins covering an area of nearly 10 sq. km. Xochicalco’s most impressive structure is the Piramide de Quetzalcoatl which is covered in intricate stone carvings. The entire site is situated atop a plateau and offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. While it’s possible to visit Xochicalco on a day-trip from Mexico City, the site is best visited from nearby Cuernavaca.
5. Tula – Hidalgo, Mexico
Believed to have been the capital of the ancient Toltec civilization, the archaeological ruins at Tula are perched on a hilltop offering excellent panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Tula is best-known for the 4.5m-high sculpted stone warrior figures. The archaeological site is smaller and architecturally less impressive than Teotihuacan, but still well-deserving of a visit from Mexico City. The ruins are located north of Mexico City just outside the town of Tula de Allenda in the state of Hidalgo. Frequent first-class buses travel between Mexico City’s north bus terminal and Tula. The ride takes an hour and 45 minutes each way.
6. Tepozteco – Morelos, Mexico
Located in the small town of Tepoztlán just 80km south of Mexico City, the Tepozteco Pyramid is situated on the edge of a massive cliff that overlooks the town. The Tepozteco Pyramid was built in honor of Tepoztécatl, the Aztec god of the harvest, fertility and pulque. From the well-preserved historic center of Tepoztlán, the pyramid appears as nothing more than a speck towering nearly 400m overhead. More impressive than the pyramid itself, which is only 10m high, is its remote location. The archaeological site can only be reached by a steep stone staircase that begins in town and snakes up the hillside for nearly 2km. Both the town and pyramid can be visited on a day-trip from Mexico City, if you get an early start. Frequent first-class buses travel between Mexico City’s south bus terminal and Tepoztlán. The ride takes 1.5 hours each way.
7. Cantona – Puebla, Mexico
One of the most remote archaeological sites on the list, the well-preserved ancient city of Cantona receives very few visitors. The site is believed to have been the single largest urban center in Mesoamerica. The ancient city was constructed without the use of mortar to hold the stones together and an extensive network of raised roads connect the residential structures. There are also several small pyramids and a central acropolis. Cantona is rather isolated, located far from any major towns or cities and there is no public transportation to the site. Taxis are available for hire in the nearest town of Oriental. From there it’s a 30 minute drive to the site.
8. Tepanapa – Puebla, Mexico
Located in small town of Cholula just outside the city of Puebla in Puebla state, the Tepanapa Pyramid is the widest pyramid ever built. Terribly overgrown and topped by the brightly colored Santuario de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, these days the pyramid more closely resembles a large hill than an actual archaeological wonder. There are miles of tunnels running throughout the inside of the pyramid that are open to the public to explore. Visitors can climb the long, steep staircase to visit the church at the top. Piramide Tepanapa is an easy day-trip from nearby Puebla. Frequent colectivos shuttle travelers back and forth. Estrella Roja runs hourly buses between Mexico City’s TAPO bus terminal and Puebla which stop in Cholula.
9. Yohualichán – Puebla, Mexico
One of the highlights of a visit to Yohualichán is the drive through the hills to get there. Located about six hours east of Mexico City and just 8km from the nearby town of Cuetzalan, Yohualichan offers great views of the coast. The site consists of several pyramids in varying states of ruin. Colectivos and pick-up trucks shuttle passengers between Cuetzalan and Yohualichán. Hourly buses travel between Puebla and Cuetzalan. The ride takes approximately four hours. Six daily buses make the journey from Mexico City’s TAPO bus terminal and Cuetzalan.
10. Cacaxtla – Tlaxcala, Mexico
The vividly painted frescoes on display at Cacaxtla include a nearly life-size jaguar and eagle warriors engaged in battle. Discovered as recently as 1975, Cacaxtla is the subject of much interest and speculation as many of the murals depict symbols of Mayan influence originating in southeastern Mexico. Located just 2km away, the older ruins at Xochitécatl feature two pyramids, one wide and one circular. The Piramide de las Flores at Xochitécatl is the fourth widest pyramid in Latin America. Cacaxtla and Xochitécatl are located 20km southwest of Tlaxcala and 32km northwest of Puebla. Frequent buses and colectivos travel between the sites and both cities.
The legacy left behind by each archaeological site in Mexico is a powerful reminder of the struggles and triumphs of this country’s people.
For a broader listing of archaeological sites in Mexico – covering many ancient cultures and traditions – visit this article from About.com. If you’re traveling to the Yucatan Peninsula or have a special interest in Mayan culture, Loco Gringo takes you on a tour of Maya archaeological sites in Mexico.
Here at Casa Blanca Mexican Restaurants, we take an extra special interest in recreating some of the rich traditions of ancient Mexican culture. While we can’t boast of any archaeological sites here, our authentic Mexican cuisine and warm, friendly atmosphere is almost like taking a vacation from your daily life… without the plane tickets. So when you can’t take a ride to one of the Mexican archaeological sites, you could visit any one of our 3 Massachusetts locations for a taste of Mexico!