I’m a pyramid fanatic.
I love exploring pre-Columbian archaeological sites.
It’s one of the things I liked best about living in Mexico City – it’s bursting at the seams with ancient Aztec ruins.
So if you’re in La Capital and want to see some pyramids – where should you start?
Well, Mexico City is a huge metropolis.
So I’ll split this list into two parts:
First, pyramids inside the City.
And then, pyramids located outside city limits (but still close enough for day trips).
Pyramids Inside Mexico City
Let’s start with the ones inside…
1) Templo Mayor
The most popular Mexico City pyramid sits at the heart of CDMX, in what is now el Centro. Many tourists visit this place, since it’s easy to get to and close to other important sites. The original pyramid was mostly destroyed by the Spanish, and the stones used to build the Metropolitan Cathedral next door. But you can still see the old temple foundation, along with surviving sculptures, including the famous Altar of Skulls. The ticket price includes entry to the world-class Templo Mayor museum; filled with amazing artifacts. Don’t miss it, it’s one of the best in the City! For more information visit their site – Templo Mayor.
A hidden gem on the extreme northern outskirts of Mexico City. This finely crafted and well-preserved pyramid once stood on the shores of the now dried-up Lake Texcoco. The builders were serpent-worshippers, so this pyramid is ringed on three side by 138 large rattlesnake sculptures. Tenayuca is the earliest known example of the typical Aztec double-pyramid style (joined bases supporting two temples). This pyramid is far away from the normal tourist circuit. So it was totally vacant when I went there. Be sure to visit the small museum attached to the site – it’s worth exploring. Get more information about Tenayuca.
3) Santa Cecilia Acatitlan
This small Aztec pyramid is just ten minutes away from Tenayuca by car. So it’s best to visit both sites in the same trip. Unfortunately, Santa Cecilia is not 100% original. The Spanish destroyed most of it and they used the stones to build the Church next door. But the old pyramid was totally reconstructed during the 1970’s. So while it’s not original, it’s still a great little pyramid. And again, it’s so far off the beaten path that I had the place totally to myself when I was there. The adjacent museum is tiny, but it has some nice pre-Columbian artifacts to look at. Learn more about Santa Cecilia Acatitlan.
4) Tlatelolco – Plaza de Las Tres Culturas
A must-see site for archaeology lovers. This place is actually a ruined Aztec city, with multiple pyramids, altars, and other structures. These ruins are extremely well-preserved and well-displayed. You can meander all over them on a fenced-in path, exploring hidden nooks and crannies. The main pyramid here is an almost-exact replica of the pyramid at Tenayuca. There’s also an old Spanish Cathedral and a museum right next door – both worth visiting. Tlatelolco was the site of the infamous Mexico City Massacre in 1968, and there’s a monument memorializing the student protesters killed here. Get more info on Tlatelolco.
My favorite pyramid sits in far south CDMX, at the southern end of Avenida Insurgentes. Cuicuilco is different from the others – it’s a round, stepped structure (not pyramid-shaped). It’s not well-known, but some would say it’s the most important site on this list. Built long before the Aztecs ever existed – the age of this ancient building is heavily disputed. Conservative estimates date it at 2,000 years old. Others say it’s closer to 12,000. Either way, it’s almost certainly the oldest building in Mexico, and probably the oldest building in North America. According to some theories, the people who built Teotihuacán were originally from Cuicuilco. Make sure to walk around the complex. Some of the best parts, like the old staircase and a creepy tunnel, are behind the main structure. Skip the museum. Learn more about Cuicuilco.
6) Cerro de la Estrella (Star Hill)
Another favorite. This hill-top Aztec pyramid is located in a sketchy, poor part of the City. But even though Iztapalapa can be dangerous, there’s a police academy training ground located here. So once you get through the barrio, the park itself is safe. This is one of the hardest pyramids to get to, simply because it’s located on top of a very steep hill. No driving allowed, you’ve gotta be in shape if you want to see this one! But it’s well worth it. The view from the summit is spectacular – one of the best in the City. Tourist stay away from this place, and there were only a handful of locals when I visited. You can skip the museum, it’s small and sparse. See here for more information on Cerro de la Estrella.
This small pyramid complex sits next to a busy freeway. It’s easy to access, just a few blocks away from the San Antonio Metro station. Dedicated to the Aztec hunting god Mixcoatl, this place has interesting black and white stone construction. While it’s mostly just ruined foundations, there are still a few buildings big enough here to climb and explore. Unfortunately Mixcoac is almost always closed! So I visited this place, but didn’t actually get inside. Call ahead if you go. Learn more about Mixcoac.
8) Ehecatl’s Pyramid (Metro Pino Suárez)
Did you know that one of the finest ruins in Mexico City sits right in the middle of a busy subway station? It’s true. This tiny pyramid is dedicated to Ehecatl, the Aztec wind god. It was discovered during the construction of Metro Pino Suárez. Rather than move or destroy the pyramid, they built the station around it! That makes this site very easy to visit. If you want to see it, buy a subway ticket and get to the Pino Suárez station! Once you’re there, follow the signs, it’s hard to miss. Get more information here.
Pyramids Outside CDMX
And now here are some pyramids located outside Mexico City.
All are close enough for a day trip.
There is only one way to describe this legendary place: fucking spectacular! If you only visit one archaeological site in all of Mexico, it should be Teotihuacán. A UNESCO world heritage site, “The Place Where Men Become Gods” was standing long before the Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico. No one knows who built it. But evidence shows it was a place of human and animal sacrifice on a massive scale. The ancient city is made up of multiple world-class pyramids. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third-largest on the planet; it’s meant to resemble the surrounding mountains. Just a short walk down the Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Moon is smaller and more feminine but just as cool. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent displays an impressive array of Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl god-heads. Learn more about Teotihuacán.
An amazing and little-known spot in the Toluca Valley. This is a full-on ancient city located on a hill top. Wanna feel like Indiana Jones? This is the place to be. It’s so big that you can literally get lost exploring it. Some say that the people who who built Teotihuacán later built Teotenango. And it’s easy to see why. Many of the structures here have a distinct Teotihuacán-like feel. And even the name is similar. Exploring this place can take all day – so be sure to pack correctly. Find out more about Teotenango.
11) El Tepozteco
A small pyramid located in Morelos, south of CDMX. Perched high on a mountain overlooking a traditional Mexican pueblito. The structure itself is not that impressive. It’s just a small pyramid dedicated to Tepoztecatl, the Aztec god of pulque. But it’s worth a visit for it’s location alone! It’s only accessible by climbing a steep rocky path up the jungle-covered mountain-side. Needless to say, it’s an adventure. Despite the tough location – this place was crowded with tourists and locals when I went there. Learn more about El Tepozteco.
12) The Great Pyramid of Cholula
The largest pyramid in the world isn’t in Egypt. It’s in Puebla, Mexico – just a few hours south east of Mexico City. Unfortunately, this is the only site on my list that I haven’t visited! But if you love archaeology, and you’ve got the time, it’s well worth the visit and an easy day trip from Mexico City. I’ll update this one after I visit it. Get more info on the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
Of course this just scratches the surface – there are dozens of other archaeological sites all over Mexico.
But if you want to see the pyramids of Mexico City, then this list is a good place to start!
Read More: 7 Reasons Why I Hate Mexico City