Mexico is the country with a very rich and diverse culture. It’s greatly pictured by The Archaeological Museum in Mexico City. On vast areas there are still visible the traces of the influence of different cultures, not only Incas or Mayas but other tribes as well. One of the most interesting remains are pyramids, but as Mexicans themselves put it, it’s not their correct definition. Mexican pyramids differ diametrically from the Egyptian ones. They can be found practically in every part of Mexico but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to see them all. But some of them are woth it.
I managed to see Chichén Itzá, Teotihuacán, Tulum and Cholula. Each of these places is unique in its own way and has a different character. Personally I was impressed most by Teotihuacán and Tulum. While I got a bit disappointed by Chichén Itzá.
Mexico: piramides in Chichén Itzá
Every year, regardless the season, the archaeological stand in Chichén Itzá at Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico attracts crowds of tourists from all over the world. It mainly comes from the fact that it’s entered into UNESCO World Heritage List and in 2007 was included into the seventh new wonders of the world. The excavations, which had been going on since 1924, revealed the remains of many monuments but compared to , let’s say, Tulum these aren’t very impressive collections. Despite that, Chichen Itza is visited practically by everyone who comes to famous resort of Cancun or the area of Mayan Riviera. Chichen Itza can be visited either on your own or with a guide. The second option is definitely more interesting as there are no signs or descriptions on site. Meanwhile a guide will tell you about the distinctive Mayan architecture and will reveal some secrets on the city inhabitants’ life, their entertainment, victims and some discoveries. Each guide has their own version, so your final impression will depend mainly on them.
The biggest and at the same time the best preserved attraction of this pre-Columbian Mayan city is El Castillo, which is Pyramid of Kukulcan consisting of 9 terraces and 365 steps (as many as days in a year). It can be usually seen in postcards from Chichen Itza. The structure itself is quite impressive but unfortunately you can’t get inside it or walk on it. While a guide will reveal you its secrets of the 365th step, which is an entrance to the temple (I will say no more in order not to spoil the fun).
Another interesting thing to see is the biggest sports field in Mesoamerica to play ullamatizli namely pelota. I must admit that the story explaining the rules is really intriguing especially that the defeat equals death. It’s especially interesting how the Mayas could make use of the laws of physics in practice. Bass-relieves of warriors got very well preserved at walls as well.
The third structure worth recommending is the Temple of Warriors (Templo de los Guerreros) with the columns in the shape of feathered snakes and warriors, and also the group of thousand columns where each column is decorated with bass-relives, the Temple of Jaguar and astronomical observatory El Caracol (Snail) from which priests used to announce the time of rites, sowing and harvesting.
The western and southern parts are connected with Mayan culture while the northern one with the Toltec culture. The name of the city, however, derives from the name of two holly reservoirs in which vicinity it was established. These reservoirs were used as the place for making an offering and are called cenote. There are plenty of them here, especially in Yucatan, and it would be a sin not to bathe in one. A visiting with a short bath of about 30 minutes is usually offered in a trip to Chichen Itza. It’s definitely worth it. I especially recommend cenote Ik Kil. It makes an impression right after you arrive. It looks like a huge rocky well overgrown by grapevine. It order to take a swim you need to go a few meters down. Besides swimming in quite cold water of a peculiar colour there’s also a possibility of taking jumps while hanging on a rocking rope, which is a very good fun.
Mexico: piramides in Tulum
Having visited Chichen Itza it’s worth, if time permits, visiting Tulum. It will be a nice surprise especially that the pyramids are situated at the seaside in the vicinity of the jungle which is especially picturesque. It’s good to go there in the afternoon and stay until a sunset to have a chillout in a hippie village. We’ll see the difference as soon as we enter. First of all we are surrounded by lush vegetation and palms, which is something we won’t see in steppe Chichen Itza.
Another distinct difference concerns the extensiveness of the area. There are more objects and the distances among them are greater, thanks to it Tulum provides you with an unforgettable walk inside the Mayan city. Thanks to its location, which is on a 12-meter cliff of the Caribbean Sea, we can admire not only ruins of the pyramids but also unforgettable views in Tulum. Among the main attractions there are an observation tower El Castillo, which functions as a lighthouse (especially in postcards).
Opposite it there is the Temple of Frescos (Templo de los Frescos) with the frescos of Toltec artists (the same ones who performed also in Chichen Itza) and The Temple of Descending God Templo del Dios Desendente with bass-relief of Ab Muxen Caba (God of bees).
If only it’s not too late, it’s worth going down the stairs to a beautiful Paradise Beach. We didn’t manage, unfortunately, as they were already closing. Nothing is lost, however. Having left the excavation area you only go right and get to another beach with white sand. But watch out for mosquitos. From there you have a straight concrete road leading to the exit.
You can get to the ruins by car, as we got there with a Mexican friend, or by bus. On our way we also saw a pair of Polish hitch-hikers so you can try this as well. However, it’s not typical in Mexico and surely not safe. While going by bus you’ve got to remember that the ruins aren’t situated in the contemporary city of Tulum but much further. You’ve got to get off at a bus stop Zona Arqueologica.
Mexico: piramides in Teotihuacan
This is the place where the size impressive Aztec pyramids of Sun and Moon are situated. Compared to them Chichen Itza looks easy-peasy. It’s number one on my list of pyramids due to its impressiveness and incredible energy that can be felt while sightseeing. What’s more, the Pyramid of Sun can be entered, which constitutes an additional attraction. You have to be very fit, however, as there are 234 steps to cover. The view spreading from each of them is so breath-taking which explains why according to Indian myths the world was to be created here. It is the place where the light separated from the darkness. The Sun and the Moon were created. Another legend says that this metropolis was created by giants called Quinametin as they were created without the use of metal tools.
The pyramids are located around one hour away from Mexico City so it’s the best to take a direct bus from there. There are a few of them during a day from eg. Terminal del Norte. Unlike Tulum or Chichen Itza, the sightseeing will take us a few hours so morning hours are the best. If it’s possible don’t go there on Sunday as it’s very crowded then.
The journey itself isn’t tiring and the entertainment is provided by local salesmen who get on at average every 15 minutes. Some of them will be selling maps, others pens or sun cream.
Right after you arrive and get to the entrance gate you’ll start getting accosted by guides. Just like it was in Chichen Itza I definitely recommend it. In this way you’ll find out some more. We happened to have a young guy who also took us to an art workshop where not only could we find out how the Aztec people produced paints to use for frescos but we also had a chance to try local liquors including mezcalu and cacti liquor. Later, if you feel like of course, you can do shopping but nobody will be persuading you to do it. Guides have cars at their disposal so it’s so convenient especially when we travel with kids. The area is vast and the distances to cover are quite large.
Having visited a few smaller objects we can take a 2-kilometre walk down an alley called Calzada de los Muertos (Alley of the Dead). It connects the pyramids of Sun and Moon with the Temple of Tlaloc– the god of the rains (Templo de Quetzalcoatia). The name derives from tombs and temples that are allegedly situated along the way. There is also the Palace of Quetzalpapaloti. At the back of it there is Patio de los Jaguares (Patio of Jaguars) with murals of jaguars and frescos.
Later, if we are still fit to do it, we can climb the Pyramid of the Sun (Piramide del Sol), which is the third highest pyramid in the world. It’s 65 meters high and weights 3 million tons so it does make an impression. From its top we can admire beautiful views and a little smaller Pyramid of the Moon (45 meters high), Piramide de la Luna. One can climb it as well to admire a beautiful view over the excavation site and the whole area. You can see the most from this place.
The excavation works at the area of Teotihuacan are still in progress, so it’s possible that in the future some other places will be available for tourists, for instance 100-meter cave under Pyramid of the Sun which, for now, isn’t available for tourists.
Mexico: piramides in Cholula (Tlachihualtepetl)
This pyramid located in Cholula in the state of Puebla is one of the kind. Mainly you can hardly see it and at first glance it looks like a hill. The Pyramid is in honour of one of the most important Gods of Mesoamerica- Quetzalcoati, namely Feathered Snake.
Right after we get off a bus we notice a huge mountain with a magnificent church Nuestra Senora de los Remedios. With a busy market place around it. It’s hard to believe we are at the foot of the biggest, by volume, pyramid in the world (over three million meters). Its building time is also impressive as it was being constructed for almost 1200 years. It kept falling into decay for ages. Only a few years ago its renovated part was made available to tourists.
Its visiting starts with going underground where there is a 1-kilometre trail with narrow tunnels especially prepared for tourists. We can see the complexity of the pyramid and the difference in its levels. Its arrangement reveals that there was one pyramid built on the other every half a century.
After we leave, we can head towards the archaeological site and then visit a church which is also very impressing but not as much as church of San Francisco Acatepec, which is all made of gold inside. I guess never in my life have I seen such a splendour in just one place. There’s no possibility of taking pictures inside but you can purchase them outside. Unfortunately, they aren’t of a good quality. Besides this one, we’ll see as many as several of them in town as Cholula is called the City of Churches and according to a guide there are allegedly 365 of them, as many as days in a year.
If we get to Cholula from Mexico City, it’s worth visiting the town of Puebla as well. You can take a bus from Puebla to Cholula for less than 8 pesos.