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7 Best Aztec Ruins in Mexico (Photos, Opening Hours, and More)

Aztec ruins in Mexico
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The Aztecs were ruthless warriors, canny economists, and devoted god worshippers. Mexico is strewn with their cities, statues, and monuments—some will take your breath away, whereas others barely deserve a second glance. And we know exactly which are which. We are Jan and Karin, and we will show you the best Aztec ruins in Mexico

Aztec ruins in Mexico

This is why everybody hated the Aztecs 

The Aztecs were no innocent peace lovers. On the contrary. They were fond of money and blood. What do we know about this odious ancient tribe of Mexico?  

Aztec warrior in a mask

The Aztec Empire was a military confederation of three cities: 

  • Tenochtitlan 
  • Texcoco 
  • Tlacopan 

The term “Aztecs” is often used not only to refer to the members of the empire, but also in a broader sense, to describe all tribes in Central Mexico who spoke the Nahuatl language from 1300 to 1521 AD

The Aztecs were bloodthirsty warriors, canny economists, and devoted worshippers. Result? Everybody who wasn’t an Aztec hated the Aztecs. They demanded large tributes from the tribes they ruled and indulged in human sacrifice. It’s said that once, in the course of only four days, they slaughtered 80,000 prisoners of war.  

When the infamous Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés arrived in 1521, he was a welcomed savior for many of the oppressed tribes. Several city states helped the Spanish, they overthrew the Aztec Empire together and started a new chapter of history. 

Fun fact: The Aztecs were also called the Mexica. That’s where the name of Mexico comes from. 

These are the top 7 Aztec ruins you shouldn’t miss when you travel in Mexico

1. Tenochtitlan 

Tenochtitlan, former center of the Aztec Empire

Today’s Mexico City is entirely built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the city state which served as the capital of the realm. That means: whenever you’re in Mexico City, you’re in the center of the Aztec Empire! Tenochtitlan covered approximately 13 square kilometers (5 square miles) of land and was home to 200,000 people. That’s almost twice as many as the number of people who live in modern-day Cambridge. 

Tenochtitlan was the most influential city state of its epoch. The Aztec ruler Montezuma, residing in Tenochtitlan, supposedly ruled a total of 5 million people in the whole realm. That was before Hernán Cortés came and conquered Tenochtitlan because the Aztecs were butchers and everybody hated their guts.  

2. Teotihuacan 

Teotihuacan, city with Aztec pyramids and temples

Teotihuacan is shrouded in a cloud of mystery—nobody, not even the biggest brains of our time, knows who built it. The Aztecs discovered the city already abandoned. They gave it a fitting name: “the place where the gods were created”.  

Tourists from the whole world admire the monumental buildings in the large archeological site, including the famous Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, or the Temple of Kukulcán. As it’s just an hour’s drive from Mexico City, so make sure to squeeze it into your Mexico itinerary! 

Travel tip: Make your trip to Teotihuacan extraordinary by booking a balloon flight or Tequila tasting. You’ll find numerous possibilities on the internet. 

  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 5 PM 
  • Price: 80 Mexican pesos (4 US dollars) 

3. El Tajín 

Temple in the Aztec city El Tajín

 

El Tajín was an Aztec city which flourished between 600 and 1200 AD, mostly thanks to its strategic position next to important trading routes. It extends for 10 square kilometers (4 square miles), which is not a lot. But what makes the ruins stand out is not the extension—it’s the structures, which are absolutely unique and can’t be seen anywhere else in Mexico. 

The most popular building in the complex is the Pyramid of the Niches (in the picture), made of flagstones and richly decorated. Whoever built it had a good sense of design.   

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM 
  • Price: 80 Mexican pesos (4 US dollars) 

4. Tepozteco 

Tepozteco, Aztec ruins on a hill

 

Not only is Tepozteco one of the most interesting Aztec ruins in Mexico, it also completely makes up for a gym. The temple overlooks the town of Tepoztlán from a hill, and you’ll have to work up a sweat to get there. 

Tepozteco is an Aztec temple devoted to the god of pulque, an alcoholic beverage traditionally made in Central Mexico. The ruin only has two chambers so don’t expect miracles. But what you can expect is a hike rewarding you with spectacular views from the mountaintop. 

(Have you noticed that most ancient religions worship a god of alcohol? Dionysus in Greece, Bacchus in Rome, Nephthys in Egypt… Which means pouring yourself a good dram of, let’s say, Tequila, is nothing bad! Have a look at my guide to the beverages and food in Mexico.

Travel tip: Don’t drive right under the hill—the streets there are extremely narrow and full of one-ways. Instead, find a parking space in one of the private gardens where locals offer parking for 10 pesos (50 US cents). 

  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 6 PM 
  • Price: 55 Mexican pesos (2.75 US dollars) 

5. Templo Mayor 

Aztec statue in Templo Mayor, Mexico

Mexico City’s zócalo hides one Aztec treasure—the ruins of Templo Mayor, the main temple of Tenochtitlan. It used to have the form of a pyramid, dedicated to Tlaloc (the god of rain) and Huitzilopochtli (the god of war). And as the most important religious site in Tenochtitlan, it was soaked with blood. Hundreds of skulls were found in front of the temple. 

Today, Templo Mayor Museum houses the findings. Eight halls display various pieces of Aztec culture: hair-rising, such as knives and offerings, but also peaceful, such as musical instruments and agricultural technologies. 

  • Opening hours: 9 AM – PM, closed on Mondays 
  • Price: 75 Mexican pesos (3.75 US dollars) 

6. Texcoco 

Texcoco, Aztec ruins in Mexico

Texcoco, one of the city states forming the Aztec Empire, was the center of learning. And apparently also the center of baths. A lovely hike among Aztec ruins will allow you to glance at the Baths of Nezahualcoyotl (Texcotzingo), where the former inhabitants of the city used to bathe in pools carved from rock and surrounded by gardens and waterworks. 

By the way, Nezahualcoyotl was the king of Texcoco. Therefore, you can stumble not only upon his bath, but also upon the Palace of Nezahualcoyotl.  

  • Opening hours: 8 AM – 7 PM daily 
  • Price: free 

6. Calixtlahuaca 

Calixtlahuaca, Aztec ruins in Mexico

Image source: Uncovered History 

The city of Calixtlahuaca with its unusual rounded pyramid was built sometime around 640 BC. First, it served as the religious center and the destination of pilgrimage, but later an agricultural town grew around it. It was built by an influential tribe, the Otomi, and conquered by an even more influential one: the Aztecs. They wanted corn, which was plentiful in the region. 

The Aztecs ruled with a firm hand—they slaughtered and imposed taxes. No one knew which was worse. After an uprising against Montezuma (Aztec ruler), the Aztecs decided to show who’s the boss and burnt the city to the ground. That’s why ruins are everything that’s left of Calixtlahuaca today.  

  • Opening hours: 9 AM – 5:30 PM daily 
  • Price: 55 Mexican pesos (2.75 US dollars) 

How about Mayan ruins? 

However weird that may be, Mayan ruins in Mexico are much better preserved than the Aztec ones—even though they’re older. Read my guide and visit Chichén Itzá as well.

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