The Aztecs were ruthless warriors, canny economists, and devoted god worshippers. Mexico is strewn with their cities, statues, and monuments—some Aztec sites 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.
We’ve also put together a summary of 12 facts about Mexico that are good to know before you go.
Don’t forget to book your hotel well in advance. You can use my booking affiliate link to find the best hotels on booking.com, a website I religiously use to make my own hotel reservations.
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?
The Aztec Empire was a military confederation of three cities:
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:
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.
Hotel tip: Hotel Fiesta Americana Viaducto Aeropuerto is perfect if you don’t want to stay in Mexico City but want to travel around due to its location close to the airport and the highway. It’s perfect for your travel around Aztec ruins in Mexico, they have nice rooms, tasty breakfast, and an excellent atmosphere overall.
It cost us around USD 104 per night.
Just so you know, I really spend time choosing the best places to stay in, it’s not just a random selection. If you decide to use my link to book any of the hotels in the article (or even if you click away and book a different hotel), I get a small commission at no extra charge to you. Thank you!
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, the Temple of Kukulcán or other Aztec sites. As it’s just an hour’s drive from Mexico City and it’s one of the top 10 places to visit in Mexico, 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
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 Aztec 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 this Aztec temple had a good sense of design.
- Opening hours: 8 AM – 5 PM
- Price: 80 Mexican pesos (4 US dollars)
El Tajín can be seen in Veracruz State. See other interesting places to visit there.
Hotel tip: Hotel Emporio Veracruz, in a great location, equipped with 3 swimming pools, a spa, and 3 restaurants with delicious breakfast, is a perfect choice you’ll appreciate after a day full of walking.
The prices start around USD 90 per night for two people.
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)
In certain locations in Mexico, finding a good parking space is like catching lightning in a bottle—as a wise traveler mentioned in one of his articles about driving in Mexico.
5. Templo Mayor
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)
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 in Mexico 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
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 Aztec 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)
FAQ: Where are the Aztec ruins in Mexico?
Most Aztec ruins in Mexico are in and around Mexico City. The best Aztec ruins in Mexico are:
- El Tajín
- Templo Mayor
FAQ: Does Mexico have Mayan or Aztec ruins?
Mexico has both Mayan and Aztec ruins. And let me tell you, they’re both pretty awesome in their own right. Tenochtitlan and Teotihuacan are the most incredible Aztec ruins in Mexico, while Chichén Itzá and Tulum are probably the most popular Mayan cities.
FAQ: Which Aztec ruins are the most well-preserved?
I’m no archaeologist, but I can tell you that the most well-preserved Aztec ruins are in Teotihuacan. And why, you ask? Well, probably because it’s located high up in the mountains.
FAQ: What is the most famous Aztec temple?
I’d say that the most popular of all the Aztec temples in Mexico has to be the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon in Teotihuacan, followed by Templo Mayor in Mexico City—the main temple of the Aztec empire.
FAQ: Is Chichen Itza Mayan or Aztec?
Chichen Itza is actually a Mayan site, not an Aztec one. But both civilizations were pretty badass in their own right, and they both left behind some seriously impressive ruins for us to explore! You can read about more Mayan cities in another article.
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