If you want proof that Egypt isn’t the only place to see spectacular pyramids, Mexico’s Aztec sites are it. From the incredible Teotihuacan and the eye-opening Templo Mayor to the astonishing Tenayuca, Mexico offers visitors an absolutely mind-blowing array of places discover. The sheer breadth of Mexico’s ancient Aztec sites is staggering, with other popular attractions including Tenochtitlan, the Acatitlan and Calixtlahuaca – and these sites are definitely worth considering if you have a little more time on your trip. Wherever your travels take you, we’ve compiled a fantastic selection of Mexico’s Aztec ruins with our editor’s picks followed by a few hidden gems you won’t want to miss.
What are the best Aztec Sites to Visit in Mexico?
The holy Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan is a treasure trove of ancient structures. Built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico, it is one of the country’s oldest archaeological sites. Whilst the founders of Teotihuacan have never been definitively identified, it is thought that the city was inhabited by the Toltecs and was an important Aztec site.
Literally translated as the place “where gods are created”, Teotihuacan was clearly a city of significant religious importance to its inhabitants, as illustrated by its wealth of monuments. Characterised by looming stepped pyramids, indeed one of the most impressive aspects of Teotihuacan is the sheer size of these monuments, including the Pyramid of the Sun, which rises to a staggering 75 metres high.
Nestled in the very heart of the modern municipality of Tlalnepantla de Baz in Greater Mexico City, Tenayuca dates back to the thirteenth century, although it was probably absorbed into the Aztec culture in around the mid fifteenth century. Still occupied when the conquistadors arrived, the settlement fell to ruin after the collapse of Aztec power in the region.
The undisputed highlight of Tenayuca is its enormous Mesoamerican pyramid. which dominates the site. Somewhat surreally, this ancient site lives amid a throng of shops, cafes, hairdressers and houses, modern city life bustling around this immovable monolith at a million miles an hour.
Literally meaning, The Great Temple, Templo Mayor stands stubbornly and majestically as a powerful remnant of an ancient capital in the midst of Mexico’s modern one. Most of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan has been subsumed by the modern world, but this holy shrine to the deities Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, stands proud.
Tenochtitlan was originally established in around 325 AD and was a thriving city with around 200,000 people until the sixteenth century when it was destroyed by the Spanish. Templo Mayor is now a popular tourist site, with a museum filled with Aztec artefacts uncovered during the excavation.
Literally translated as the ‘place of the plain houses’, Calixtlahuaca certainly does not live up to its name. Indeed there is nothing plain about its stunning pyramids, all reminders of the great city it used to be.
Whilst originally home to the Matlatzinca people, the Aztecs took it over in the fifteenth century. As a result, this is not a typical Aztec site. Indeed many of the structures pre-date the Aztecs, making it a fascinating mix of cultures.
For those seeking a less bustling view of an Aztec pyramid, head to Acatitlan. Set on the outskirts of the capital, it attracts fewer visitors. The impressive pyramid here was significantly reconstructed in the 1960s so this may not be one for purists, but it certainly gives a great impression of the majesty of how Aztec pyramids looked in their prime and is set in a small park. There’s even a small museum telling the story of its past.
Hidden deep in the western part of Tepoztlan National Park, Mexico, El Tepozteco is a modest hilltop shrine to the Aztec deity, Tepoztecatl. You’ll have to hike vociferously to get there, but the scenery is stunning and you’ll probably be the only one with it in your holiday snaps.
Founded in 1325 AD, Tenochtitlan grew to be the very centre of the Aztec people in what is now Mexico. And yet, despite having been such a thriving hub, home to some 200,000 inhabitants at its peak and ruled by Montezuma himself, very little remains to be seen today.
In fact, it was probably its prosperity and success that spelled the end for Tenochtitlan. When the Spanish arrived in 1519 AD, during Montezuma’s rule, they razed it to the ground, leaving little behind. Nevertheless, a few gems remain, of which Templo Mayor is one, as is Xochimilco.
The Mexico National Museum of Anthropology is a world renowned museum with a large array of archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions, including fascinating Aztec finds. Whilst the museum is large, it is also well organised, meaning that those wishing to concentrate on the Aztecs can do so with ease. The highlight of the Aztec display is the 22-ton Sun Stone, a representation of the history of the world.