In olden times, before Europeans arrived, Mexico was populated with many different groups of Mesoamericans who each left their own architectural stamp on the country. In the Yucatan, the most famous Mesoamerican city is Chichen Itza, but in the Mexico City area, it is Teotihuacan, with its majestic Sun and Moon pyramids that stands as the shining monument to Mesoamerican ingenuity. I wanted the chance to visit these legendary temples, but I also wanted to see the more recent Shrine to Our Lady of Guadeloupe, and I conveniently found a tour that provided both!
I do recommend this tour, or I wouldn’t blog about it, but if you are more of an independent traveler, I would still suggest following the basic itinerary because it was plenty of time to see two of the most important sights in the area around Mexico City. Join me for a day of miracles, roses, cacti, hairless dogs, and magical felines. Bonus! Before the day is over, I promise to cry in public! Join me and find out why!
Morning: Our Lady of Guadelupe
We began our journey back in time with a brief stop at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. It is important to remember, when traveling in Mexico, that the country is a delicious combination of three periods of history: the pre-Columbian Native Americans, the Spanish settlers, and the present-day country, which is a mixture of both. Here you can see the stone and mortar Aztec ruins (yes, those are authentic remains), but the church in the background is from the Spanish colonial period. And of course there are modern buildings too.
I am not a practicing Catholic, but I come from an extremely long line of Irish Catholics, and to anyone who is even nominally Catholic, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadelupe has a special significance. It is the most popular pilgrimage site for Catholic pilgrims, and a Catholic friend of mine who was recently married planned to go here after the wedding with her new husband for a blessing. The tour gave us a good hour here to explore the buildings and statues in the complex, and I was pleased with how our guide thoroughly explained the significance of the area. As usual, I come prepared with…
three fun facts about our lady of guadelupe
1) The brown and gold building is the old Basilica, but unfortunately it became too small to be used, considering the popularity of the shrine. Therefore, the new blue and white Basilica was built, which is meant to be a representation of the Virgin Mary. (Her traditional color is blue, which is why blue used to be considered a feminine color.)
2) The reason this area is so significant to Roman Catholics is because the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a Mexican peasant, Saint Juan Diego, here several times. (To be clear, he wasn’t declared a saint until after she appeared to him.) The archbishop of Mexico City did not believe Juan Diego and asked him for proof of this apparition, so the Virgin Mary arranged for her image to appear on Juan Diego’s cloak when he presented it to the archbishop. The image of the Virgin Mary on Juan Diego’s cloak is kept in the basilica; you can see it pictured above. It is so popular that we had to ride a little conveyor belt inside the church to see it. I suppose the lines would be too long if we didn’t.
3) The people who are most devoted to Our Lady of Guadelupe are called Guadelupians (pictured above). They go on a pilgrimage in her name, and as they walk, they stop, kneel, and say Ave Marias. It was quite remarkable to watch them process. As I’m sure you can imagine, they move very slowly.
Travelerette Treasure: My favorite part of the story of Guadelupe was that the Virgin Mary apparently also caused Spanish roses to bloom on a barren hill called Tepeyac, and that placing these roses in Juan Diego’s cloak is what caused her face to appear. Sadly the flowers were not in bloom when we visited, but you can see the event commemorated in the statue above.
Early Afternoon: Lunch at La Catrina
Before we stopped for lunch, we had a little shopping stop at a silver store where the designs are inspired by traditional Mesoamerican patterns. We each had a free drink (I got a Diet Coke) and watched the silversmith carve patterns into tiny squares of silver. He gave me an image of the sun and moon and told me it would be good luck for my love life. I really think that if all you needed to do to give someone good luck in love was carve a little picture on silver that silversmithing would be a lot more popular as a profession.
Some people really hate shopping stops on tours, and there was one older English couple that refused to get off the bus and enter the shop as a protest, but this ShopStop didn’t bother me. I like shopping, there was no pressure to buy anything, and we got a free drink and bathroom break. Plus it was interesting to watch the silversmith make his designs by hand. I bought the pair of silver earrings you see pictured above for about 40 dollars. It was a good value for me, as I try to make a point to buy earrings in every city, and just looking at these guys makes me think of my time in Mexico!
Lunch was even better than the shopping, though. We stopped at a restaurant near Teotihuacan called La Catrina. We were all offered a three-course lunch prix fixe and I opted for the Teotihuacan soup, made with cactus…
the enchiladas verdes…
and a small flan for dessert.
They were all tasty, but the cactus soup was really special. The soup was light, and the cactus added this wonderful smoky flavor. This was one of the most memorable dishes that I had in Mexico City.
Early Afternoon: Teotihuacan
So after lunch it was finally time for the big show! We had arrived at the ancient Mesoamerican “City of the Gods”, Teotihuacan. Our guide led us on a tour for about half an hour and then left us for an hour to explore and climb the pyramids on our own. Of course the tour left me with plenty more than…
three fun facts about teotihuacan
1) Our guide told us that Teotihuacan lasted as a city from the 1st century AD to the 8th century. The Mesoamericans who lived here would have built their pyramids over a long period of time, and archaeologists have found pyramids here built on top of ruins of older pyramids. It’s a shame that the records of these peoples have been lost to time because it would be amazing to see how they were able to construct these massive buildings thousands of years ago.
2) The interiors of the homes of wealthy Mesoamericans, as well as the interiors of the temples, would have been decorated with elaborated red murals of the gods, and some of these murals have been preserved, albeit faintly. Our guide told us that one popular image in these murals is the Jaguar god, who is often depicted as a musician. I wonder what the association between jaguars and music could possibly be? I kind of suspect that if you ever gave a real jaguar a musical instrument, he would just eat it and then possibly eat you.
3) The two most important monuments at Teotihuacan are the Pyramid of the Sun and the smaller Pyramid of the Moon. Our guide advised us that if we only had time to climb one, it should be the Pyramid of the Moon because it’s easier and you get better views of the majestic Pyramid of the Sun that way. Of course I had to do both because if someone waves a red flag of a challenge at me, I need to charge it like a musical jaguar.
Travelerette Tip: Your guide will leave you for an hour and tell you which parking lot to meet him at. MAKE SURE YOU FIGURE OUT EXACTLY WHERE THIS PARKING LOT IS BEFORE WANDERING ON YOUR OWN! I did not and wound up 20 minutes late at the bus and I am never late. When I finally got to the bus, I cried out of embarrassment, heat exhaustion, and relief that the bus didn’t abandon me there.
Travelerette Treasure: The climb up the Pyramid of the Sun is hard, but if you are in good shape, I suggest giving it a shot. The views of the surrounding countryside are great, and you’ll feel a sense of smug satisfaction as you reach the top, and who doesn’t like smug satisfaction?
Late Afternoon: Casa Museo de las Piedras
Our final stop of the tour was this small but interesting museum/store devoted to the culture of the region around Teotihuacan. The grumpy old English couple remained grumpy about shopping being an option, but we really didn’t need to buy anything, I learned some fun facts, and we got another free drink/bathroom break. I would be happy to share with you…
approximately five items native to the teotihuacan area
1) Apparently these hairless wonders were important to the Mesoamericans who lived here in pre-Columbian times, I assume because they didn’t inspire allergic reactions. Fun Fact: Hairless dogs are cuter than hairless cats.
2) Agave–which is responsible for all manner of wonders. You can make paper, needle, and thread out of it, as well as the more famous tequila and (my personal favorite) mezcal.
3) I did not know that you can also make a kind of low alcohol drink called pulque out of the agave. They gave us a little cup of it to try for ourselves, and it has a mild, sweet flavor. I drank enough tequila in college that I was surprised to find any drink made from agave described as “low alcohol”, but this really hit the spot on a hot February day.
4) Obsidian is also native to the region and you can make anything out of it from jewelry to mirrors. Obsidian is so shiny it doesn’t need anything else to help you see your reflection. But I of course bought some obsidian earrings because I am an earring buying fool, although this time they were as a thank you present for my roommate for catsitting my (nonhairless) cat.
Dinner: El Cardenal
Address: 215 Avenida Paseo de las Palmas
El Cardenal is a classic three-storied Mexican restaurant right in the heart of the city center. It closes kind of early, at 6:30, so you’ll want to head there as soon as your tour is over. I got there at 5:30 and it was plenty of time for dinner.
I started with some Mexican quesadillas, which are different from American quesadillas. These were rolled up corn tortillas filled with oodles of melty cheese and lumps upon lumps of fresh avocado. Honestly, these were tasty and filling enough to be my entire dinner, but I thought of you, Internet Stranger, and imagined that you might want to know what the entrees at El Cardenal taste like. So I forced myself to consume more.
For the main course, I went all out with a chile relleno, which is a mild poblano chile stuffed with cheese, fried, and covered in rich, chocolatey mole sauce. I think this must actually be good for you because the main part of this dish is a chile, and a chile is a vegetable, no? Or is it a fruit because it has seeds, like a tomato or a cucumber? Anyway, I’m sure the fact that it’s a vegetable balances out all the frying and cheese.
Fun Fact: Moles are more of a Oaxacan thing, but they seemed really popular in Mexico City. The food in Mexico City kind of reminded me of the food in Paris in that it seems to be a place you can go to try specialties from all over the country, rather than just the specialty of one region.
For dessert, I ordered the light and tangy guanabana mousse, aka soursop. I had never eaten guanabana fruit before, but I loved the sharp citrusy taste, and the small and delicate dessert was just what I needed after a long day of traveling and a big dinner. After this, I had no more energy and just went back to my hotel and climbed into bed. I suggest you do likewise! After all, we climbed up two pyramids today.
And That’s How You Have a Perfect Day at Teotihuacan!
What would you do in one day at Teotihuacan? Who would win in a fight, a hairless dog or a musical jaguar? And how many times have you cried in public while traveling (this is my second, the first involved missing a flight to Paris and having to pay a tragic amount of money to get on the next flight)? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.