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Posted by Jessica on Sep 1, 2009
Taking a Tour to Teotihuacan

Which would you choose in the following real-life traveling example?

A) You could visit some easy to get to (and fabulous) archeological ruins on your own for a few dollars, or
B) You could visit the same easy to get to (and still fabulous) archeological ruins with a tour group for upwards of US$100

If you chose option A, then read on to see the excitement you'll (thankfully) miss during a tour to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. If you chose option B, then read on so you know why you might want to re-think your options.

(And no matter what option you chose, make sure to come back in a few weeks for instructions on how to skip the tour groups and take a bus to Teotihuacán.)

Setting the stage

Most any hotel, hostel, or tour company in Mexico City will be more than eager to offer you – the unsuspecting and ever-so-eager-to-experience-cool-things traveler – a tour of one of the prized UNESCO World Heritage sites in Mexico. Located about thirty miles northwest of the city, Teotihuacán is a fabulous site and well-worth a day visit during your time in Mexico City. And with intriguing sounding names like the Pyramid of the Sun and the Avenue of the Dead to peek at, not to mention fabulously worn down and beautiful architecture to snap photos of, what more could you ask for in a place?

(Well, other than a few more bucks in your pocket if you choose to take an overpriced tour.)

At first the idea of a tour might seem appealing. Transportation will be included, you might even meet a few other travelers, and you won't have to worry about navigating the D.F. metro system let alone take a bus.

But what your hotel, hostel, or tour company won't tell you is that you can get yourself to Teotihuacán for mere dollars (instead of US$70, $80, $90, or even $100). They won't tell you the metro system and the bus station are incredibly straightforward and very safe for even novice travelers. And they probably won't mention that your tour group won't just be going to Teotihuacán – there'll be a few required stops at tourist traps and chotsky stands along the way too, of course. (Which, for those playing along at home, means you'll have less time at the ruins.)


Now, let's play this out and see what a tour would be like. You've talked with a tour agent, found out how long the tour will take (usually around 7 hours), and agreed on the price. After you've plunked down your $70 or so dollars, your tour company will pick you up the next morning at your hotel. You'll then proceed to drive through the streets of Mexico City visiting all the other hotels where other folks who've paid for the tour are staying. Navigating the traffic will take a bit of time, but you're excited to see Teotihuacan so maybe you don't mind that much. Eventually, after everyone is on board, you get on the road.

Before you get too far though, your tour bus is pulling over into a parking lot just a bit north of the Zocalo. You soon discover that the first stop on your Teotihuacán tour is a visit to the Basilica of Guadalupe. And while an important site for Mexico – in particular during the Virgin de Guadalupe festival in Mexico (definitely an incredible thing to see) – today it's just a church. And a new one, constructed in the 1970s, at that. Sure the older Basilica built between the 1500s-1700s is nearby too, but you won't have time to really see it because your tour group is whisked back on the bus after half an hour of milling about outside.

Trying to see the upside of things, you put a smile on your face and make the most of it. Your tour bus is now on it's way!

Then again, maybe it's not. After traveling on the freeway for a bit of time, you've now pulled into what looks like a long row of souvenir stands. The driver and your tour guide (who has begun to annoy you just a bit by this point) usher you out of your seats and onto the road with promises of native handiwork. Walking past the stalls you see rows and rows of generic postcards, tequila shot glasses, and yes, even a sombrero. After spending what feels like an hour at the souvenir stands (mostly because that French couple insisted on buying something from every single solitary stand, much to your chagrin), it's time to head to the pyramids again.

Another thirty or so minutes pass again and – having left your hotel nearly four hours ago (four hours into your seven hour tour) – your bus has pulled into the parking lot for Teotihuacán. From the sight of things, it's clear you've arrived at the exact same time as every other tour bus. Sighing a wee bit, you console yourself by thinking at least there'll be plenty of folks who you can ask to take your picture.

Although you're still thrilled to see the pyramids, your enthusiasm has waned a bit because it's nearing lunchtime and your stomach is growling. Food and drink are not included in your tour (only tourist stands, it seems, are included) and there's been no option to grab something to eat. Getting a snack bar out of your day bag, you shuffle off the bus with everyone else after being reminded by your tour guide (who is really starting to annoy you now) that if you don't stay close you'll be left behind at the ruins.

Standing in the hot parking lot, you realize you've arrived exactly at noon in a place with absolutely zero shade. You wonder if the tour company enjoys torturing unsuspecting tourists as you contemplate how long it will take for your shoes to fry on the asphalt.

For the next several minutes your tour guide will provide a brief background on the site (the background you already read in your own guidebook) and additional reminders to stay with the group. You struggle to hear her voice over the chatter of hundreds of other tourists who are straining to hear their own guides. You're not 100% sure but it sounded like she said you'll only have one hour at the ruins, the ruins that are the entire reason for the seven hour tour.

Falling in behind the rest of your tour group, you walk swiftly up and down the Avenue of the Dead. Some folks opt to climb a pyramid or two. Those who don't are instructed to wait nearby for those who do. A few lucky ones convince the tour guide they can go off on their own with the strict understanding that they'll be left behind to rot if they miss the bus in just a few minutes.

A mere 60 minutes after arriving to the destination your entire tour was built around, your guide's voice (which seems to get shriller and shriller throughout the day) starts calling for everyone to head back to the bus. If everyone hurries, she says, you'll all be able to visit another nearby sombrero stand before it closes. You notice the French couple – who had been looking quite bored at the pyramids – are positively giddy at this news.

Blocking out the idea that you paid $70 for this hour, you attempt to appreciate the beauty of it all. You even snap a few photos, including one of your guide and the French tourists. You plan to burn these photos in effigy one day soon.

Until next time...

If you've read this far then you should be commended. Going on a tour to a place that's easily accessible on your own is painful enough. Reading about it is almost as bad.

Check back again in a few weeks to find out how you can see Teotihuacán while saving quite a bit of cash. Not only that, you'll be able to visit it on your own terms and in your own time. And yes, you can still buy a sombrero too.

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September 1, 2009 at 2:39pm
wow, that sounds dreadful! I hope you guys didn't subject yourselves to that? I'm looking forward to the much more enjoyable (and cheaper) version of your story…especially since we will be visiting Teotihuacán in December. I much prefer arriving at tourist attractions right when they open (or later in the day before they close)to avoid tour groups, and taking time to explore on my own.

We did that at Chichen Itza – it was so peaceful, quiet, beautiful, and cool first thing in the morning. By noon it was jammed with tour groups and hot as hell…just the right time to leave!

Jessica the hedgehog
September 1, 2009 at 2:54pm
LOL! No worries, we didn't subject ourselves to the tour. :) But we've heard horror stories from fellow travelers, and I did a bit of researching online so as to truly capture the wonders of it all. ;)

Like you mentioned for your visit to Chichen Itza, we opted for the "do it yourself" method and were super pleased with our visit to Teotihuacan. There was hardly a visitor in sight, we saved quite a bit of money, and we got to linger as long as we liked. Good stuff! :)

If zombies kidnap me and I don't remember to post the second part of this in the next few weeks/months, I'll drop you an email with the specifics on how to get there on your own. :)

September 2, 2009 at 6:54am
I hope zombies don't kidnap you…
September 2, 2009 at 10:49am
If the zombies take them out, I have the secret instructions too :)
September 4, 2009 at 6:48am
Yay Klaus!
although I was more concerned about how sad it would be if they were kidnapped by zombies…
Jessica the hedgehog
September 8, 2009 at 11:36am
LOL! Awwww, thanks Deb! I'd be sad if we were kidnapped by zombies too. :D
September 8, 2009 at 4:26pm
I think the post is commendable – and not boring at all! A cautionary tale perhaps! Thanks for sharing.
Jessica the hedgehog
September 9, 2009 at 11:19am
Thanks, Daniel! I hope it'll help out other travelers as they decide which route to take. Sometimes tours are great and make things so much easier/enjoyable/accessible…but in the case of Teotihuacan, they're definitely not necessary. :)
Erma the Girl Scout
September 22, 2009 at 11:09am
Hi Jessica,
I am taking a group of my girl scouts there, we have our own transportation. I was wondering if you are going to post the 2nd part of your trip.

I would like to take the girls/moms/dads to a cactus plant tour near by. do you have any suggestions.

Jessica the hedgehog
October 5, 2009 at 11:21am
Hi Erma! Thank you so much for commenting. :)

I haven't had a chance to finalize the second part yet: much of September was taken up with my middle sister in the hospital. But thankfully she's doing so much better and she's home again. And now I'm home again too! I have a ton of writing to catch up on, but no worries, this is definitely one of the stories I'll be coming back to in the coming months. :)

Given that, though, I might not get the story up before you guys go. But if you have any questions, just shoot us an email and I'll be so happy to help out. :)

I haven't heard about the cactus plant tour, but I bet it'll be neat! Cactuses (cactii?) are gorgeous (if not prickly!) and I imagine they'll have an amazing variety to show you guys. I'd love to hear about it when you get back. :)

October 7, 2009 at 4:13pm
I went with my school group (studying at U of Guanajuato for the summer) -– we didn't take an organized tour, our teachers were natives. Much preferred way to go :)
September 20, 2011 at 12:44pm
While this does sound like a really awful experience, I took a similar tour for $30 with additional destinations and I actually had a really positive experience.
With that being said, I definitely wouldn't take a tour of the Anthropology museum. There's so much to see there that looking at everything is exhausting, and why have to listen to a guide drone over every minute detail when you can rent a perfectly good audio guide?
September 22, 2011 at 5:29pm
Hi again Megan!

I'm glad to hear that you tour went better than the nightmare scenario Jessica wrote about in her post. We certainly haven't been shy about taking the odd tour here and there, and had really good times on them, too – sometimes it really is the most convenient way to see a place.

That said, we generally prefer not to do tours when we can avoid them, so thanks so much for your tip about the Anthropology Museum. We're planning on hitting it when we return to Mexico later this year, so it's good to hear that we won't be missing out on anything by not doing the guided tour there! :)

June 1, 2014 at 11:30pm
I enjoyed many chuckles over your post… we went to Xochimilko today independently – cost 80 pesos in the trains… thinking we were having a cheap day until we got to Embarcardero the opportunists were out in force! I'd hate to think what the cost would have been on a 'tour'

Tommorrow the Pyramids on our own steam of course!

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