Most of Mexico’s ancient ruins are located in the south of the country, but the 2,000-year-old Guachimontones ruins are located just an hour’s drive from Guadalajara and are well worth a trip to see the site’s unusual circular pyramids.
Located in Teuchitlan, Jalisco, the circular pyramids are quite visually striking and nearly one of a kind. Aside from the similar but smaller Cuicuilco pyramid in Mexico City, they are the only circular pyramids in the world.
History of Guachimontones Site
Now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Guachimontones was discovered in 1970 by the late, great U.S. archaeologist Phil Weigand, who only obtained the finances to begin full excavation in 1996. It is now the seventh-most visited archaeological site in the country and is considered the finest in western Mexico.
At first, little was known about who had built the pyramids, leading to wild conspiracy theories that they were either constructed by aliens or by the Jalisco government in a bid to attract more tourists to the state.
Research proved that Guachimontones was built by a civilization that has come to be known as the Tradicion Teuchitlan, a society dating from around 300 B.C. to 900 A.D. It is thought the city was home to some 40,000 people at its peak, between 200 and 400 A.D.
Guachimontones’ main attraction is undoubtedly its circular step pyramids, which according to Weigand, are “unique in the Mesoamerican architectural repertoire and indeed are not found anywhere else in the world.”
The main pyramid was built on a hilltop and used as a ceremonial site to worship the deity Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent revered as the god of wind in many pre-Hispanic civilizations across Mexico.
The pyramid has 52 steps, corresponding to the number of weeks in a year and the number of years in the cycle of many Mesoamerican calendars, including the infamous Mayan calendar.
The site is also home to several rectangular platforms and two ball courts. Ball games were common throughout many Mesoamerican cultures, with competitors typically using their hips to somehow control the ball and move it from one end of the court to the other, and in some cases pass it through a ring.
The sport was sometimes used to settle matters such as territorial division or inheritance rights, while it also had religious connotations. The winners, in certain cases, were sacrificed as a “reward” for their victory.
Getting to Guachimontones
Guachimontones is located 43 kilometers (26 miles) west of Guadalajara. To get there, take a bus from to Teuchitlan from Guadalajara’s old bus station (the Antigua Central Camionera) at Los Angeles 218, beside the Parque Agua Azul. The bus should cost around 50 pesos ($4 US).
It costs nothing to visit the archaeological site, but you will have to pay a small fee if you want a guided tour. An impressive new museum, the Centro Interpretativo Guachimontones, opened in January 2012. The museum is well worth a visit, as it offers detailed information — in both English and Spanish — on the history of the site and its former inhabitants. It is open every day except Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the entrance fee is 30 pesos ($2 US).
Rounding out the Day: Nearby Attractions
After exploring the ruins, visitors can bathe in the hot springs of the Balneario El Rincon, the source of the Teuchitlan River, located between Teuchitlan and the pyramids. Finally, before returning to Guadalajara, enjoy dinner at one of the quality restaurants on the shore of the beautiful Lake La Vega.
Duncan Tucker is a British journalist based in Guadalajara, Mexico. He covers a wide mix of news, politics, business, the war on drugs, culture and sport. Aside from Global Delivery Report, he writes regularly for the Guadalajara Reporter, the Huffington Post and Soccer365.com. Much of his work can be found on Mexico-themed blog “The Tequila Files.” Follow Duncan on Twitter @DuncanTucker.