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All travel days are good days in my mind, but every so often I experience one that surpasses all others. Our visit to the Guachimontones pyramids was just such an experience.
When it came to selecting day trips from Guadalajara I knew that Los Guachimontones was non-negotiable. The minute I saw pictures of these circular, stepped pyramids I knew I had to see them in person. Through Estacion Turistica we purchased what we thought would be a small group tour with no more than ten people participating. When we arrived we learned that it would be a private tour instead. We had a driver, Eric, and guide, Dante, all to ourselves for the day. Already I knew it was going to be a great day.
Dante is not your average tour guide. He is a successful business owner with a passion for Mexican history and culture who leads tours on the weekend. His English was excellent which allowed for several hours of great conversations ranging from our favorite travels to politics to food.
Looking for more unique sights in Mexico? Then consider a visit to Ek Balam.
Start at the Guachimontones Museum
The Guachimontones pyramids are about a one hour drive outside of Guadalajara. We arrived at the site and began with a visit to the Museo Interpretativo Guachimontones. Most of the museum’s displays are in Spanish only, so having our own guide was particularly helpful at this point. Fortunately, the introductory movie is available with English subtitles which was a nice way to set the stage for everything else we saw. The museum offers hundreds of artifacts from the Teuchitlan people that inhabited the area at the time the pyramids were built. These people dug deep multi-layered graves and its from these that artifacts have been recovered. Archaeological exploration has also provided significant information about the homes of these people and there is a display home shown outside the museum.
Looking for another day trip from Guadalajara? Try Drinking Tequila in the town of Tequila.
The Climb to the Pyramids
A parking lot used to be available quite close to the main pyramid site. However, recent archaeological exploration discovered that the lot was covering a ball court belonging to this settlement so parking has since been relocated at the bottom of a steep hill. Come prepared for a short uphill hike between the museum and the pyramids.
We began with the ball court which we learned during the short film was a central part of ancient life, both for this culture and the Aztecs. Ball games were not for fun, but instead they were a way to settle disputes. It’s believed that the game was played on hands and feet, “crab style” and that the ball could only be hit with the hips.
Finally we walked across the fields and saw our first pyramid. Like most of the pyramids in this area, its roped off to keep visitors on the ground. However, nearby is a much larger pyramid that has been mostly destroyed and thus visitors are allowed to climb it. The climb results in a spectacular view of the area including the pyramids, the small town of Teuchitlan and in the distance a lake. From this vantage point Dante pointed out how ancient life worked in this area. There would have been clusters of homes outside the sacred pyramids all slightly above the lake which was an excellent source of food. All the natural flora and fauna in the area would have provided a good life for the 40,000 Teuchitlan people who flourished for over 1,000 years in the area of Mexico that is now called Jalisco.
Today when visiting the pyramids visitors see green, stepped structures that were used for religious ceremonies. Archaeologists believe that during ancient times these were actually painted with a base of red paint and then decorated. To date, no other circular pyramids have been discovered anywhere else in the world. Aerial photography has determined there are 400 sets of these pyramids in the state of Jalisco.
An Unexpected Ceremony
As we were preparing to leave the Guachimontones pyramids we saw a group of dancers in colorful attire approaching. There were men and women adorned with colorful clothing and feathered headdresses surrounded by a strong smell of incense. At the back of the procession were drummers keeping the beat. Dante spoke to one of the them and learned that this was a group of dancers re-enacting an ancient Aztec ceremony. This ceremony was intended to honor the eagle god and was an opportunity to welcome new dancers into the community. Even though this was not an Aztec settlement, for these local dancers, this ancient ceremonial site is a convenient location. Today this ceremony is performed just once a year on the last Sunday of January. The serendipity of this moment made a good day even better.
Lunch By The Lake
We concluded our day with a delicious lunch at a nearby restaurant called Monte Carlo Seafood & Grill. This outdoor, lakeside restaurant was packed with families enjoying the beautiful weather. Next to the eating area was a pond stocked with small fish that children could attempt to catch with tortillas as bait on the end of bamboo poles. The scene was made complete with mariachis strolling table to table. Jason and I appreciated being the only tourists in the restaurant because we were given a glimpse into the local life of Mexican families enjoying their Sunday. Dante ordered for us and we enjoyed queso with shrimp for an appetizer, a popular local fish dish for our entree and a tequila cocktail called a cantarito.
Guadalajara Day Trips
There are several nice options for Guadalajara day trips including several tequila distilleries, the historic town of Tequila and Lake Chapala. But if I am asked which day trip would be essential, I most definitely recommend Guachimontones pyramids near Teuchitlan Mexico. We simply didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to explore an ancient civilization unlike anything else in the world. All the other benefits of the day--a private tour led by Dante, Aztec dancing and a delicious lunch--made the day unforgettable.
Want to learn more about Guadalajara? Then click here.