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Contiki Mexican Fiesta: Visiting Teotihuacan

Updated June 2020

Waking up in Mexico City was unlike any morning I’ve experienced. It was beyond noisy, but it didn’t matter. We had to be up and on the bus ready to go by 8 am for our tour of Mexico City and Teotihuacan.

Getting on the bus this morning was a little different than other mornings. The group size increased by nearly 20 additional travelers. We tried as best we could, to gathered into the very back of the bus. We liked our original crew and struggled with combining new and old. But, we adjusted quickly to the change in group dynamic.

National Palace

Our morning started with driving through different parts of downtown Mexico City. We were making our way to the main cathedral and National Palace (government building). As we drove, Ish taught us about the various round-a-bout status and their meaning located throughout the city.

National Palace Mexico City

At the National Palace, we had to divide into two groups. We picked up another tour guide along the way because our group was too large for one, according to Mexican law. It was a hard adjustment having to split from Ish. He has been our tour guide for the past week. I don’t like change.

Once you enter the National Palace you walk into this open courtyard with a beautiful fountain. Ish was explaining to us the history behind the fountain and the building itself. The National Palace is actually still in use by the government.

The walls on the second floor are covered from floor to ceiling, by grande fresco murals designed and created by Diego Rivera. The murals located on the wall are jointly titled “The Epic of the Mexican People”, created between 1929 and 1935. They depict the various stages of the Mexico culture.

The main stairwell mural is a combination of different images that depict the History of Mexico from 1521 to 1930. The middle floor of the National Palace is home to an 11 panels series that depict the pre-Hispanic era; also completed by Diego. However, due to Diego’s passing, this series was not completed and the walls still remain blank. Looking at Diego’s collection of frescos at the National Palace reminds mea little of Michelangelo and his work at the Vatican. 

National Palace Mexico City
National Palace Mexico City
National Palace Mexico City

Mexico City Cathedral

After exiting the National Palace, we headed to the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary of Mexico City. This cathedral is located right next door to the National Palace. It is the largest cathedral in the Americas and had to be built in sections between the years 1573 and 1813.

The Mexico City Cathedral is designed and built in the Baroque style; a common throughout Mexico. Like many popular historical places, the Mexico City Cathedral has suffered some extensive damage over the past century. A fire back in the 1960s destroyed a large portion of the interior that required restoration. During that restoration, several important documents and pieces of artwork were discovered.

Mexico City Cathedral

In addition to the fire damage, this cathedral’s foundation actually began to sink, creating a sinking effect, because it was built on soft clay soil,. This sinking effect threatened the structural integrity, resulting in the cathedral being placed on the 100 Most Endangered Sites list. Thankfully, the Mexico City metropolitan Cathedral was placed under restoration and was removed from the list in 2000.

Before taking off our another adventure, we stood outside the cathedral and captured a huge Mexico Contiki Tour group photo. (I still have this photo 6 years later.)

Mexico City Cathedral
Mexico City Cathedral


Once back on the bus, the introductions between the old and the new tour mates began. We had to sit next to one of the new travelers to merge the two tours together. I sat next to a young Aussie, who reminded me a little of my brother with his long hair. He was quite the surfer boy and was there for a good time. Many of the new tour mates were there to PARTY, after all they are heading to Cancun for 4 days. The introductions took the entire bus ride out to our next included excursion; Teotihuacán.

Teotihuacan is an ancient pre-Columbia Mesoamerican city located just outside of modern day Mexico City. Teotihuacan, known for its archaeological structures and two grand pyramids, is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico.

The two pyramids are dedicated to two Gods the ancient people of Mexico worshipped; the Sun and the Moon.

The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, after the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza. You are able to climb both pyramids, thanks to past restoration efforts. In 1987, Teotihuacan became designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I learned that Teotihuacan was one of the sites nominated to be a New Seven Wonder of the World. However, since not much is known about the true history of Teotihuacan, it did not end up qualifying for the final seven. It fascinates me that for everything we know about this site, there is far more we don’t know.

Agave and Tequila

However, before we entered Teotihuacan, we made a stop at a local craft market/shop to learn a little about tequila and about their acclaimed volcanic rock art pieces. Our guide walked us through the process of turning agave, which varies from region to region, into tequila.

Jimadores are the men who harvest the agave plants. They use a tool called a coa, and are taught how to identify a plant ready for harvest versus those that are not. One of their main roles in growing and harvesting agave is to maintain adequate heights of the quoites, which are high stalks that grows from the center of the plant.

The layers of the quoites could actually be stripped away piece by peice. Thsee layers are actually as strong as paper and can be written on. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if she didn’t show us.

Agave plant

Once identified, the jimadores carefully cut away the leaves from the piña, the succulent core of the plant. This is when the process of heating, cooking, draining the juice, fermenting and so for begins. After all the processes are complete you’d have tequila, which then becomes classified into the 5 commonly known types:

Agave paper
  • Blanco (white) or plata (silver): a white spirit, unaged and bottled or stored immediately after distillation, or aged less than two months in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels
  • Joven (young) or oro  (gold): unaged Blanco tequila that is colored and flavored with caramel
  • Reposado (rested): aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels of any size
  • Añejo (aged or vintage): aged a minimum of one year, but less than three years in small oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo (extra aged or ultra aged): aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels; this category was established in March 2006

We also tried our hand at a delicious cactus beverage called pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting the sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It’s a bit milky in color, but tastes delicious.

Volcanic Glass

After our tequila lesson, the guide began walking us through their process of creating volcanic glass sculptures using various minerals and stones located around the region. The particular volcanic glass found around Teotihuacan is obsidian. It is a naturally forming glass found within the margins of lava flow, where the chemical composition induces a high viscosity and polymerization degree of the lava, thus creating obsidian. Obsidian is a hard and brittle material.

Obsidian was highly used throughout the pre-Columbia Mesoamerican culture. I had no idea lava could become a natural glass and the designs and sculptures put together at this store were breath-taking.

Obsidian Volcanic Glass

After our tequila-volcanic glass stop, we headed for lunch. We dined at Restaurant McCoy Artesania, which was a buffet style restaurant. It was a little pricy and wasn’t anything spectacular but did has some wide variety of traditional dishes and entertained us with an Aztec style dance. It was roughly 1pm in the afternoon and we were all ready for the pyramids.

Pyramid of the Moon

Before entering the grounds of Teotihuacan, Ish gavels a little bit more history. I was in complete “awe” starring at the centuries old ancient buildings. I don’t even know how to put into words this feeling of utter amazement.

Have you ever been somewhere that was so historic and beautiful? This feeling has only happened to me once before in Pompeii and even then, I struggled formulate words.

We started off at the Pyramid of the Moon, the smaller pyramid. We could only climb half way due to the instability of the ancient pyramid. The steps were so steep, you practically had to crawl up them and coming down you had to hold onto a rope. The Pyramid of the Moon rises to 140 feet towards the sky. I estimate that we climbed to approximately 100 feet high and you could look out onto the horizon at the grandness of Teotihuacan.

Pyramid of the Moon
Standing on top of the Pyramid of the Moon

Pyramid of the Sun

Once down, I continued my way through the Plaza of the Moon with John, Mark and Stef and down the Avenue of the Dead towards the Pyramid of the Sun.

The Pyramid of the Sun is 246 feet tall and Stef and I climbed ALL THE WAY to the top. The view was astonishing. It was exhausting to climb but worth ever ounce of energy. At the top, Stef and I met up with a few other tour mates. We ended up having and entertaining photo shoot, which included many selfies. We weren’t able to spend too much time at the top, but even just the short 15 minutes was enough for a life time.

Standing at the top of Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun

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The Final Night on Contiki's Mexican Fiesta Tour

The bus ride back into Mexico City took about an hour and remained quiet for nearly the entire way. I could tell everyone was exhausted from day’s excursions. I didn’t mind the peace and quiet. It gave a little time to reflect.

However, instead of taking a nap once we arrived back at the hotel, many of us gathered in Jess and Nick’s room for pre-evening drinking and socializing. There was a huge difference in group dynamic from the original crew to the new crew. They were much more PARTY mindset than we were.

Final Dinner Mexico City

For dinner tonight, we went to “El Refugio” fonda, a course style restaurant. We had a choice of soup from a selection of three (chicken, chicken and veggies, and veggie) and a combo plate, which included a stuffed chile, a chicken enchilada, and a taco, plus dessert. I could barely make it though the main plate of food.

The entertaining part of dinner was trying to figure out what was going on. There were so many new faces and with the tight quarters, it got loud quickly. This was just the beginning of our night as many of us decided we wanted to party/bar hop.

Night Out in Mexico City

After dinner, Ish directed us to a local bar called Tamaulipas, via taxi. I jumped in with Mark, John and Jimmy and we laughed majority of the way. The night escalated quickly the minute we entered the bar. Stef, Amy and I started off by taking tequila shots, which turned into dancing with the crew, and leaving behind the new travelers.

We made our way towards the next bar, which was an Irish pub. The rest of the night, we proceeded to dance and talk and laugh. To ended the night, our entire crew screamed at the top of our lungs our tour song, Get Lucky. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end this tour.

I knew then that the next day would be the final goodbyes, which ended up being me completely hungover. It was more than I could have asked for, by ending the trip with one last go around.

This entire experience, trip and everyone I met on my Mexican Adventure with Contiki was perfect. I have had the time of my life, accomplished something I never thought was possible, met so many amazing people, and learned more about a culture I grew up right next too.

My Final Thanks

Thank you to the entire Contiki family, including Ginny and her team, who worked behind the scenes to set this up.

To Claire, for making my time in Cancun so wonderful and traveling across the Atlantic to support me as I concurred my fear.

To Celine and Capkin for taking time away from your son to help make my No Regrets day possible and the amount of time spent planning and filming this trip.

And To Ish and my tour mates for providing me with an amazing tour filled with knowledge, laughter and an all around once-and-a-lifetime experience.

I cannot wait till my next big adventure- transitioning my life into a new city and new job.

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