We understand if visiting the El Tajín pyramids & ruins aren’t at the top of everybody’s initial Mexico travel itinerary. Not as famous or as easily accessible as other ruins in Mexico, the El Tajín ruins are easy to miss.
But after visiting seven different Mesoamerican and Mayan archeological ruins in Mexico and Guatemala, we believe the El Tajín pyramids & ruins bring a unique experience and style to visitors who are willing to make the trek out here to visit one of the most important cities in the Classical era of Mesoamerica.
In this post, we will go over everything you need to know in order to plan and visit the El Tajín archeological ruins. From top visiting tips, to how to get to El Tajín, and the best time to visit; all the information you need will be in this post below.
Are The El Tajín Ruins Worth Visiting?
We understand, the El Tajín pyramids are a bit off the main tourist path, but if you consider yourself a pre-Columbian history buff or you just want to experience something new & unique, then we think the El Tajín ruins are absolutely worth the effort to visit. Here’s why:
Unique Pyramid Design: If you’ve already visited several others pre-Columbian ruins, you might be thinking that all pyramids look alike. But the architectural style of the El Tajín pyramids were some of the most unique and decorative pyramids we’ve seen in Latin America.
Get Away From The Crowds: Although the El Tajín ruins attract over 400,000 visitors annually and is the most popular archeology site in Veracruz state, it’s still easy to get away from the crowds. By planning ahead and arriving on the right day, you can have El Tajín almost all to yourself. That’s what happened to us!
Experience The Voladores: Though it can feel a bit touristy, El Tajín is one of the few places left where you might get to see the Voladores “fliers” in action, performing their famous ritual circling around a tall pole to ask the Gods to return the rain and soil fertility.
How Much Does El Tajin Cost?
Entrance tickets to El Tajín cost 80 pesos per person. Although, with the rampant travel inflation every year, it’s smart to expect to pay a little more.
Voladores performances, which take place just outside the ticketed entrance are technically free. But a tip of 20-30 pesos is appreciated.
Best Ways To Visit El Tajin
When we visited the El Tajín pyramids, we were one of only a handful of other visitors that day. In all honesty, we only saw 15-20 other visitors when we explored the El Tajín ruins.
To beat the crowds, we recommend the following:
The El Tajín entrance opens their gates at 9am. We recommend arriving as close to 9am as you can in order to get ahead of the potential crowds and, more importantly, any tourist buses.
Weekdays Are Better Than Weekends
As with many tourist sites anywhere, visiting any place on a weekday is tremendously better than the weekend. Most domestic tourists will have visited El Tajín on the weekend and returned to work on Monday.
Mondays After A Long Weekend Are Best
We visited the El Tajín pyramids on a Monday and were lucky that that Monday was following a Mexican national holiday (Constitution Day) and long weekend. This was the reason why there were almost no other visitors when we arrived at El Tajín.
Staying abreast of Mexico’s holiday schedule can be helpful.
Do You Need A Guide To Visit El Tajín?
Before you even get to the ticketing sales office, you’ll be confronted by several locals offering their guide service. Hiring a guide can be a great way to get a better understanding of the culture, politics, and economics of the ancient El Tajín city.
Guides were offering their services for 400 pesos when we visited.
We didn’t get a guide because we really value being able to explore ruins at our own pace and love just sitting and taking in the ruins and the greater jungle environment.
But we do admit that the onsite information signs don’t do a great job at all in educating readers about the ancient city. So if learning more about this history of El Tajín is important to you, picking up a guide may be worthwhile.
Top 3 Sights To See In El Tajín
There are so many different pyramids, plazas, ball courts, and temples to see in El Tajín that it can be a bit confusing to know which sights are the most important in this ancient city.
We break down our top three El Tajín sites below:
1. Pyramid of the Niches (Pirámide de los Nichos)
Located on the eastern side of the El Tajín complex, the Pyramid of the Niches is the most important structure within the archeology site. And we think this structure is one of the most beautifully designed pyramids in Mexico. The pyramid gets its name from the small square niches that are built all around the exterior of the pyramid. We had never seen any other pyramid with this type of design.
2. Ball Court of the Paintings (Juego de Pelota de Las Pinturas)
One of the primary ball courts at El Tajín, which is located at the southern end of the Pyramid of the Niches. It is called the Ball Court of the Paintings because of the blue and red geometric friezes that are still preserved at one end of the ball court.
3. El Tajín Chico
El Tajín Chico was a district within the El Tajín ancient city where the political and wealthy ruling class lived. Unsurprisingly, this region in the northern end of the city sits atop a small hill and has the best view of El Tajín. Check out the Plaza de las Columnas, which displays beautifully carved columns still well preserved today.
Top Tips For Visiting El Tajín
1. Use The Maps.me Offline Map App
We highly recommend downloading the Maps.me offline map app for proper exploration of the El Tajín ruins. On this map, you can clearly see all the different structures in El Tajín and the walking path. Google Maps does not give nearly the same detail of the El Tajín complex as Maps.me.
2. Arrive Early On The Weekdays
As mentioned above, in order to get ahead of the crowds, we recommend arriving right at 9am, when the doors open, and visiting on a weekday. Part of the magic of exploring El Tajín is doing so when you’re one of the only ones wandering amongst these impressive pyramids and other stone structures.
3. Bring A Wide-Brimmed Hat & Sunscreen
There is virtually no shade cover throughout most of the El Tajín ruins complex and the sun can be oppressively hot. We bought our wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen while exploring the ruins and those were a real lifesaver once it started getting hot at ~10:30am.
4. Bring Powerful Mosquito Repellent
El Tajín is surrounded by jungle and depending on which month you visit, the mosquitoes can be relentless. A good, comfortable pair of long pants and some strong mosquito repellent is a must.
5. Visit The Museum After Exploring The Ruins
There is a wonderful museum at the entrance and the cost of the museum is included in your entrance ticket. But we recommend visiting the museum after you visit the El Tajín pyramids & ruins. This way you can explore the museum after the morning and during the heat of the day and this will help you stay ahead of the crowds.
Where To Sleep Near El Tajín
Hotel accomodations exist near El Tajín, but the vast majority of visitors visit El Tajín as a day trip and return to Papantla to sleep.
Best Budget: Hotel Alcázar – Excellent no-nonsense business hotel. Clean rooms and bathrooms. Each room comes with AC. Great value.
Best Mid-Range: Paris FC Hotel – This hotel offers excellent amenities, which include a gym and a rooftop restaurant for great views over Papantla city.
Where To Eat In El Tajín
Although there locals sell snacks inside the El Tajín ruins complex, real meals can only be had just before the main ticket entrance, off to the left. You will be met with a long row of food stalls selling delicious local options.
Plates typically cost 100-150 pesos per person.
How To Get To El Tajín
Most visit El Tajín as a day trip from the nearby city of Papantla, roughly 30 minutes away.
Buses from Papantla to El Tajín leave right behind Hotel Tajín and cost 20 pesos per person.
If you are multiple people, it is more worthwhile to simply hire a taxi to get you to and from El Tajín (~100 pesos each way).
Is El Tajín Safe?
There might be plenty of unsafe areas in Mexico, but the areas surrounding El Tajín are very safe. During our visit to El Tajín and all our travels throughout Veracruz, we felt incredibly safe and never once encountered any danger.
That being said, it’s important to have some street smarts and always be aware of your surroundings. If you ever find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, it’s important to know how to say ‘no’ and graciously leave an area.
But having said that, we think you will enjoy your visit to El Tajín. We sure did!
History Of El Tajín
El Tajín is named after the Totonac Rain God.
Earliest evidence suggests that the city of El Tajín began at around the 1st century A.D, likely by the Huastec people. However, it wasn’t until around 600 A.D that El Tajín really began to flourish politically and economically.
El Tajín’s growth would continue until 1200 A.D, when the city was quickly abandoned. It is widely assumed that a fire, started from an invasion by the neighboring Chichimecs in 1230 A.D, was the reason for the city’s demise.
As with most ruins, El Tajín was quickly reclaimed by the surrounding jungle and lost to human knowledge. It wasn’t until 1785, that El Tajín was accidentally rediscovered by Diego Ruiz, working for the Spanish government.
However, it wasn’t until 1935-38 that real excavation started at El Tajín. The first structure to be freed from the jungle’s grasp was the Pyramid of the Niches and for the rest of the 20th century, more and more strone structures would be successfully excavated.
In 1992, El Tajín was named a World Heritage Site.
Final Thoughts On Our Visit To The El Tajín Pyramids
When we explored El Tajín, it was a Monday morning just after a long weekend, due to a Mexican national holiday. As a result, we were one of the only visitors exploring El Tajín and we had ample opportunity to sit and ponder about the past life during the height of prosperity in this ancient city.
Two of our strongest thoughts were:
1. Segregation Existed Back Then, Too
Towards the back-end of the city, the path begins to slope upwards towards EL Tajín Chico. This region is situated on a plateau overlooking the main El Tajín complex and pyramids.
On this plateau were stone remnants of homes and a pavilion and we learned that this area was where the city’s business elite and religious leaders resided.
Just like in our communities today, the rich and influential back then not only found ways to remove themselves from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but also to assume the best location and property for themselves.
Some things in life never change.
2. Nothing Lasts Forever
Though the city prospered from 600-1200 CE, it was only during a 200 year span from 900-1100 CE that El Tajín was truly dominant and the center of Mesoamerica.
By the early 13th century, the city was ransacked and set ablaze and thus started the quick decline into forgotten history for the next 500 years.
For us, it was another reminder that nothing lasts forever. No matter how large, important, or prosperous that thing or city becomes.
What’s important is to understand the transitory nature of life and to appreciate the present moment.