A Not Completely Futile Dash Through Teotihuacán

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The Pyramid of the Sun, about half an hour after sunrise. Dammit.

There’s no rush to get to the entrance of the archeological park of Teotihuacán. The sign says it opens at 7, which is when I arrived, but the guard won't let me in because the ticket collector hasn't shown up for work yet. As I stare at the sign about the opening hours, I notice there’s a suggestion box on a pole right next to it. Of course, the box which is supposed to contain the forms to submit suggestions is empty.

So much for photos of the pyramids in the dawn light.

At about 7:25 the rosy-fingered dawn is illuminating the clouds to the east, but even though I’m finally taking a short cut through the back side of the site, I’m still a good fast 15-minute walk from the lighted side of the Pyramid of the Sun. There are only three other people in the park other than me, so it would be easy to set up and get the shot I’d like…if only I’d got there half an hour earlier.

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Looking from the avenue toward the cul-de-sac of the Pyramid of the Moon.

Oh, and I should mention, they don’t allow tripods anywhere on the site either. If I’d known that, I could have saved myself carrying my heavy camera case backpack with all my accessories all over the place, too.

Oh well.

Next time, I’m going to contact the site authority in advance and ask for permission to get in early to get pics, and to use a tripod. I figure if I ask now, it might get approved sometime in 2015.

Nevertheless, the Teotihuacán area is impressive, and is so big you need to set aside at least four hours to cover it. It’s extremely well preserved, especially when you consider that the two larger Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon are 2000 years old.

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Kris on her way up the Pyramid of the Moon. She was an hour behind me all day.

While I was sitting atop the Pyramid of the Moon (well halfway up, which is as far as they’ll let you go) I could watch Mexican masons chipping out what was probably original mortar from between the stones of an adjacent structure and replacing it with modern stuff. It’s obvious this has been done all over the site, and it has certainly been instrumental in the preservation.

As I said, I took a back way through the park in my futile rush to get to the Pyramid of the Sun, and so sort of skipped one of the later pyramids–the so-called Temple of the Plumed Serpent. That’s not such a tragedy though, as a portion of that temple had been removed to the Archeology Museum in Mexico City and can be seen there in better preserved condition anyway.

But more impressive than the sheer size of the two larger Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are the vistas they present in the context of the mile-long Avenue of the Dead. The avenue is one long precession of smaller tombs whose architecture is the repetitive smaller siblings of the immense pyramids which flank and cap the end of the broad promenade.

You can climb all the way to the top of the larger Pyramid of the Sun, a pleasure which I will reserve for another day…perhaps that day when I get there before dawn with my tripod.

But, the view from halfway up the Pyramid of the Moon (the climb I did make) at the end of the long avenue is the one that gives you pause. It is indeed a view to spur contemplation of what sort of advanced and creative society built such a city so long ago.

Teotihuacan Pyramid Moon
Looking from atop the Pyramid of the Moon down the Avenue of the Dead. That's the Pyramid of the Sun on the left.

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14 thoughts on “A Not Completely Futile Dash Through Teotihuacán”

  1. Though It must be frustrating to be stymied in getting the planned-for shot, the ones you did get are great. Especially with the addition of the explanation of what we’re seeing.

  2. The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan was the first pyramid I ever saw in my life—at age 9.My father had taken us to Mexico in 1963 to live for a year. It was my “Toto, we’re not in Philadelphia anymore” moment.

    • Great story, Suzanne. So much detail and such great memories from one who was then so young. Our Dad never took us to Mexico, probably because he and my mother had driven through it on their honeymoon in 1950, and my mother vowed she’d never go back. We did get a lot of long car trips through the west, and many stories to wile away the hours from my dad. Like this one which we got around to writing down a few years ago.

      El Diablo

  3. Thanks for pointing out the issue with the tripod. I use a tripod everywhere I go and not being able to use one is a problem. I don’t understand what hang up Mexico has with using Tripods at such archeological sites? A professional can take great shots without a tripod while a tourist such as myself needs the help of a tripod to take good to great shots.

    What really frustrates me is how hard it is to find out how to get a permit for using a tripod and how much it is. I was given info about fees for professionals and they wanted over $4,000 US per day if your using professional equipment for photography. That is outrageous for a tourist who wants to get some personal shots that aren’t for publication or sale. Another website discussion said it’s $300 per day which is more reasonable but I can’t confirm it.

    In fairness, I know Mexico isn’t the only country that gives you this hassle on Tripods. Greece gives you a hard time at the Acropolis and at the Taj Mahal they don’t allow them either supposedly due to security concerns. However, other monuments of the world do let you use tripods without restriction. The Giza Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, Monuments in Rome, Petra, China, Angkor, Sydney Opera House, and Machu Picchu to name some major ones and I credit them for it!!!!

    But it’s just a crime to deny people the ability to take their own personal great pictures with a tripod at sites that are supposed to belong to everyone in the world!

  4. Tripods are almost always useful, and I still lug mine around most of the time. However, I can sort of see the point of some photogenic sites that they don’t want their “imagery” exploited for commercial purposes without being paid. The latest trend in Europe is to charge you a small camera fee, usually around €2 for a permit to shoot with any camera. But, as you say, you can do it often without the tripod, and I usually do. I’ve become really good at hand holding at slow shutter speeds, and luckily my Nikon D800E performs really well at high ISO. Good luck.

    • My hands get shakey so the tripod makes sure that I’m not out-of-focus when I take my shots. I think it’s a combination of the excitement of being there, the crowds around me and just sometimes feeling rushed because other people are waiting for you to take your shot so they can take there shot so it just makes me more nervous and thus my hands are less stable. It takes time to take the right shot sometimes and often several attempts as you know and I don’t think it’s ever good to just take one shot. You really can’t evaluate fully until you have time later to review and find what’s best.

      I use a Canon EOS (I don’t think that’s a professional camera but a guard might) but still with the weight of the camera and the flash, it can get tiring to hold it up right to take the right shot and avoid shaking the camera. I used to take bad shots all the time until I started using the tripod and that was when we only had the choice of film which made it worse as I couldn’t know the result until I developed it. Thank goodness for digital! You can’t always find something to rest your camera on that allows the full shot you want in the frame.

      Sometimes you can lean against something and stiffen up your arms to lock them in place to avoid shaking but it can be a strain and that’s more the exception than the rule.

  5. Have you tried a monopod? Not the perfect solution, but it certainly helps, and it may make it past the guards as it folds up so small. Also, is there a “mirror up” feature on that camera? I use mine all the time. It minimizes camera shake due to the mirror flop. Not as good as a shutter release accessory, but not bad. BTW, I’m going to post our tripod problem in a travel photo forum I belong to. Let’s see if some real pros have any suggestions.

  6. I’ve never tried a monopod but I think I’ve seen them. Only thing is if you try and take photos of other people and yourself, then using monopod maybe problematic as the shot is messed up as you change hands. Using a tripod on the other hand keeps the frame in place with the shot you had in mind. I wonder if a mini tripod would fare any better? But then if the camera weighs more than the mini tripod can support with flash, then that may not help if it tips over.

    I’m not familiar with the mirror feature you mention. I’d have to check the manual on the camera to see if it says anything on that. Would that be classifed under a specific header you think? I appreciate the time you are taking with me.

    I’d appreciate it if you would post the tripod problem in a travel photo forum. I’ve tried to inquire through the Mexican Embassy in the US. They referred me to something called INAH Centers in Mexico to obtain the permit. Their website is in Spanish and it’s very hard to find any information on it. Then they sent me an e-mail to contact someone about an application. I’ve sent him an e-mail on the issue and never got an answer. Also tried another e-mail I found on the internet and still can’t get an answer. I’ve brought up the fact that I’m not a professional and thus hope there is a more reasonable fee for a tourist to get a permit than a professional. Even tried writing both in English and Spanish. I may try the Mexican Embassy again. They did give me a phone number for INAH in Mexico but I fear I will just encounter alot of red tape and get nowhere and somethings are lost in translation and people not familar willl likely not get what I’m talking about. It’s really frustrating.

    It would be just easier if I could just pay a few hundred dollars if need be at the tourist site itself. I don’t get why all the red tape for a permit other than to discourage you from getting one at all. But paying thousands of dollars is just outrageous and frankly a rip off.

    • Don’t know what to tell you about the Mexican embassy, etc. I posted the query on a Travel Photographers Facebook group, and the basic answer was you have to track down the responsible party and pay the fee. No way around it. If it’s too much, it’s too much. One suggested using SteadePod, which is sort of a cable that attaches to your camera. You stand on it and pull it tight and it sort of acts like a tripod. Good luck. BTW, $4000 in Mexico could mean 4000 pesos, which is about $300 USD. Still a lot.

  7. Wow. Your forum was fast. You know, I kept assuming because the fees they provided had a $ sign in front of them that they meant US dollars not Mexican Pesos. But looking at the exchange rate like you said, it does work out to about $300 US dollars using the exchange rate assumption. Thanks for pointing that out. Expensive yes but more reasonable than what I thought especially if it means getting what you want. Since everything is in Spanish and getting a response through e-mail from INAH hasn’t happened it was difficult to confirm.

    Below is the link if you want to check it out with the fees I’m referring to:


    I’m going to have to either call them directly to speak or try and understand it all given that it’s in Spanish. I guess aside from confirming the rate is $300, the next thing is how to submit the application and by what means can they be paid. Hopefully you won’t have to do it in person but they would still need to send me a permit.. Wasting a day in government bureaucracy isn’t a fun way to spend a vacation.

  8. Something to consider is that $4000 when posted in Mexico probably means pesos. At the current conversion rate that is more like $200 us. Pesos and dollars both use the same ($) as a symbol.


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