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El Tajin Archaeological Site

By Jessica Ramírez |

El Tajin, capital of the Totonaca culture in Veracruz, is as grand as other Mesoamerican cities like Teotihuacan and Palenque. ¡Visit it now!


One of the main advantages of traveling to Mexico is that visiting this destination more than once will give you the chance to discover very varied types of weather, environments and landscapes. One of the Mexican states we’ve talked about before is Veracruz, a territory that’s rich in beaches embraced by the Gulf of Mexico, historic sites like the Fort of San Juan de Ulua, and coffee plantations where you’ll enjoy top-quality brews. But today we want to invite you to uncover the magical past of Veracruz at the Archaeological Site of El Tajindeclared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1992.


This word comes from the Totonaca language and has been interpreted in different ways. Among them, the most popular meanings include “the great smoke”, “thunder” or “smokes constantly”. In a more interpretative sense, it has been translated as “the place of temples that smoke constantly”. This doesn’t mean that you’ll find constructions in flames or bonfires in the area. The reason why it’s called like this is that the Totonaca inhabitants used to burn copal as an offering for their deities. Particularly, its symbolism was related with fertility, water and rain. What’s more, this vegetable aromatic resin had important medicinal uses in the ancient tradition. Even nowadays certain indigenous communities use copal to reduce stomach and tooth aches.


Tickets for the archaeological site cost approximately 70 pesos, but before going in,DINKtravelers suggests visiting another attraction that’s included in your ticket for the same price: the Tajin On-site Museum. You’ll find it a few meters before the entrance to El Tajín.

In this museum you’ll learn about the social development of the local culture through different examples of architectural elements that characterized it including columns, bas-reliefs, baseboards, pottery, sculptures and mural painting. Visiting it will allow you to establish the context in which the Totonaca developed, while understanding their daily life and religious way of thinking.


According to specialists, El Tajin, capital of the Totonaca culture, developed in a time similar to the one when other grand Mesoamerican cities like Teotihuacan, Monte Alban and Palenque thrived. In that sense, it competes with them both in beauty and in the complexity of its urban organization.

In El Tajin you’ll find ample spaces delimited only by temples distributed in square clusters. At the same time, you’ll see that the structures were built on terraces located on different levels and this will give you the opportunity to have access to natural overlooks and photography stations with panoramic views of the site.

If you like to focus on architectural details, prepare the zoom of your camera because the main structures are full of niches, engravings and mural paintings. In fact, the most important construction in El Tajin is the Pyramid of the Niches. Standing before it, count the niches that adorn its four façades. You’ll discover that they add a total of 365 niches –yes, the same as the number of days that make up a year in the Gregorian calendar–, something that has really intrigued researchers and specialists who study the Mesoamerican worldview.

Another thing that catches the eye of many visitors is the number of ball games that you can find on site. In total, they are 17, but not all of them were used at the same time. In fact, they are an example of the site’s cultural diversity, because they were linked with specific celebrations throughout the year.


The best time to visit El Tajin is in March, when they celebrate the Cumbre Tajin Festival, also known as the “Festival of Identity”. It’s better described as the most important cultural and artistic event in northern Veracruz. If you go during this event’s celebration, apart from enjoying the usual tours, you’ll be able to go to concerts, conferences, lights shows and local artworks exhibits.


There are four entryways to the archaeological site. If you are traveling from Mexico City, you’ll arrive from the west; meanwhile, if you’re staying in Veracruz,

you’ll arrive from the southeast. In any case, take the road to the town of El Chote and, once close, you’ll start to find road signage leading to the archaeological site. Still, the most practical option is to take a tourist bus departing from any of those two cities.

Consider arriving as soon as they open the site (Monday-Sunday 9-17h) so that you visit the place more leisurely. First, go to the on-site museum –which is not very big– and then enter the archaeological site before anyone else does. Calmly count the niches on the pyramids, take pictures and avoid the scorching sunrays at noon. Actually, another reason to wake up early the day of your visit is that the restaurants that are located outside El Tajin are crowded from 2pm onward, so if you arrive a bit earlier than that you’ll receive a better and faster service.


A good lodging alternative near El Tajin is the town of Papantla, located only 10km away from the archaeological site. There you’ll see first-hand some local traditions such as the Papantla Flyers, a risky and yet artistic ceremony that takes place on top of a very tall pole. Also, try local gastronomy that includes the unique bocoles –corn dough patties that are cooked on a hotplate and prepared with various fillings including cheese, ground meat or beans.

With this plan of adventure, food and culture, you have everything you need to plan your next trip to Mexico.