Challenge Yourself to Ascend the Aztec Temple of Drunkenness and Fertility

The name Tepozteco, like the archaeological site itself, is shrouded in mystery. 

The Temple of Tepoztecatl as seen through a telephoto lens from the town of Tepoztlán in the Mexican state of Morelos. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Though there is no concrete consensus on the meaning of Tepozteco, scholars usually hold it to either mean “the place of broken stones, or “the place of the ax.” 

A mural in Tepoztlán depicts an Aztec lord in front of the temple of Tepoztecatl wearing full warrior regalia. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Aside from its largest structure, known as the temple of Tepoztecatl, Tepoztlán is most notable for the steep cliff where the impressive ceremonial structure stands. 

The steep pass up to El Tepozteco remains much as it did during Prehispanic times —  rocky, twisty, and windy, through dense vegetation and the company of animals and critters. 

Though loose rocks are hardly a rarity during the ascent, for the most part, the path is fairly sturdy — though one must keep their wits about themselves to avoid slipping or, worse yet, falling down a cliffside. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The climb takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on one’s fitness level. Still, given the region’s altitude (roughly 8,000 feet above sea level), it is particularly difficult for those accustomed to living at lower altitudes. 

That said, despite its hurdles, the hike is lovely, especially given the fresh air and the fact that a vendor selling drinks or popsicles is never too far away. 

Remember that no bathrooms are to be found during the hike or even at the archaeological site itself. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Once you have reached the summit and paid the entrance fee (95 pesos and free for students and those with INAPAM cards), the temple of Tepoztecatl comes fully into view. 

The temple of Tepoztecatl is a great example of tablero talud architecture, which is believed to have origins in the mysterious city of Teotihuacán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

The temple, as it is visible today, was constructed during the Postclassic period (likely sometime between the 9th and 10th centuries) and served as a major pilgrimage site.

The roof of the main temple has long since collapsed, but the inner sanctum still holds two pillars and several stones covered in glyphs. Photo: Carlos Rosdo van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The temple itself is a two-room structure built on a platform. The outer room is larger and has two pillars flanking the entrance. The inner sanctum is smaller and was likely where a statue of Tepoztecatl (the god of pulque, drunkenness, and fertility) was housed.

A traditional Mexican Ex Voto reads, “We thank you, our virgin, for the pulque of this land.” Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pulque is an alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey (agave) plant. It is traditional in central Mexico, where it has been produced for millennia. It has the color of milk, a rather viscous consistency, and a sour yeast-like taste.

Pulque is usually fermented for 24 hours in vessels made of stone, wood, or animal hides. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Some scholars argue that the cliffsides above Tepoztlán, as well as the town itself, had been inhabited since the first century in the Presclassic and were originally constructed with influences from Zapotec and Olmec peoples. 

Though only one major temple exists today, just a handful of centuries ago, several others would have dotted the peaks and valleys surrounding the town of Tepoztlán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Xochimilca people occupied El Tepozteco before being conquered by the Aztec Triple Alliance in 1438 CE. The Aztecs incorporated the Temple of Tepoztecatl into their religious system and made it a major pilgrimage site for their empire.

The remains of a patio that once surrounded the temple of Tepoztecatl. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Tepoztlán is roughly an hour and a half from Mexico City (given moderate traffic) and is a popular weekend getaway for young people around the region. 

Tepoztlán in Morelos, Mexico. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Several hotels can be found in the city, but if you want to avoid the intense partying, choose accommodations a little further in town.

The Hotel Posada del Tepozteco is a great choice for stunning views of the mountains and a relaxed environment. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you decide to brave the climb up to the Temple of Tepoztecatl, first have a good breakfast and wear comfortable clothing and running shoes with good tread. 

At the base of the entrance to the archaeological site, there are dozens of stalls selling pulque, beer, mojitos, and micheladas. If you choose to imbibe, do so after the climb, certainly not before, regardless of what the god Tepoztecatl may whisper into your ear. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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