The name Tepozteco, like the archaeological site itself, is shrouded in mystery.
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.”
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several hotels can be found in the city, but if you want to avoid the intense partying, choose accommodations a little further in town.
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.