This Vacation Can Change Your Life

This Vacation Can Change Your Life
If it's something different you crave on your next vacation, visit the ancient ruins of Mexico's Gulf Coast.  You'll witness a vision of the world through the eyes of ancient culture deep in in the jungle.  Rivers, burial grounds, ancient murals and monumental tributes to ancient gods await your discovery.

Ruins in the Gulf Coast Area

  • Zempoala ruins north of Veracruz. Main city of the Totanac peoples. Rivers converge here, very scenic.
  • Cacaxtla & Xochitecatl ruins. Pyramids, burial grounds, gardens, pottery and murals.
  • El Tajín

Cacaxtla & Xochitecatl


Cacaxtla is mainly about murals. First discovered in 1975, the colorful murals at the Cacaxtla site depict symbols of Maya warriors. Cacaxtla is about 12 miles southwest of Puebla, so it makes a good day trip from that colonial city, especially when combined with a trip to the nearby Xochitécatl ruins.

Romantic evening
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The main attraction is a large mural showing a victory scene between dark-skinned warriors wearing Jaguar pelts, and other warriors, the losers in battle, having their intestines pulled out. Pretty gory! Like at many other ruins sites, there are symbols of the planet Venus scattered around, as well. In general, archaeologists theorize that appearance of the symbol of Venus means that ritualistic sacrifices took place at that site.

The goal was probably to ensure good crops. Cacaxtla was geographically very centrally located, on a trade route. Merchants would have passed through here as well as astronomers and people from all over the corners of the Mesoamerican world. Cacaxtla reached its height of power and activity between A.D. 650 and 900, just after the fall of Teotihuacaactuen. This leads some scholars to think that maybe the survivors of whatever happened ther could havehappened at Cacaxtla.


Xochitécatl is a small site on a hill overlooking Cacaxtla, about half a mile from the larger site. Probably the same people lived at both sites. There's an interesting circular pyramid at the tip top of the hill, which is about 600 feet high. Other two more pyramids here, as well as some impressively huge boulders that were hollowed out. Nobody knows why these 10-foot diameter boulders were hollowed out like this.

Other hollowed-out boulders can be found but only in the Puebla valley. Rounded pyramids seem to also be indicative of the Puebla area. They are thought to have been dedicated to a god of the wind. The circular pyramid here at Xochitécatl is 50 feet high and has a diameter of 180 feet at the base.

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Rounded boulders are also present in construction of the Pyramid of the Flowers. The bodies of children were found during excavaction of this pyramid, about 30 in all. Scientists think that Pyramid of the Flowers was dedicated to Xochitl, goddess of flowers and fertility. There are also a museum and a garden here at Xochitécatl.


$6 admission price gets you into both sites, and the $4 video camera fee is good for both as well. You can take a city bus to Cacaxtla from Tlaxcala, the nearest city. Take the bus to the town of Nativitas, or San Miguel Milagro, which is the nearest village to Cacaxtla. There's a short climb from the parking lot to the ruins.

The Ruins at Zempoala

Place of the 20 Waters

Zempoala was a city built by the Totonac, on the convergence of several rivers. The Totonac flourished at the time of the Spanish conquest, and most of the ruins are from the 1300s and 1400s. The buildings have stucco walls and were whitewashed so they shone white gleaming in the sunlight. This excited the Spaniards when they arrived, who imagined great stores of precious metals within the impressive glimmering walls. They didn't find any gold, but they did make friends with the Totonac.

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The Totonac indians were willing to make friends because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", and they resented the Aztecs, who were predominant in the area at that time. The Spaniards set up shop just down the road from Zempoala, in Antigua. Antigua became the center of Spanish power until 1600, which was about 75 years. Today Antigua is a small village used as a weekend getaway for city folks from Veracruz. It's about 14 miles north of the city.

Buildings at the ruins of Zempoala include Temple of Quetzalcoatl, which is the feathered serpent, also present at Teotihuacán. What remains now is a square platform, which was the foundation for the temple at one time. There is also the Great Temple, which is another similarity to Teotihuacán, since it strongly resembles the Temple of the Sun at Teotihuacán. Other ruins at Zempoala are the Temple of Ehecatl, who is God of the Wind.


Admission to the ruins at Zempoala cost $4 and the video camera fee is about the same. A good time to visit these ruins is on the weekends and during Mexican vacation times. At these times, you are likely to see voladores, who are ritualistic acrobats from Papantla.

Zempoala is about a 40 minute drive from Veracruz, located just north of Cardel. There are also buses from Veracruz, which take substantially longer.
Belind Mills
About the Author:

Belind Mills is a travel blogger currently living in Key West where she enjoys diving and snorkeling.

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