When you think of Mexico a few things come to mind: Mariachi’s, parched deserts, lush jungles, sandy beaches, tacos, and ancient ruins. There are 29,000 archaeological sites in Mexico. Obviously, not all are open to the public. There are the well-known sites such as Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba. Then there are the smaller, hidden gems. La Canada de la Virgen is one such site.
()Top left is the main pyramid called The House of 13 Heavens. Top right is The House of Wind. Bottom picture is the amphitheater of The House of the Longest Night.
The archaeological site of La Canada de la Virgen is located on a private Hacienda, or ranch, just 20 minutes outside of San Miguel. Because it’s a working ranch, you will hear and see cows that wander around the site. It is believed that the Otomi settled here after the fall of Teotihuacan, around 300 AD, because of the rich resources and abundant water supply. Archaeologists think that the depletion of these resources is the reason that the city was abandoned 600 years later. The city falls along a trade route so they have found jewelry, stones, and shells from other parts of Mexico. La Canada consists of two pyramids, a large pyramid and a smaller spiral shaped pyramid, an amphitheater and a garden. The garden was added by the caretakers of the site to display the plants that were used by the ancient people for their medicine, paint, food, and textiles. They also use the garden to display the thousands of pieces of broken pottery found at the site. The guide leads you around the garden, the small pyramid, the outdoor amphitheater, and then the main pyramid, stopping frequently to explain the significance of the buildings.
Not all of the known buildings are uncovered. When you are at the top of the main pyramid you can see what looks like little hills or mounds of dirt, but are actually buildings they haven’t excavated yet. As a result, they keep finding new artifacts and learning new information. I’ve been 3 times and every time I go they’ve added something new to the little museum at the visitor’s center.
(Pictures of the House of 13 Heavens)
My favorite part is seeing the view of the hills and little canyons from the top of the large pyramid. And there’s always a cool refreshing breeze at the top. There’s a courtyard at the base of the pyramid that has great acoustics. You can hear a conversation taking place at the other end of the courtyard. They believe it was designed like that so they could talk to the people and not yell. The pyramid is designed to track the sun and moon. During certain times of year, such as during the summer and winter solstices, the sun or moon will be exactly in the center of the pyramid. During the Spring, the cactus are blooming. Those bright patches of color look so out of place, like butterflies trying to avoid the prickly stalks.
At the visitor’s center you pay, about $3, and then get on a bus. The bus takes you a couple of miles and then you walk the rest of the way. The guide takes you about a half mile, uphill, to the ruins. Then you walk around the site and it’s a half mile back down. It’s about 2.5 miles all together. The tour is in Spanish so go with a translator or just enjoy the ruins and read about them online later. La Canada is closed on Mondays. It is open Tuesday to Sunday 9am – 6pm.
GENERAL NOTE: Go in the morning so you don’t get too hot. Wear sunscreen and a hat. The whole tour takes about 2 hours so use the restroom at the visitor center before you leave on the tour. You can’t bring any bags or purses with you on the tour. You can bring whatever will fit in your pocket; like a water bottle and cell phone.
NOTE FOR CHILDREN: Strollers are also not allowed so make sure your kids can walk at least 2 miles or else you’ll be carrying them for 2 miles. The hike up the hill is rocky and strenuous. The guide will tell you over and over that you absolutely cannot take anything from the site. Not even a pebble from the path. Make sure your rock collecting little boys and girls know this very strict rule. And again, no bags, including diaper bags.
NOTE FOR THE ELDERLY: As previously mentioned, the hike can be a little bit tough. My mother and father-in-law can’t do it because they can’t walk too much or be on their feet for the amount of time this tour takes. My 70-year-old mother could do it, but she had to take a few breaks. She couldn’t go up the steep steps of the pyramid so she just waited for us at the bottom. My dad had no problem. Take the elevation into consideration. San Miguel de Allende is about 5500 feet above sea level. This can cause some shortness of breath even for people who are in shape. This site is NOT handicap accessible.