Last updateFri, 29 Apr 2016 3pm

Ruins in Los Altos, Jalisco may one day rival majestic pyramids of Teotihuacan

I was recently asked to write something in English about Jalisco’s famous Guachimontones pyramids for tourists who visit the site but don’t read Spanish. This brought me into contact with Alfredo Gutierrez, head of Editorial Acento, one of Guadalajara’s most prestigious publishers of famous books and magazines.

While we chatted about the great civilization of the Teuchitlán Tradition, Alfredo casually mentioned “extensive ruins of another civilization,” which once operated out of a tiny pueblo in Los Altos de Jalisco, where he grew up. 

“These are the ruins of Teocaltitán,” he told me. “The excavations aren’t as far along as those of Teuchitlán, but, even so, the place is really impressive.” 

Poor Alfredo! From that moment on, I gave him no peace until he agreed to take me on a journey to Teocaltitán.

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We finally got it all together and Alfredo led a gang of “low-landers” up Highway 80 to Jalostotitlán, located about 100 kilometers northeast of Guadalajara. From here we followed smaller and smaller roads to Teocaltitán de Guadalupe, which has a population of 631. From this pueblito, a brecha (dirt road) leads east less than a kilometer to a grassy spot where it abruptly ends at the foot of a rustic staircase heading steeply up a high hill.

We climbed the stairs, crossed a flat, open space and arrived at a sort of gigantic mound, wrapped in huge black plastic tarps, placed there by archaeologists to protect their excavations from the rains. The only sign we had seen since leaving our cars was one listing all the things we should not do at this site, but not a single word explaining what lies here.

Fortunately, we had archaeologist Rodrigo Esparza with us, who told us we were standing at the foot of a pyramid constructed by a civilization which dominated a large part of Mexico from 400 to 900 A.D., between the Teuchitlán Nation and the Toltecs.

“We don´t know the name of these people but we can recognize them by

 their rectangular architecture and their sunken patios, such as the one we are standing in right now,” Esparza told us. “But what is most curious about them is the kind of figurines they made, which are flat and thin and look very much like large cookies.” 

Esparza added that archaeologists had first come across signs of this ancient nation at a place called El Grillo, inside the city limits of greater Guadalajara, just 500 meters east of the Telmex Auditorium. And in recent years, he explained, more and more sites of “La Fase El Grillo” keep turning up.  Esparza added that while El Grillo is closed to the public, anyone can see an example of Grillo-Phase monuments by visiting the Ixtepete Pyramid, located right alongside the Guadalajara Periférico (at Mariano Otero).

From this site, we climbed to a higher level where we found a truly enormous sunken patio which must have held thousands of people at one time. From this esplanade, the crowds could conveniently view a ball court at a slightly lower level.

Next, we went to the very top of this entire complex. From here, we had a 360-degree view of Los Altos de Jalisco, an area which 

is mostly flat. This panorama was truly impressive, the perfect place for ceremonies requiring people to face each of the four directions of the compass.

The ruins of Teocaltitán consist of 23 structures spread over nine hectares (20 acres). The land was bought by the state and excavations and studies are being carried out by personnel from the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH). 

I doubt whether Teocaltitán will ever rival Teotihuácan, Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, but knowing the determination and attention to detail of the people of Los Altos, I suspect that the dirt road to the ruins will soon be beautifully paved. With luck, someday thousands of people will drive along it to wander among these extraordinary ruins overlooking the Highlands of Jalisco.

How to get there

Take toll road 80 northeast to the Jalostotitlán-Santo Toribio exit (48.5 kilometers past the Tepatitlán exit). Go southeast toward Santo Toribio, but at N21.10742  W102.43445, turn left and go north to the town of Teocaltitán. Upon crossing the bridge over the Jalostotitlán River (N21.14014 W102.39770), drive north 545 meters, turn right and go east one kilometer to the grassy parking area (N21.14354 W102.38864) at the foot of the pyramids. You’ll find a step-by-step route to these ruins on Wikiloc.com under “Guadalajara to Teocaltitan Ruins.” Driving time about 90 minutes if you take the toll road.


Prayers carved in stone

I recently received a most interesting book entitled “Arte Rupestre en Jalisco” (Rock Art in Jalisco) by archaeologist Joseph Mountjoy, which was kindly given to me by the author himself after I asked him one too many questions about petroglyphs. Joe suggested I might find many of the answers I sought in the pages of this richly illustrated, 48-page book (all in Spanish) and I certainly did.

The Parakeet Valley: Birds, dragonflies, obsidian – if you can cross the raging river

The early bird gets the worm and, it seems, only the early riser ever gets a picture of that bird. I greatly admire nature photographer Jesús “Chuy” Moreno, who is quite happy to get up in the wee hours of the morning, drive off to Villa Corona Lagoon in the dark, throw himself down on the lake shore, covered with a camouflage tarp, and there await sunrise, and – if he’s lucky that day – get an eye-level photo of a water bird, maybe even an award winner.