El Tajin is an ancient archeological site with numerous temples, palaces, ballcourts , and pyramids located in the hot, wet rainforest near Papantla, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. It is one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica and flourished from 600 to 1200 C.E, though it has been occupied since at least 5600 B.C. During its peak, due to its strategic location, the city controlled the flow of commodities, such as vanilla, cacao, corn, beans, and imports from other locations throughout Mexico and Central America. Objects from Teotihuacan were abundant in the region and the influence is visible.

El Tajin, means “thunder” or “lightning bolt” in the Toltec language and is due to the belief that twelve old thunderstorm deities, known as Tajin, still inhabit the ruins. However, a series of indigenous maps dating from the time of the Spanish conquest suggest that the city might have been called Mictlan or “Place of the Dead” after ancient sites whose original names have been lost.

The large complex is believed to have once been a ceremonial and administrative center; it’s construction has been attributed to a tribe related to the Maya, but there are many questions about the inhabitants of the ancient city. Over 150 buildings have been identified on the site, although only around 20 have been excavated and restored. The most famous of these monuments is the Pyramid of the Niches. The deep niches imitate caves, which have been considered to be passageways to the underworld where many of the gods reside. El Tajin is also famous for the 20 ballcourts that were discovered at this site (some as recently as March 2013). The ballcourts were used in Mesoamerica for over 2,700 years to host the famous sacrificial ballgames as well as hosting other sporting events, feasts, and rituals.

Every March, El Tajin is the site of the Cumbre Tajin Festival, which features indigenous and foreign cultural events as well as concerts by popular musicians.

El Tajin is an amazing site to visit. The history and the archaeology spur the imagination and transport you to a time period and culture we can only dream about. Archaeological ruins, and particularly El Tajin, are one of the best features that Mexico has to offer. I highly recommend spending a few hours exploring the ruins.


  • The region is hot, so bring plenty of water and snacks.
  • The area is not wheelchair accessible.
  • Young kids may get bored, so be sure to do your research beforehand for a better experience.
  • Be kind to the street dogs as they don’t seem to be treated very well here.

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