Xochicalco Ruins are about 37 km (23 mi.) s.w. of Cuernavaca and can be reached from downtown Mexico City via two different routes. Take Av. Tlalpan s. to toll highway Mex. 95D and continue s. to the town of Xochitepec, following signs to Mex. highway 166 (Xochitepec exit); from that point, follow signs to Xochicalco. There is a 16-peso toll at the Xochitepec exit. The alternate route is to take Mex. 95D to the exit for the town of Alpuyeca (toll 52 pesos), then follow the paved road that winds n. about 8 km (5 mi.) to the ruins site, which sits atop a mountain.
In terms of sheer grandeur, Xochicalco (so-chee-KAHL-coh, which means “place of flowers” in the Náhuatl Indian language) rivals the more famous archeological zone of Teotihuacán. After Teotihuacán's fall Xochicalco became one of the leading urban centers of the central high plains. These white-stone ruins epitomize the Classic Period in Mesoamerican history, which lasted from about the second through the eighth centuries and produced Mexico's first noteworthy urban civilizations. Xochicalco was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.
Upon entering, buy your ticket to the ruins at the site museum (Museo de Xochicalco). The well-labeled (in Spanish) exhibits feature pottery, carvings and artifacts that have been excavated, and there is also a diorama of the entire site. There are excellent views of the ruins from the museum grounds.
The Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent (Pirámide de Quetzalcóatl) is the dominant structure, with well-preserved bas-reliefs and traces of hieroglyphs representing dates and eclipse signs. Close by is the entrance to a mazelike tunnel ending at a stone-hewn, stepped chamber with a “telescope” orifice; the astrologer-priests of Xochicalco made corrections to their calendar by examining the heavens through this aperture. From Xochicalco's fortresslike location the sweeping vistas of the Valley of Cuernavaca are spectacular.