AAA Editor Notes
El Tajín is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) w. of Papantla via a paved road, following signs. The main reason to come to Papantla is to visit these impressive ruins, which were first discovered in the late 18th century. A major restoration project began in 1992, the same year that El Tajín (tah-HEEN) was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Some 40 structures, divided into four sections, have been excavated and restored.
The largest building is the Pyramid of the Niches. Constructed of adobe and stone, its seven terraces are punctuated by 365 deeply recessed niches on all four sides. This pyramid was once painted red, and the niches were black. A smaller pyramid, Building 5, is just to the south.
North of the Pyramid of the Niches in the Tajín Chico section is the Temple of the Columns, which has six richly carved column shafts—three on each side—that once supported a ceiling/roof. Large portions of the roof are scattered below near one of the site's 17 ball courts (six can be visited). The best vantage point of the entire site is from the rear of the Tajín Chico building group.
The museum near the entrance contains display cases of artifacts retrieved from the excavations; information signs are in English and Spanish. Two dioramas depict the site. Also on display are photos of the moon and sun rising over the pyramids.
The Papantla Flyers will perform the well-known flying pole dance just outside the main entrance whenever there are enough tourists—usually tour groups—to form an appreciative audience. A 20-peso donation per person is requested to watch the spectacle, which is not without risk to its daredevil performers; the flyers also will put on a special show for a 400-peso fee.
Stone pathways connect the four sections. Climbing the pyramids is not permitted. Bring a water bottle and wear a hat and sunblock for protection, as the site has little shade. Also pick up a free Spanish-language brochure at the admission desk; it has a good map of the site.
The tourist information office in Papantla can provide information about sightseeing tours to the ruins, although English is not likely to be spoken. Minibuses marked “Chote/Tajín” depart from Avenida 16 de Septiembre at the main plaza (the street running along the uphill side of the cathedral).
From Mexico City, Papantla is a 3- to 4-hour drive via Mex. 130; from Veracruz, Papantla is about 225 kilometers (140 miles) north via Mex. 180. Both highways are safe to drive, although getting to Papantla from Veracruz, visiting the ruins and then returning to Veracruz makes for a very long day. ADO bus service is available from Mexico City and Veracruz to Papantla. Travel (especially by bus) from the state of Tamaulipas, north of Papantla, is not recommended.
Note: Expect checkpoint stops (police searching for guns and ammunition) on Mex. 180. This highway also is rough in some places. Avoid driving after dark if possible.