Menu 1

Hiking the Olmec Ruins near Puebla: Yes you Cantona

Olmec ruins Cantona Mexico

Standing on top of Olmec ruins in Cantona: a very old world

Olmec ruins in Cantona, Mexico

Cantona is the site of an amazing set of Olmec Ruins dating from 1,000 A.D. The vast archaeological site is situated about two hours northeast of Puebla, Mexico and about four hours east of Mexico City.

This former ancient civilization was eerily quiet when our group pulled in. There was not one other car in the parking lot. Nothing stirred except a couple of mangy dogs.

The area resembled something out of the desert southwest in the United States. I am no botanist, but I believe the orange wildflowers adding the only color to the dreary day and dry landscape was the penstemon flower. I had encountered the Utah variety while hiking the Grand Canyon.

penstomen wildflower

Orange penstomens blooming in Cantona

Hiking and climbing over Olmec ruins in Cantona, Mexico

We immediately climbed up a set of steep stone stairs. Once we reached the plateau, the ancient city came into view. There was no sign the area was of any interest to anyone from the parking lot unless you are a connoisseur of stray dogs. This changed as soon as we crested the first flight of stairs. From here you could see a series of walkways, pyramids, and courtyards that stretched out in front of us. In the background, clouds hovered over impressive mountains.

Cantona Olmec Ruins Mexico

Hiking through Olmec ruins in Cantona, Mexico

The scope of the ruins from this vantage point was impressive. What was even more incredible is that only 10% of this ancient city has been uncovered. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine a bustling city in this remote spot stretching out in the valley over 1,000 years ago. I always find it humbling to stand on a historically significant spot and try to imagine what it looked like way back then.

We approached one of the pyramids. There were several signs asking visitors not to walk in certain areas of the complex, but it was acceptable to walk up to the pyramid. Steep steps ascended up front of the square pyramid.

Cantona Olmec ruins Mexico

A view of the Cantona Olmec ruins and pyramids

Whenever I see an impressive set of steps, I can only think of one thing – ROCKY. I grew up in the 1970s and can still remember the intro with Sylvester Stallone running the streets of Philadelphia and then climbing up the stairs with hands raised to the sky.

When I looked straight up to the pyramid and saw the steps, the music started playing in my head. I took off and headed straight up the steps leaving the rest of the group behind. In seconds I was on top of the world on an Olmec Pyramid in Mexico looking out over the rest of the ancient city. I stretched my hands to the sky Rocky style.

Puebla Mexico Olmec Ruins

Getting strong now on top of an ancient pyramid in the Olmec ruins at Cantona, Mexico

When I looked around I put my hands down and stopped my silly antics and stopped paying homage to a fictitious boxer from the 1970s. This was because the view was so awe inspiring. The view from the first plateau entering the site was cool enough, but it really was something from up here.

Cantona Mexico Olmec ruins

Awesome view from on top of Olmec ruins

We were at the center of the complex and looked down on the rest of the pyramids. The rugged countryside stretched out in all directions with distance plains, trees, and mountains. Interesting cloud formations covered and then uncovered the mountains in the distance. A storm was brewing, but that did not matter now.

Cantona Mexico

The surrounding landscape was just as spectacular as the Olmec ruins themselves, but together it was sublime

Cantona, Mexico

The jaw dropping vista from atop an ancient pyramid

The day was overcast and cool with a refreshing wind cooling us down. It was one of those moments that just made you feel good to be alive. Temperate weather combined with a great group of travel partners and 1,000 year old Olmec ruins are the perfect ingredients for a magical day.

Mexico archealogical ruins

A great group always makes any trip even better – Posing on top of Olmec ruins

Yes, you can Cantona too. The best way to make it here is from Puebla. There is no designed tour from the city, but it would be easy to secure a cab for the day for around 500 pesos. To keep costs down, consider finding a travel partner to share the ride. The cost of the tour and entrance is reasonable or you could just walk the site yourself. Admission is less than 50 pesos (less than $5.00 usd).

Cantona Olmec Ruins Mexico

One last look at the complex and surrounding landscape at the Olmec ruins in Cantona, Mexico

This trip was sponsored by the Mexico Tourism Board. The words, pictures, feeling, opinions, and Rocky imitations are purely my own.

I was not the only traveler along for the ride. Check out these interpretations from fellow bloggers on the trip to Cantona. If you are looking for a little more information on the civilization itself without the Rocky references, I recommend you click on one or all of the links below:

The Active Explorer

The Art of Backpacking


Eat, Live, Travel, Write

Adventure On!

The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then enter your email in the box to get email notifications for each new entry. Daily travel photos are excluded from your email in order to not flood you with posts. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).

On the right sidebar is a donate button. If you would like to donate in order to support the site, it would be appreciated. All donations would cover travel expenses and improvements to make the site better.


37 Responses to Hiking the Olmec Ruins near Puebla: Yes you Cantona

  1. Jay Gordon July 2, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I always enjoy your insights and observations, but the photographs are extraordinary in their ability to persuade me I’m standing there and feel all the sensations you describe. Such a gift!

    • travelingted July 3, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      Thanks Jay,

      My number one goal is to inspire people to travel. Always good to hear I am succeeding.

  2. Jeremy Branham July 2, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    For such a dry, desert type landscape, the area is beautiful. I know the ruins have a lot of appeal to many people. I admit I haven’t spent a lot of time learning about the history of these places but I hope to make it down to Mexico and Central America to learn more.
    Jeremy Branham recently posted..The College Football Travel Tour story – from dream to travel series with Expedia

    • travelingted July 3, 2012 at 11:06 am #


      I wish I would have spent more time listening to the guide and asking questions, but the site was so cool I wanted to explore on my own.

  3. Fiona July 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    I visited Puebla two years ago, this brings back happy memories – went to Cholula nearby…lovely colourful architecture and volcanoes, actually have a photo of cholula as my screensaver! Love the sweet captcha by the way!
    Fiona recently posted..The Photo Edit: The Beatles Tour in Liverpool

  4. Leigh July 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    Love the look of this area and the sense of history you get from visiting these old ruins.
    Good for you for pulling the Rocky move – I still find that song inspiring.

    • travelingted July 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      Thanks Leigh,

      It is great when pop culture, beautiful landscapes, and ancient history come together.

  5. lola July 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

    the view at the top of the ruins was AMAZING!! love the Rocky reference. so glad you had a such a nice trip to Puebla, Ted!
    lola recently posted..TBEX afterthoughts…who IS a travel blogging hero?

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      The ruins and Puebla were awesome. Really enjoyed the trip.

  6. The World Wanderer July 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Beautiful pictures! I will have to add this to my list of things to do next time I’m in Mexico.
    The World Wanderer recently posted..Celebrating St. Stephen’s in Ireland.

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      I would definitely do it. It was a great and beautiful trip.

  7. D.J. - The World of Deej July 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    What an awesome day…I’ve visited the Mexican ruins once, but they were no where near that large. Great stuff…
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Rees Jones – Interview with an Architect

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

      It is hard to believe that only 10% of this vast city has been uncovered.

  8. John July 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm #

    How are there not more people here? I guess in a way that makes it a little better for you, being able to explore the ruins without oppressive crowds. But they’re certainly amazing and deserving of more attention.

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      The tour guides said they only get a couple of tours a month. Absolutely amazing this place does not get more tourist traffic.

  9. the lazy travelers July 5, 2012 at 7:08 pm #

    love this! didn’t have time to visit the ruins when in mexico in may but definitely a priority next time we’re there.
    the lazy travelers recently posted..jetsetters: @ednacz

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

      I would definitely make it a priority next time you are in the country.

  10. Tawny- Captain and Clark July 5, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

    The Rocky reference was fantastic. Your pictures were amazing and have us wanting to visit immediately. Looks like you had a blast. We’ll have to visit the ruins the next time we find ourselves in Mexico.
    Tawny- Captain and Clark recently posted..Getting a taste of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

      I would highly recommend the ruins if you get a chance and also be sure to pull a Rocky.

  11. Craig Zabransky July 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    The view is amazing… I still need to get myself to Puebla and its surroundings… until then I have your adventures.
    stay adventurous, Craig
    Craig Zabransky recently posted..The Timeshare Option – Should You Buy a Timeshare?

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 7:04 pm #

      Thanks Craig. That is the great thing about reading other travel blogs. You can live vicariously through others while you pursue your own adventures.

  12. Pola July 6, 2012 at 4:05 am #

    It feels good to get to the top of those pyramids, doesn’t it? 🙂 Near Mexico City, I ones made the mistake of not having a bottle of water with me… Lesson learned.
    Pola recently posted..Photo of the Week: Zócalo in Puebla, Mexico

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

      Definitely always want to have water, even it it is not that hot. I can say the same for suntan lotion. Although the day was cloudy, we all got a lot of color from this trip.

  13. Leah Travels July 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    I’m not sure how many times I’ve said this, but I need to explore the interior of Mexico more. My parents went to Mexico City before I was born and have always had a fascination with the central portion of Mexico. I like that there are no organized tours there. That means you’re likely to have to place to yourself, which is what I love.

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      I am contemplating a return and including Mexico City and Cuernavaca with a return to Puebla.

  14. Leah Travels July 6, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Oh, and you look like Diego from “Dora the Explorer” in that first picture!
    Leah Travels recently posted..A Brush with Fame: BBC & My Cruise Contempt

  15. Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) July 6, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    I can’t believe Rocky is what you thought about when you got the top with those amazing views… I had no idea such a place existed. My idea of Puebla was limited to a Pope visit in the 1970s. This will be added to the bucket list for sure!
    Raul (ilivetotravel in Twitter) recently posted..A Fourth of July Celebration at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta

    • travelingted July 7, 2012 at 7:12 pm #

      Actually, it was Rocky who I was thinking about when I was climbing. Once on top it was all about the view.

  16. payje July 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    Hahaha “connoisseur of stray dogs”.. cracked me up! But seriously, the Olmec are my favorite culture in prehistory…love their sculptures and iconography! Haven’t made it to Cantona yet, but it looks pretty awesome!
    payje recently posted..Snapshot: Cape Douglas, Katmai National Park, Alaska

  17. T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries July 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    The Olmec ruins are too often completely bypassed or forgotten in favor of the more popular Mayan ruins, but people forget that Central America has literally thousands of years and countless dozens of other cultures than the Big Three (Inca, Maya, Aztec).

    Great shots and good coverage 🙂
    T.W. Anderson @ Marginal Boundaries recently posted..Comment on Jet Set to Dubai – Part Two by T.W. Anderson

  18. C. K,. November 16, 2017 at 8:14 pm #

    Hi Ted,

    Thanks for the post. Looks like a lot of fun. I have been to Cantona about a dozen times. I have also worked at Olmec sites in Veracruz. I want to point out that Cantona is NOT an Olmec site. It has nothing to do with the Olmec. It is its own thing, contemporaneous with Teotihuacan, but also pre- and post-dates that city. It may have existed at the time of a later Olmec center like Tres Zapotes, but Cantona itself is not Olmec. All the best.

    • Traveling Ted November 17, 2017 at 4:51 am #

      Hello C.K.,

      Thank you for the comment. Interesting that the Puebla Tourism Bureau would give such erroneous information.

      Wikipedia gives the same misinformation:

      “It was a fortified city with a high urbanization level at prehispanic times, probably founded by Olmec-Xicalanca groups towards the late Classical Period.”


  1. Puebla, Mexico Talavera Workshop Tour and the Stairway to Heaven | Traveling Ted TV - July 26, 2012

    […] scanned the schedule and mentally circled the items I was looking forward to. The visit to the Cantona Ruins perked my curiosity as did the mole poblano cooking class.  Who doesn’t love to eat great […]

  2. Five things to do in Puebla, Mexico : Jetting Around: City Travel Blog - October 12, 2012

    […] idea for exploring the area is hiking nearby archeological sites, such as the Olmec ruins in Cantona. Zócalo and the Great Pyramid (background) in […]

  3. Five OMG adventure travel experiences from 2012 | Traveling Ted - December 17, 2012

    […] Hiking over ancient Olmec Ruins dating from 1,000 A.D. was something I will remember for a long time. Not only were the uncovered ruins and pyramids amazing, but the city was located in a desolate spot in the Mexico countryside with mountains and desert like flora. Thank you Mexico Tourism Board for making this trip possible. Please see the disclosure statement in the link above. […]

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge