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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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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!
My number one goal is to inspire people to travel. Always good to hear I am succeeding.
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.
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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.
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!
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We visited Cholula to see the Talavera factory, but unfortunately, we did not see the volcano. It was gray and overcast the whole time we were there.
Cholula is worth getting out of Puebla for. Great day trip. 🙂
Pola recently posted..Mexican Connection – Interview with writer Robin Bayley
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.
It is great when pop culture, beautiful landscapes, and ancient history come together.
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!
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The ruins and Puebla were awesome. Really enjoyed the trip.
Beautiful pictures! I will have to add this to my list of things to do next time I’m in Mexico.
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I would definitely do it. It was a great and beautiful trip.
What an awesome day…I’ve visited the Mexican ruins once, but they were no where near that large. Great stuff…
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It is hard to believe that only 10% of this vast city has been uncovered.
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.
The tour guides said they only get a couple of tours a month. Absolutely amazing this place does not get more tourist traffic.
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
I would definitely make it a priority next time you are in the country.
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.
I would highly recommend the ruins if you get a chance and also be sure to pull a Rocky.
The view is amazing… I still need to get myself to Puebla and its surroundings… until then I have your adventures.
stay adventurous, Craig
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Thanks Craig. That is the great thing about reading other travel blogs. You can live vicariously through others while you pursue your own adventures.
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
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.
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.
I am contemplating a return and including Mexico City and Cuernavaca with a return to Puebla.
Oh, and you look like Diego from “Dora the Explorer” in that first picture!
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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
Actually, it was Rocky who I was thinking about when I was climbing. Once on top it was all about the view.
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
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 🙂
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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.
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.”
Now there is an option for camping and cabins, en 10 min by cat from Cantona. Also you can combine your visit to Cantona with Alchichica lagoon or Pancho Poza ecological reserve. They are pretty close.
Good to know. Thanks Sergey!