A world of circular pyramids lies just beyond Lake Chapala in Teuchitlan, a small town just 43 kilometers (26 miles) west of Guadalajara. Its name is derived from a Nahuatl word meaning “place dedicated to the revered god.”
In 1969, Dr. Phil Weigand, a U.S. archaeologist, discovered the reason why the town was so named. Just outside of Teuchitlan lies the ancient circular pyramids of Guachimontones, a major site of a complex society that existed as early as 300 BCE. The site is over 19 hectares (over 2 million sq. ft.) and is still being developed. At its zenith, it was estimated to have been home to 40,000 people who created an ingenious system of floodgates, dams and canals.
It’s located near the third largest obsidian deposit in the world, so these people extracted the precious volcanic glass, which skilled craftsmen formed into swords, spearheads, earrings and mirrors of awesome quality. The site predates the Incas and the Aztecs. The dominant feature at Guachimontones is the circular stepped pyramids built in concentric circles in the middle of circular complexes. Plazas surround each pyramid. Shaft tombs, with burial chambers 60 feet deep, are under the buildings.
Currently, 10 circular complexes, four rectangular plazas and two ball courts have been excavated. The primary structure is located on a hilltop and was used to worship a feathered serpent as the god of wind. It has 52 steps, which correspond to the number of years in the Maya calendar, a version of which appears on the floor. There are four staircases and a small structure on top, likely a small temple. It’s thought, since the wind blows in all directions, that the god of wind was associated with a temple built as a cylinder, a geometric figure, with no beginning or end.
The best and second largest pyramid is known as The Iguana, which is often featured in tourist brochures. Its perimeter is 360 meters (1,180 feet) with a diameter of 115 meters (375 feet) and height of 18 meters (60 feet). A ball court lies between it and the main structure.
Teuchitlan is an easy day trip drive from Lake Chapala. Charter Club Tours in Ajijic operates a weekly day-trip on Thursdays, an option for those who choose not to drive. When going, take your time and be sure to visit the Interpretation Center. If you can spare more than a day, stay at the beautifully-restored 16th century and 4-star-rated Hacienda Labor de Rivera or at the Hacienda Carmen Hotel & Spa, both located on large country estates.
Guachimontones is one of seemingly unlimited scenic sites you can visit in our state of Jalisco that are nearby the villages along the northern shore of Lake Chapala.