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Saturday, 6 February 2016

La Cañada de la Virgen

Imagine you own a 1500 ha. ranch in central Mexico, the year is 1998 and life is good. Then up on a hill after the rainy season you notice some stones placed in a certain formation, and you get curious and start digging. Amazingly you have just discovered a pyramid dating back to 540 AD. Officially the excavation began in 2002 and is still going on today as funds become available.

Nice looking Welcome Centre

Our neighbour Darcy and the two of us started the day with lunch at "La Fronterra" to give us the sustenance needed for this outing. We all had a great meal and hit the road running.

En route from San Miguel to Guanajuato you'll see a sign that leads to "la Cañada de la Virgen". This is actually the name of the ranch, the pyramid has not been named. Unlike other pyramids in Mexico this one is not teaming with vendors selling trinkets to tourists, simply because it is located on private property. The site is impeccably maintained and it starts with a welcome centre, with plenty of parking space, where you can purchase your admission ticket for 39 Pesos. Also bottled water is available, and recommended, for a mere ten Pesos. Bring a hat, sunscreen and a camera, you must check your backpack and purse at the entrance, you may not bring them along because, sadly, some idiots have been taking stuff from the site.

Starting at 09:00 the first guided 2.5 hour tour leaves the welcome centre with a Spanish speaking guide, and then on the hour every hour after that with the last tour departing at 16:00. If you would like to book a tour with an English guide you can arrange that in San Miguel, at a cost of about US $45.00 including transportation. Our tour left the welcome centre in a spotless tour bus for the seven km. drive to the base of the site. Here we started a modest walking climb to a shelter where our guide gave the three of us, yes quite the private tour, a preliminary talk about what we were about to see. Since we are predominantly English speakers he spoke to us in his best English and I must say that his English is way better than my Spanish.

Stone snake
Shelagh, Darcy, Peter

We continued up the one km. road that was used in ancient times by pilgrims coming to this temple for worship. The pyramid is actually a place of worship, and also used to study the skies. On March fourth the moon is perfectly aligned with the notches in the top of the structure, and at each equinox the sun is perfectly aligned in the same notches.

We soon came upon the gate to the entrance of the site. The ranch owners have donated 16 ha. of land on which this place sits to the state of Guanajuato, but it is still within the ranch. Once through the gate we walked to the impressive excavation only opened up to the public in 2011. It is not huge, but still amazingly impressive. Carbon dating of bones and artifacts show that people have been here for at least 2500 years.

There are three parts to this excavation and a fourth that has not yet started. The first part is the actual temple pyramid, the second is a place dedicated to the god of the wind and the third is a place dedicated to the thirteen skies. Basically the, for me very complicated, complex is a sky observation platform designed to observe the seasons and to determine the best times to sow and harvest crops. The floor of the complex can be flooded with water and at night the heavens can be studied in the reflecting pond. The building is aligned with the sun and moon in one direction and with other celestial bodies in another. The main temple has living quarters on one side and burial tombs on the other.

The stones used to build the structures is held together with a mortar made with a mixture of dirt, water and the sticky juice of the Nopale cactus plant. Some parts of the buildings have been restored using the same methods as the original structures but the mortar in these areas has little red stones added to indicate the fact that this area is not original.

Little red stones in the new mortar

The pyramid appears to be missing a piece at the top. This happened in the 1940's when a group of Spanish miners set of some dynamite hoping to find a new lode of gold. Little did they know that they were standing on top of a different buried treasure.

Our guide explaining the plants in the botanical garden

There is also a new part. A botanical garden, designed in the shape of a sunburst, planted with crops indigenous to this area. Some of the shrubs yield a poison used to dip arrowheads. I could write an immense tome about this beautiful place, but it is best to get more information from the experts who are involved with the excavation. The site was built by the Otomi people who were expert sky watchers. The archeology team includes a man by the name of Albert Coffee, who also has tours of this site, here is his website...

His tours come highly recommended...

Returning to the welcome centre we came upon a cow



  1. Most impressive. So many things to experience near SMA. Do you know how much more they think there is to discover, how many more years?

    1. Hi Contessa,

      It is assumed that the final phase of excavation will reveal a sports field. How long the excavation will take is anyone's guess. Money is also a factor.

  2. Nice to see that you made it out there. This is now our second time not going to see it so I am glad that I can see it through your eyes. Sounds like you aren't able to see the ruins without the guide, was the guide included in the price and then tip him at the end or was it extra?

  3. Hi Ruth,

    The guide is included in the admission price. And a tip at the end of the tour is very much appreciated. We were generous, because he tried so hard speaking English.

    1. Very reasonable price, knowing that it includes the guide and your drive from the Visitor's Centre to the pyramids. Sounds like he deserved and generous tip.

  4. Thanks for the tour. Very interesting.

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for your interest.