An invigorating 358-step hike up the mountainside above Malinalco takes you to one of the country’s few reasonably well-preserved temples (even surviving recent earthquakes), from where there are stunning views of the valley and beyond. The small, fascinating site includes the mural El paraíso de los guerreros that once covered an entire wall and depicts fallen warriors becoming deities and living in paradise. From the zócalo follow signs to the zona arqueológica, taking you up the hillside on a well-maintained, signed footpath.
The Aztecs conquered the region in 1476 and were busy building a ritual center here when they were conquered by the Spanish. El Cuauhcalli (Temple of the Eagle and Jaguar Knight, where sons of Aztec nobles were initiated into warrior orders) survived because it was hewn from the mountainside itself. The entrance is carved in the form of a fanged serpent.
Temple IV, located on the far side of the site, continues to baffle archaeologists. As the room is positioned to allow the first rays of sunlight to hit it at dawn, there has been speculation that this place was part of a Mexican sun cult, a solar calendar or a meeting place for nobles – or some combination of these.
To dodge the crowds, avoid Sundays when entry is free for Mexican residents with ID.
Situated 50m before the site entrance, the Museo Universitario Dr Luis Mario Schneider (admission M$15) explores the region’s history and archaeology in a beautiful, modern museum space.