I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day exploring more of colonial central Mexico with my family. We spent a few days in lovely Zacatecas, which would be the #1 attraction in lesser countries. In Mexico, it receives very few foreign tourists (which is probably why the level of English proficiency at the Quinta Real Zacatecas is about the worst I’ve run across in the whole country.)

We took a day to get out of the city though and explore the impressive ruins of La Quemada. These ruins are still kind of a mystery. All that’s really known is that they were inhabited between about 300 and 1200 A.D. It was probably some kind of trade depot, though it did host a few thousand people at its peak.

It was a far larger complex than I had expected, with pyramids, a hall of columns, a ball court, and a few sacrificial areas. Perched atop a hill with a lake down below, it’s quite a photogenic spot. There’s a small museum on site and a gift shop that gives rattlesnake demonstrations—my daughter dug it.

Admission is less than $4, but getting to La Quemada requires a bit of effort. We booked a tour through a local agency in town for about $30 each since we speak decent Spanish, but if I had it to do all over again I’d just hire a car and driver for the day instead to have more flexibility. I would have liked more time in nearby Jerez than the pre-set tour stops allowed.

But if you find yourself in this area, spend a few days in Zacatecas as both the city and its museums are worth it. Then take an excursion through the desert to La Quemada. The ruins are certainly not thronged with tourists, even during high season.