Mexico City, Mexico
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Appeal has narrowed in recent years because of crime problems—preferred mostly by Venturers
Did you know … ?
- Founded as the Aztec capital (1325), Mexico City is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest capital city.
- The city’s heaviest buildings are sinking four to 12 inches a year.
- Mexico City has more taxis than any other city, nearly 90,000.
- The Zocalo (640K square feet) is the Western Hemisphere’s largest public square.
- The words chocolate and tomato have Aztec roots.
A neighboring capital
Mexico City is a multifaceted metropolis. Evidence of its rich history — dating from well before the arrival of Europeans — is complemented by modern business districts, nighttime entertainment that ranges from the traditional to the latest 21st century diversions, a wealth of city parks and numerous ambitiously conceived museums and galleries.
The Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was a city of about 300,000 when in the early 16th century Spanish conquistadors destroyed it and decimated the population (mostly because of European diseases). The Spanish built their capital on Tenochtitlan’s ruins and remained the colonial overlord until Mexican independence in 1821. Today, the city occupies the Federal District, an entity comparable to the District of Columbia.
The Historic Center is replete with Spanish colonial architecture and encompasses more than 680 city blocks including the Zocalo, the main square. The Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace overlook the Zocalo, but the square reminds visitors of pre-Hispanic times, too: Remains of the Templo Major, the main ceremonial pyramid of Tenochtitlan, are seen in a corner of the Zocalo. Others of the city’s monumental buildings came post-independence, such as the Palace of Fine Arts, home to the Ballet Folklorico.
Mexico’s capital is 7,349 feet above sea level and surrounded by still-higher mountains. Thus, pollutants are trapped, aggravating a notorious pollution problem. Besides, this is the hemisphere’s largest metro area with around 21 million people contributing to equally notorious traffic congestion.
The city is built on the moist clay soil of a lakebed (Tenochtitlan was surrounded by Lake Texcoco), which explains why buildings sink — and why tourists pose with pipes protruding oddly out of the ground.
Issues also include crime. Therefore, Mexico City created an elite English-speaking subset of the police force, stationed in tourist areas, but beefed-up security does not eliminate the need to take care.
Despite these concerns, fans like the buzz of a multidimensional city where they can climb nearby pyramids or absorb the big picture at the National Museum of Anthropology, shop in the evening, dine — very late — in a former hacienda and have a nightcap in a modern club. A bonus: The high altitude also provides cool nights.
Things to do for Venturers
- Take in the fantastic views after climbing to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun at the abandoned city of Teotihuacan, about 40 minutes away from Mexico City. Also, walk the Avenue of the Dead as part of your explorations of this 13-square-mile site, and after your exertions, settle in for a lunch and tequila on site.
- Buy ringside tickets to see a competition called lucha libre, at the Arena Mexico. The short description tells us this is a noisy wrestling match between men wearing masks. Note: Taxis are scarce near this arena; arrange to be picked up.
- Take full advantage of a lively night scene, visiting discos, jazz clubs plus traditional cantinas. Have a margarita at La Opera, a 19th century cantina complete with bullet hole made by Pancho Villa.
- Or, go for the odd and tacky, starting with a meal at La Bipolar, with walls made from plastic crates, and moving to Malverde for drinks. Here, the decor includes lucha libre masks, Virgin of Guadalupe prints and a lip-syncing deer head.
- Arrange a spa experience, with a shaman chanting and providing guidance, inside a traditional Temazcal sweat lodge. You can do this at the W Hotel in town.
- Sample foods you don’t find at home, such as escamoles (ant eggs) or huitlacoche (a purplish-black corn fungus). Or, how about a pre-Hispanic dish made with maguey worms? Then fall back on more familiar specialties like ceviche and guacamole.
Things to do for Centrics
- Time your trip to be on hand for the August events commemorating the fall of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, to the Spaniards. Events, held at the Cuauhtemoc Monument and at the Plaza of Three Cultures, include dance performances designed to recall the Aztec defense.
- In the city’s Xochimilco district, ride in brightly colored gondola-like boats on canals built by the Aztecs. Show up in March and attend an annual festival that uses Xochimilco and its floating gardens as a backdrop. It features culinary events and handicrafts exhibits.
- If history is your love, spend uninterrupted hours in the Historic Center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing more than 680 city blocks including the Zocalo, the city’s main square. Besides the leavings of the Spanish colonial era, you’ll see the Templo Major, the Aztec archaeological site in one corner of the Zocalo.
- Sample tacos in the popular Condesa neighborhood — or wherever you are hanging out. Try something else, too, a sandwich called the torta and much loved by Mexicans.
- Join a two-hour tour by bicycle in Chapultepec Park, or choose a tour in the Coyoacan neighborhood. Alternatively, jog in the Primera Seccion, or first section, of Chapultepec Park where paths take you among the trees, across grassy meadows and around a couple of small lakes.
- Make colonial neighborhoods a theme for your self-directed sightseeing. Samples are San Angel and Coyoacan, two quiet Spanish colonial districts.
Things to do for Authentics
- Take a half-hour trolley tour in either the Historic Center or Coyoacan districts, or both.
- Shop till your luggage pops. Look for handicrafts bazaars and the Carretones Glass Factory in the city’s historic center, cruise the specialty shops in the Zona Rosa and scour the Bazaar Sabado, a Saturday market in the colonial San Angel neighborhood. And that is just a sample.
- Attend the Ballet Folklorico in the Palace of Fine Arts for a spectacle that shows off traditional music, dance and costumes from around the country. Also, seek out the establishments that feature mariachi music.
- Undertake a personal pilgrimage to the important religious sites in Mexico City. The Basilica of Guadalupe is the second-most-visited Christian site after the Vatican.
- Buy stamps and mail a letter at the Palacio Postal. The letter may be superfluous after you see why this 1907 building is called the Postal Palace.
- Reserve a table for dinner at La Hacienda de los Morales, where the food is excellent and varied, and the building itself is a good reason to go. The site is a 16th century hacienda. Another alternative is the San Angel Inn, a 17th century hacienda where the food is Mexican and international.
For more information, consult the Ministry of Tourism, Federal District at www.mexicocity.gob.mx and click on the flag for the language of your choice.