Months of hesitant planning later, my best friend and I finally settled on our first trip together to be to Mexico City. I was apprehensive, I’d been told to be extra careful in the streets and to avoid public transport if I could. I honestly had no idea what to expect of the Megalopolis. In hindsight, nothing I could have expected could have amounted to what I found in the Federal District. It was so much better…
If you want to sample Mexico, pure, raw, wild and complete Mexico- THIS is where you need to go. Like me, you’ll probably have to come to terms with the idea that seeing everything in Mexico City would take years. However, there are some pretty incredible ‘must sees’ that fit comfortably in a 3 day schedule.
Not everybody likes museums but Mexico City has a museum for nearly everything you could think of. From Rufino Tamayo’s Contemporary Art to the legendary Aztec Piedra del Sol, you will be transported across time and space. My advice? Get a map from one of the tourist information -They are so much better than the ones you can buy- and walk.
One of the most awe-inspiring facts about Mexico City is that it was built over the ancient Aztec City of Tenochtitlan. The cobbled streets of the historic center were made from ruins of the Pre-Hispanic city and if you think about it. You are walking on layers of history. The Templo Mayor gives a pretty realistic perspective of this. On one hand you can see the Colonial Architecture and on the other the contemporary Museum building attached to the pre-Hispanic site.
If that does not blow your mind away, Palacio de Bellas Artes will. With two floors dedicated to artworks from Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Camarena and other Mexican masters, Bellas Artes boasts an incredible collection that will not fail to please the average person. The palace is also host to the folkloric ballet of Mexico which I have heard is quite worth seeing.
My favourite neighbourhood in Distrito Federal is perhaps Coyoacan- which means Place of the Coyotes from the native Aztec language. Located a few blocks from the center of Coyoacan, Casa Azul is almost a pilgrimage for anyone who has ever heard of Frida Kahlo. The Blue House is where she grew up, lived with Diego Rivera for most of her life and probably one of the most intimate glimpses into her life. It even has a special exhibition co-hosted by Vogue on Frida’s dresses, her personal style and how it influenced designers all over the world. Walk a few blocks further and you’ll find yourself at the Trotsky museum. Once Frida Kahlo’s lover, Trotsky moved to this house after falling out with the Frida/Diego couple and spent his last days there.
The Coyoacan Market is a beautiful place to rest and taste traditional Mexican cuisine. Tacos, Enchiladas and fresh fruit juice counters aside, you can find traditional spices, Piñatas and traditionally embroidered fabrics for a more than reasonable price. If you are lucky enough to escape the afternoon rain, the park in Coyoacan is a pretty good place to feed squirrels and enjoy the calm of this up-scale neighbourhood.
The Bosque de Chapultepec is worth an entire day’s visit. This immense park is bliss for anyone who likes to break away from the cityscape. With huge photographic exhibitions fixed to the gate of the park, you’ll find yourself stopping along the way to oversized caricature and illustrations. The National Anthropology museum is not only architecturally a sight but it also contains archaeological pieces and replicas of buildings from all over Mesoamerica. My next stop was the Rufino Tamayo Museum. From quirky prints to Socialist symbolism and the very distinctly contemporary design, the Tamayo Museum is fascinating. Castillo de Chapultepec and the Modern Arts Museum are also worth a visit if you have time.
If you’d rather take a break from all the museums- it does get tiring- walk around Polanco, Condesa or the Zona Rosa. The former two have cosy cafes while the latter is THE place to be for an evening out that might well turn into a party night. Mexico City seems to have something to offer to everyone. Unless you walk around looking like you own an island, safety is not really a concern and you’ll go back feeling like you have lived through history.