So the wife and I spent a week in Mexico City last month for strictly tourism purposes as outlined in Does Uruguay Suck?, in which I really crossed a new line in my blogging career.
I knew Mexico City was going to be fantastic, but I was still amazed. I didn’t want to leave.
Some observations before the tourism stuff.
Despite how developed of a city it is compared to greater Latin America, the fall in oil prices and the rise of the National Disgrace of the United States led to a crash in the Mexican peso. So despite it being a city that seems first world with ostentatious wealth everywhere you look, it was cheap! We hit at least three fine restaurants once I realized how inexpensive the trip was going to be. Definitely cheaper than Lima!
I knew Mexico City was big, but “big” cities in Latin America don’t necessarily mean the same as what gringos think of in a bona fide metropolis. In Bogota and Lima, for example, a tourist can hit all the main attractions and have a day or two to get off the beaten path in one week. Mexico City, on the other hand, is more like New York or Los Angeles in that one week is not enough. That is partly because of the traffic, which will eat into everyday you leave the neighborhood of your hotel, and partly because there are so many things to do. Three-hundred museums!
Wife chose Mexico over Argentina or Chile because of the food. I loved the food, as did she. But it is worth noting that she requested American food for at least three meals – Domino’s Pizza (which left Lima two years ago), a Buffalo wings chain which hasn’t arrived in Peru and an American-style steakhouse. As much as Mexican food is more diverse in Mexico than what you get in the United States, Wife got sick of tacos and the Mexican flavors.
We stayed in La Condesa at the recommendation of Jeremy from The World or Bust. But there was so much to do that we never really saw the neighborhood he calls the best in the city. But the hotel was elegant, artistic and romantic (no TVs in the rooms), which served our purpose of a second honeymoon.
If I had to name the best three tourist attractions from all the things we did in Mexico City, they would be Chapultepec Castle, the Basilica de Guadalupe and Teotiuhuacan pyramids.
Mexico’s “plaza de armas,” or central plaza, is known as Zocalo. It’s one of the largest city squares in the world, which I couldn’t capture due to an event tent in the middle of the plaza. The cathedral is pictured above. To do Zocalo and all of downtown Mexico City justice, you’ll have to see the rest of the pics below.
On the northeast corner of the plaza is Templo Mayor, an old Aztec temple and museum. Unlike in Peru where Pizarro built his own capital on the coast far from the Inca capital in Cusco, Hernan Cortes built the capital for New Spain on top of the capital of the indigenous civilization in Tenochtitlan. This temple was a trash heap and otherwise overlooked until being cleaned and restored in the last century.
Templo Mayor Museum
The museum’s OK, I wouldn’t spend more time than a quick walk-through. The human sacrifice stuff is awesome.
A short walk from Zocalo is the Torre Latinoamericana, which was the tallest in Latin America until the 1970s, where you can view the city from above.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes (pictured from above in the tower shot) is one of Mexico’s most famous museums is across the street from the tower. It is best known for the murals of Diego Rivera, who was commissioned by the government to produce art which would help forge a national identity. Rivera’s Infamous Evil-Gringo Mural, “Man at the Crossroads,” is pictured above. Or rather a replica. Titled “The Man who Controls the Universe” in Spanish, Rivera painted it for the Rockefeller center until Nelson Rockefeller ordered the original destroyed. The museum also features work by Adolfo Best, who was new to me and I liked very much.
Plaza Garibaldi is where you’re supposed to hear mariachis, which turned out to be a waste of time because Wife decided upon arrival that she didn’t want to pay a band to play a song for us. But it was cool to visit and we got some cheap knickknacks outside. Above is one of the plaza’s most popular restaurants, Tenampa.
The walk to the plaza was the closest we came to seeing Mexico City’s sketchy side. Malcolm X’s son was killed there in 2013, when it was a red-light district. But the city has since cleaned it up a little and now it’s the food and drinking area to hear mariachis.
Teotihuacan are Aztec pyramids located an hour outside the city. Not Machu Picchu, but definitely worth the trip and a top-three attraction according to me. La Gruta is a kick-ass restaurant outside the pyramids where anybody not on a shoestring must have lunch afterward.
Basilica de Guadalupe
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was the most surprising on the list. Wife wanted to attend Mass here, and I thought we’d be out in a couple hours. But the “Basilica de Guadalupe” is not just one church, but a complex of churches dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe, a venerated image painted by a Mexican peasant in the 16th century. Plenty of tourist knickknacks are available inside and in the neighborhood just outside.
Along with Chapultepec, one picture doesn’t do this one justice.
Coyoacan was a pueblo outside the city for hundreds of years. Only in the last century did the metropolis engulf it, but it has retained the feeling of a small town. It was nice, but I wouldn’t visit the plaza for its own sake. However you’d have to in order to visit the Frida Kahlo Museum.
Also known as Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum features the work of Frida Kahlo, wife of Diego Rivera and portrayed by Salma Hayek in “Frida.” They lived and worked in this house, where Frida’s work is on display. Leon Trotsky also lived here after escaping Stalin’s Russia, and he was ultimately assassinated in Coyoacan. Above is one of Kahlo’s miscarriages.
Chapultepec Castle built on the top of a hill in the sprawling Bosque, one of the world’s largest urban parks. The castle was the site of a key battle in the Mexican-American War, and the picture above shows the Boy Heroes who fought to the death instead of surrendering to the gringos. The visit compelled me to watch several documentaries on the war (see the best one) and I’m currently reading a book on the conflict which extended the United States to the Pacific Ocean.
The museum inside the castle was also excellent. My biggest regret from this trip was not scheduling at least half a day for the castle, and inside the park is Mexico’s most recommended museum, which we didn’t even visit.
Xochimilco is a district on the southernmost outskirts of the city. It is effectively an island on top of a lake, as Mexico City itself was hundreds of years ago. But Xochimilco is still so immersed that the neighborhoods are built around canals. So you take a tour in these trajinera boats. It was nice, but I was glad we opted for the one-hour tour as opposed to the longer ones.
Teatro de los Insurgentes
We arrived in the peak of the rainy season. It doesn’t rain during the day but it does at night. So one night with nothing to do given the partying days are over, we visited one of the city’s theaters. We got lucky that the show, El Hombre de la Mancha, happened to be based on Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I just happened to have purchased the book recently and am slowly working my way through it. While you may think seeing the play would ruin it, I think it will help my comprehension given the 17th-century Spanish. I had never been to a play before, and I enjoyed it.
Paseo de la Reforma
On another night when it wasn’t raining, we strolled down Paseo de la Reforma, the main avenue in the financial district. I didn’t take pictures on another day when we toured Avenida Presidente Masaryk, which is so upscale you could believe you’re in Beverly Hills.
We tried to focus on the stuff that’s not so common in the United States like barbacoa (barbecued lamb), mole, soups and whatnot. But the tacos and enchiladas are also excellent. Above is Chile en Nogada, a sweet-flavored stuffed pepper in the colors of Mexico. They only eat the dish around September and October, when pomegranate is in season.
Also worthy of note is Aguachile, or what I called Mexican Ceviche. Raw fish in cucumber, lime and onions.
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