Rumours abound about Mexico City. Depending on who you talk to, the Mexican capital is overwhelming, fascinating, wonderful or unforgettable. Whatever the impression travellers take away, Mexico City leaves no one feeling indifferent.
Forget everything you’ve been told about Mexico City. No adjective can describe it adequately, and the reality of the experience is always much better. Here are our 10 reasons why you should drop everything and visit the city.
If you like architecture, taking a stroll around Mexico City is akin to hopping between historical eras to and architectural styles. Just by simply crossing one street you can go from 20th century Paris in the Condesa neighbourhood, to 1980s modern housing on Insurgentes’ Avenue, or engulf yourself in the colonial era in the Historic Centre. The Zócalo is a perfect example of this clash of cultures with the Catholic Cathedral built on the ruins of the Aztec Templo Mayor to the north and the Presidential Palace to the east.
2. THE SECOND CITY IN THE WORLD WITH MORE MUSEUMS
Yes, that’s right: Mexico City is the second city in the world with more museums, just behind London, with close to 200 museums and art galleries. The city boasts tremendous cultural activities, including the much-visited National Museum of Anthropology, the University Museum of Contemporary Art, and more unusual centres like the Museum of Light, the Chocolate Museum and the Tattoo Museum, with exhibitions to suit all tastes.
3. PASEO DE LA REFORMA
If there’s one street in the Mexican capital that you must cover from top to bottom, it’s Paseo de la Reforma. Commission by Emperor Maximilian in the 19th century, today it’s the capital’s main thoroughfare and the scene of protests, marathons, concerts and cultural activities. It’s home to two of Mexico City’s landmarks, the Angel of Independence and the Diana the Huntress Fountain, and is also a popular spot for Sunday walks.
With its 2000km2 and 25 million inhabitants, fresh air can sometimes seem scares in a sprawling metropolis like Mexico City, but, the city’s green lung, Chapultepec, is definitely well worth a visit.
5. XOCHIMILCO (LITTLE VENICE)
Forget about Venice: You can also take a ride on a gondola in Mexico City. The last visible remnants of what was once a vast lake that surrounded the old Tenochtitlan is found to the south of the city in the Xochimilco neighbourhood. The canals are popular with tourists and residents, especially on Sundays. But here the gondolas are actually called trajineras, and the boat ride is not a romantic plan where couples sail off into the sunset. Xochimilco is more of a group event, where you’ll see families with children and dogs, and groups of friends singing their hearts out with some of the mariachi groups sailing along beside them.
6. MUSIC & MARIACHIS
We know we mentioned the mariachis in number 5, but they deserve a special mention. If you visit Mexico, you should know that music isn’t just enjoyed here, it’s lived, savoured and appreciated. It’s quite catchy, so you can stop yourself from feeling it and living it!
7. THE CHARM OF THE CANTINAS
And after mentioning mariachis, number 7 couldn’t have been anything else. Prepare your taste buds and digestive system and find yourself a cantina. These legendary Mexican bars are steeped in history and definitely an experience to remember.
The Mexican poet Salvador Novo described them as “two-door temples” and in their day were a gathering place for men to discuss politics and culture (for many years women were not allowed to enter). Nowadays, their mysticism has subsided somewhat, but they are still hugely popular. Despite the increase in the number of nightclubs and bars, cantinas refuse to disappear and are a true-life example of the tireless spirit that characterises the Mexican people.
8. THE LITERARY ROUTE
After speaking about poets, we can’t overlook the city’s more literary side. Writers, poets and philosophers from all over the world have been drawn to the Mexican capital and immortalised the city in their novels and also sometimes in their memoirs. This was the case of the Colombian writer par excellence, Gabriel García Márquez, who arrived in Mexico in 1961 and never left.
And for a full-on Mexican experience, muster up the courage and patience and visit one of the hundreds of markets (tianguis) dotted around the city. Make sure to check out the antiques in the Sullivan Market, the crafts in the Ciudadela, contemporary art in San Ángel, and the irresistible giant that is La Merced Market. Whatever you’re after, Mexico City makes it easy to look for and chase down for souvenirs. If you’re more memories than souvenirs and looking for an unforgettable experience, get up before sunrise and join the farmers, fishermen and restaurant suppliers at the Central de Abastos. Don’t say you haven’t been told.
10. CULINARY RICHNESS
We don’t need to say it twice: Mexico is sure to make your mouth water. Tacos, sopes, pozole, esquites, tamales… Mexican cuisine is one of its greatest attractions, and you’ll always find the time to eat, drink and eat some more at any time of the day.