It may seem unlikely to feel personally connected to a city with a metropolitan population of over 20 million people after a visit of a few nights, but Mexico City is full of surprises and it doesn’t take long to see past the chaotic traffic and busy streets to feel the welcoming generosity of its residents. I spent four nights during the Christmas season with my family here and we were all enchanted by the history, food and people. Accompanied by our personable, knowledgeable and all around amazing guide, Roberto, we spent three days immersing ourselves in this ancient city.
Our first day consisted of a crash course in the history of the city and Mexico itself including stops to Templo Mayor, a major archeological site that was only uncovered in 1978 and stands in the middle of the historical center of the city. From here we entered the colonial cathedral and gawked at the immense structure that has somehow withstood centuries of upheaval and earthquakes. No tour of Mexico City would be complete without visits to the murals of hometown hero Diego Rivera. Diego’s works and influence are visible all over town but nowhere do they have the massive impact as they do at the Palacio Nacional where they engulf the main stairway with a triptych of murals depicting the history of Mexico. Roberto was so helpful as he pointed out Diego’s acerbic sense of humor in the various ways he incorporated modern politicians into historical characters. Tired but inspired, we settled in for dinner at the mesmerizing Azul Historico restaurant, dining al fresco under the blue-lit trees.
Our second day included a visit to the southern part of the city. We stopped along the way at a great restaurant/shop/bookstore/coffeehouse called Tetetlan Galeria, located in the Jardin de Pedegral neighborhood which sits on (and contains many houses made of) lava rocks from an ancient lava flow. This could be a wonderful place for a late breakfast or lunch as you will hover above the ancient lava on a clear floor.
Next came the visit my daughter was most looking forward to, Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in the lively residential area of Coyoacan. There was a line around the block to get in so we were thankful for our private guide who brought us right to the front of the line. It’s a self-guided tour once you are in the house and provided a really fascinating insight to the daily life of one of our favorite artists. A short walk down the block brings you to the Mercado Coyoacan, a bustling local market of food stalls, shops and tiny restaurants. We sampled amazing carnitas tacos, agua frescas and a few different ceviches. The perfect lunch.
From here we went to Xochimilco to ride one of the colorful, hand-painted boats along these ancient Mayan canals that were once used to grow food for the people in the city. Now the canals irrigate flower farms and these boats float through them full of families and friends sharing meals and beers together. It feels a bit like a giant block party with mariachi bands on their own boats that will tie up to yours and play songs for a small fee. At first we thought we had settled in to a tourist trap but it turned out to be one of our favorite experiences and a great peek into what locals and other Mexican visitors to the city do for fun.
Our last day in Mexico City brought us outside the metropolitan area and straight back through history. We journeyed with Roberto and our driver to Teotihuacan, stopping once along the way to Roberto’s favorite spot for barbacoa and the consommé only available on Sundays. It was the brunch we never knew we needed and the perfect thing to energize us for the pyramids. On Sundays Teotihuacan, like most national monuments in Mexico, are free to Mexican citizens so it was more crowded than usual, though still amazing to see the scale and power that the former empire wielded so many years ago and such a plus to learn about it from a knowledgeable guide.
After this visit, we made the trek to our next stop, San Miguel de Allende, which is, as they say, another story…
Caroline Travels the World…And So Can You