28 Jun Mexico City – Megalopolis of Tremendous History and Culture
Last stop on our 8 day Mexican trip was Mexico City, one of the oldest cities in American continent lying on 2.100 meters above sea level. Today in whole metropolitan area of Mexico City live 24 million of people and the center itself have around 9 million of people. It’s city of masses. But it’s also a megalopolis of tremendous history and culture that has much to say, display and reveal.
What today we know as Mexico City once upon a time in 14th century was Tenochtitlan founded by Aztecs, and built on an island in the center of a large but shallow lake system. Aztecs were known as great planners and Tenochtitlan grew to become one of the largest and richest urban areas in the world at that time. Later on with an arrival of Cortes, and afterwards under the influence of different wars and political situations, the layout of the city has changed. Today it’s hardly to believe that Mexico City was perfectly organized as it’s known, what today is Mexico City, did not have a master plan for development.
We can say that in terms of architecture people in Mexico City are very individualistic as every street is different. Sometimes you can have a feeling like architects are a little bit like artists – wishing their dreams come true.
Today having a garden in Mexico City is quite a privilege, as green spaces are limited. In upscale central neighbourhoods like Coyoacán houses have large garden at the front, and are surrounded by high walls. Since 2010 Mexico City authorities are concentrated to attract people to come to live in central Mexico as they are building more and more new buildings.
How to Move Around Mexico City
When planning your stay in Mexico City one of the main things is to know your priorities and be aware that there is a big chance you will not make it all. One of the main reasons is the traffic. In Mexico City is normal to spend on the road more than 2 hours for what in normal circumstances you would need 15 – 20 minutes. Morning rush hour starts around 6am and lasts until 9am. But this doesn’t matter that later on you won’t be stuck in heavy traffic again. The reason for that lays in Mexican culture – for Mexicans cars are a dream of growth. Of course there are many positive aspects of having a car, especially when some of the cities neighbourhoods don’t have metro lines.
The City has developed Metrobus service – a network with double unites of transportation to make the city more fluid. Today around 4-5 million of people use the metro every day.
When planning your driving time in Mexico City have in mind that for crossing the City you would need at least 4 hours with normal traffic. If you choose to travel from Mexico City to different parts of the country by bus, there are 4 points from where you can continue your travel – East, North, South and West.
If you are limited on time as we were, I would recommend taking experienced local guide/driver guide who will know how to manage your time together with your wishes. Our guide, Roberto had an extensive knowledge of Mexican history and culture as well as he was carefully listening the need of our group and smoothly adjust the plan to it. Thank you Roberto for that! 🙂
How to spend 72 hours in Mexico City
If you are first time visitor and someone who is interested to get a general overview of the destination here is 3 day itinerary for your stay in Mexico City based on our experience.
Day 1 – Food, Faith and Music
As we arrived in Mexico City in the lunch time we spend some time in Monte Cristo restaurant which style has traditional Mexican spirit and offers traditional Mexican food with a contemporary touch. The patio and wide space all around looks like real Mexican hacienda.
Afternoon was reserved for the visit of major Catholic shrine in the outskirts of Mexico City – Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here you can experience Hispanic Catholicism in a quite passionate way. Immediately on the arrival I was impressed by the size of the place, and the way how it’s organized. During your visit you will be subtly guided through the complex in a way that you can follow and experience the whole story behind it. It doesn’t matter what are your believes regarding Catholicism, this complex is must see and plan to spend minimum one hour depending on interest.
In the evening we went to lively Plaza Garibaldi where every night city’s mariachi bands play ballads to those who will pay for it. The square looks pretty charming with all those mariachi, but if you want more of the performance you can visit one of the surrounding places where you can see more of the dancing and singing shows. This tour ends at the rooftop bar overlooking the square. Here you can try some more Mexican food and of course toast with tequila or mescal while mariachi will gladly come to your table and play the music in return for your tip.
Day 2 – All the Colors of Mexico City
First thing in the morning was a visit to Frida Khalo Museum. We came as an organized group but didn’t buy tickets in advance. I would suggest arriving as early as you can, and if you are an individual traveler it’s a good idea to buy a ticket on line as you will go through the fast track, and will be able to easily taking pictures as later becomes more crowded.
The story of painter Frida Khalo is truly fascinated. If you take your time while in the museum you will realise how amazing strength and will combined with creativity can produce amazing art work.
Later on we continued on with a panoramic ride through the city, and came back to Coyoacán, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Mexico City and definitely worth visiting. Here you can enjoy in the atmosphere of the area as well as in the large number of restaurants, cafes, cantinas, museums, bookstores and other cultural attractions.
A restaurant that has impressed us with its culinary offer and service was Los Danzantes. The restaurant with more than 20 years of tradition is overlooking the park and from its terrace you will enjoy in colourful scenes. This is not the place where you will only grab something to eat. If you decide to come here, please take you time and enjoy not only in food but in the whole experience.
If you stroll through the neighbourhood of Coyoacán and are looking for a cup of coffee, you should pop in to Cafe El Jarocho. Here you’ll be able to have a high quality coffee in a local atmosphere.
With full stomachs we continued to Xochimilco – stunning ancient canals of Mexico City. What was once the main transportation venue, especially for goods from the pre-Hispanic period until the 20th century, today is the place that attract tourists and other city residents to ride on colourful gondola-like boats called “trajineras”.
Xochimilco consists of human-made islands in the shallow lake which are one of the most productive and sustainable agricultural systems. It’s part of a cultural World Heritage site but on a national level it’s also a protected natural area.
We finished our day in hip and safe neighborhood Roma Norte. The place is full of countless amazing restaurants and bars offering every type of cuisine.
Day 3 – Day of Contrasts
Last day of our stay in Mexico was reserved for the visit of Teotihuacan, Zócalo and of course visit to another gastronomic place.
A bit more than hour ride out of Mexico City led us to the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. On our way we passed through the outskirts of the city where live people who in 1970 immigrated to the part of the city and were looking for the land. As they didn’t have to pay a penny for the land, they built houses by themselves and stayed in the valley. We were told that very poor people in Mexico have usually two options – or they will join the army or they will have a food stand. Today in the valley live more than 3 million of people.
Even though the early history of Teotihuacan is quite mysterious, it is known that Teotihuacan was the largest urban center of Mesoamerica before the Aztecs.
Today there are several options to visit the site. Due to the time we had, our visit was so called express visit – we climbed to the Pyramid of Sun, walked down the Avenue of the Dead, and visit Quetzalpapálotl complex, best known for the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl.
For those looking for some more of Teotihuacan experience there is an option to take a hot air balloon at 6am and enjoy the stunning view over the Pyramids, or there is also a possibility to have a night lightening show around 8 or 9pm. Of course there are also possibilities to have a daylong visit to Teotihuacan, and visit all the sites and explore more about its history or if you are fan of bikes you can rent one and make a round tour with it.
One of the last sights on our visit was the main square Zócalo. Once the main ceremonial center in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, today is the square serves as a political hub as it is a center of Government and attracts many political rallies, but at the same time Zócalo is also the scene of a number of artistic and cultural events.
The whole city center is very lively and if you are more into observing life around you than visiting museum and galleries, this part of the city is the place where you will be able to feel the rhythm of the city.
Before we had to say goodbye the magnificent Mexico and its capital, we visited restaurant Azul Hístorico and for the last time during this trip fully enjoyed in flavors of Mexican cuisine.
All in all Mexico is an amazing country, and is one of those countries where you can easily keep coming back. There is so much to explore and to experience. Lots of people asked me did I feel safe there. I could say that there was not even one situation where I could feel or see any suspicious situation. I think it’s almost like in every other country. If you are wise and clever enough and don’t go there where even local people advised you not to, you will be fine. As obviously there is a reason for that. But if you look around you, and follow some basic rules of traveling, I’m sure you will be delighted with overall experience.
Interesting Facts about Mexico City:
- Chilango is the local name for citizens of Mexico City
- In last 50 years Mexico City has sunk 2 meters (due to the amount of water that is pumped up from hundreds of meters underground)
- Due to its congestion problems cars in Mexico City have to be registered and technically checked every 6 months
- 22 km of roads of Mexico City are part of The Mexican Road Race – unique race in the world—driving at top speed on public highways, mostly through the mountains of central Mexico for a week
- Mexico City is under the Project CDMX – new name for the federal state. Government prepares new constitution to make Mexico City more independent.
- Mexico City has 183 registered Museums – First edition of Mexico City Museum Guide is published in 2016 by Fondo MIXTO de Promoción Turistíca
- Lucha Libre, or ‘free fight’ is the most popular sport after soccer in a country of 100 million people, and an integral part of pop culture. The show is characterized by colourful masks, flamboyant personalities and a whole lot of Spandex.
- In the City with 70% of Catholic, church doesn’t own any property
- Traditional Festival of Death started last year in Mexico City due to the popularity of the James Bond movie
- Once a year people of Mexico City have a preparation test in a case of an earthquake
- In Mexico City you can join one of organized Ghost hunting tours during the night
All those experiences were made thanks to a kindness of Tourism Board of Mexico.
Photo credits: magic4.club