Although it will possibly forever get a bad rap (at least here in the United States where all things Mexico seem to be paired with the “too dangerous” moniker), Mexico City is probably one of the most fascinating and incredible cities you will ever visit. While all major cosmopolitan areas to a degree offer a varied breadth of experiences, in Mexico City, or el Distrito Federal as it’s known in Spanish, (Federal District), this is especially the case. You’re walking the streets of the Aztecs, of the Conquistadores, of Frida Kahlo and oh so much more. And the best part? You’re seeing culture on top of culture right before you.
I was lucky enough to visit Mexico City three times when I lived in Mexico. Although I saw and did a lot on my three visits- seeing the now defunct pop group sensation Rebelde perform live, floating along the beautiful gardens of Xochimilco, climbing the ruins at Teotihuacan, visiting Frida Kahlo’s house and studio- there’s still so much that I didn’t do. So whenever I make it back there, here are five things I don’t want to miss:
Go on a food tour
I’m loath to admit it, but when I lived in Mexico, I wasn’t very adventurous food-wise, due to being afraid where my poor and weak stomach was concerned. However, when I visited the cruise port of Cozumel, I went on one of my favorite food tours ever. I tried so many authentic Mexican foods and obviously never got sick. Now don’t get me wrong, from a “where should I eat perspective” Mexico City can be very daunting considering it’s one of the largest cities in the world. So that’s why I think going on a food tour would be the perfect solution. I’d finally get to try authentic foods, get a culinary history since, let’s face it, I never really had that on my three prior visits, and all the work and logistics is done for me. Of all the things I look forward to doing on a return visit, a food tour is at the top.
National Museum of Anthropology
I had always had my heart set on visiting Frida Kahlo’s famed Casa Azul, but it meant I didn’t get a chance to visit this world renowned museum, even though I’ve always been fascinated by the Mesoamerican civilizations. It’s the largest and most visited museum in Mexico and since I loved my visit to the Museo Larco in Peru, I have no doubt that I would love this too. The fact that it contains exhibits on every single indigenous group in the country is quite impressive.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Well, I have a pretty decent picture of one of Mexico City’s most striking buildings that was taken from the inside of a van. But the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is an important cultural center in the capital. It plays host to all types of cultural events including music, dance, theater, opera, and literature . Although construction on the building began over a century ago, it wasn’t until 1934 that it was finally completed; delays stemmed from the soft subsoil (a factor that contributes to Mexico City’s being prone to earthquakes) and of course the events of the Mexican Revolution.
The exterior of the building is mainly Neoclassical and Art Nouveau and the inside mainly Art Deco. Inside there are murals by one of Mexico’s most famous artists (and certainly its most famous muralist), Diego Rivera. It’s also home to the famed Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
Ever since I learned the word Chapultepec means “at the grasshopper’s hill,” I had always wanted to visit this castle, the only royal castle in the Americas. Although I came close to it (I spent a lot of time in Chapultepec Park where the castle is located), I never actually went inside this structure which stands 7,628 feet above sea level. And due to its bucolic setting (a rarity in Mexico City), it’s easy to imagine the hill once being a sacred place for the Aztecs.
Although construction of the castle began in the late 19th century, it wasn’t until 1863 that it was finished. It was built at the time of Viceroyalty as a summer house for the viceroy. It was also used as the official residence of the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, the younger brother of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I, who accepted an “offer” from France’s Napoleon III to “rule” France. (Because the whole event was so mind boggling, click here for more info.) Today it serves as the National Museum of History and in many ways its interior reminds me of the Residenz in Munich and the Palacio Real in Madrid.
Hot air balloon over the ruins of Teotihuacan
Okay, yes I’ve visited Teotihuacan but these famous Aztec ruins are a prime example of where having an aerial perspective would be like visiting someplace completely new. I think for many people, when you’re ground level, you have no idea of the sheer scope of the ancient ruins. It wasn’t just a ruin here and there; they were small cities and as such contained an enormous number of buildings and other structures that have since been excavated. I wouldn’t like to simply walk on the famed Avenue of the Dead but rather float above it. In all my travels I’ve yet to try hot air ballooning but here and Cappodocia in Turkey are the two locales where I most want to experience it.
Have you been to Mexico City? Is there anything I missed that you feel one shouldn’t miss?
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