Mexico City, one of the world’s largest and most populated cities, forms a rough oval of about 60 by 40 kilometers, on the dry bed of lake Texcoco, surrounded on three sides by tall mountains. It’s a massive urban sprawl, stretching from the state of Mexico in the north, through the federal district ( Distrito Federal ), and into the state of Morelos in the south. Estimates place the population of the full metropolitan area at somewhere between 25 and 30 million people.
The Distrito Federal part of the city, which is where most tourists will spend the majority of their time, is divided up into 16 delegations, similar to the boroughs of New York , which in turn are divided into “colonies” (colonias), of which there are about 250. Knowing what colony you’re going to is essential to getting around, almost all locals will know where a given colony is (however, beware that there are some colonies with duplicate or very similar names). As with many very large cities, the structure is relatively decentralized, with several parts of the city having their own miniature “downtown areas”. However, the real downtown areas are Centro, the old city center, and Zona Rosa, the new business and entertainment district.
Mexico City has a (partly undeserved) bad reputation, both in terms of crime statistics, air pollution, and more contrived issues, such as earthquakes. However, crime levels are down over the last decade. Today, crime rate is about that of cities in the US, but skewed away from violent crime and homicide. As in most large cities, there are areas that are better avoided, especially at night, and precautions to take, but Mexico City is not a particularly dangerous city. As for air pollution, Mexico City is considered one of the most polluted in the world – some days it may choke your throat; other days (particularly on Sundays) it is barely noticeable. Pollution is at its worst in the hot, dry season in spring, from February to May, when there are days when it becomes bothersome even for people without respiratory conditions.
Mexico City’s night life is like all other aspects of the city; it’s huge. There is an enormous selection of clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and variations and combinations thereof to choose from. There is incredible variation, from ultramodern lounges in Santa Fe and Reforma, to decades-old dance halls in Centro and Roma. There are also pubs in Tlalpan and Coyoacan and clubs of every stripe in Insurgentes, Polanco, and the Zona Rosa.
Many famous places are dominated by the middle and upper classes in a very clear-cut way, which might be a good or bad thing depending on your outlook. Prices and location are a good key to who is allowed in; expect to be waved off at the door if you don’t look like the crowd. Many places have an unwritten dress code and will discard you in a minute if you speak or act “naco” (low-class). Looking like a foreigner, especially if you look American, Canadian or European will usually get you into the expensive places, if you’re dressed right. Once inside, people might be curious about you as a tourist, but expect to be left alone if you came in alone and are unable to draw a crowd by charm, ability, or generosity. Girls are conservative when one gets down to it, and guys draw crowds by attitude and by joining up with friends in the crowd.
Downtown Mexico City has been an urban area since the precolumbian 12th century, and the city is filled with historical buildings and landmarks from every epoch since then. It is also known as the City of Palaces, because of the large number of stately buildings, especially in the Centro. In addition, there’s an exceptional number of museums in the city.
- The Zócalo in the Centro is the world’s second-largest square, surrounded by historic buildings, including the government palace.
- The Museum of Modern Art and National Anthropological Museum in Chapultepec .
- Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco has examples of modern, colonial, and pre-Columbian architecture, all around one square.
- Basilica de Guadalupe , Catholicism’s holiest place in the Americas, and the destination of pilgrims from all over the world, especially during the yearly celebration on the 12th of December. It is the shrine that guards the shroud of our lady of Guadalupe.
- Ciudad Universitaria, the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, one of the world’s largest, with more than 270,000 students every semester.
- Coyoacán , a historic counterculture district which was home to Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, and Diego Rivera, amongst others.
- Tacuba, cemeteries during the dia de muertos celebration.
- Xochimilco , a vast system of waterways and flower gardens in the south of the city.
- Azteca Stadium , the country’s largest. Will be packed during “clasico” soccer matches (America vs. Chivas or America vs. Pumas).
- Lucha libre , Mexican free wrestling.
- Ciudadela crafts market
- Alameda and Paseo de la Reforma
- Sunday art market in the Mother’s Monument plaza
- Plaza Mexico(bullfights)
- Cineteca Nacional (National Film Archive)
- Latinoamericana Tower for stunning views of the city.
- Torre Mayor It’s the new and highest tower in town and good for more stunning views of the city.
- Chapultepec park and Zoo
- Bazar del Sábado in San Ángel. Every Saturday, artists show and sell their paintings in a beautiful, cobblestoned zone of the city. There are also stores where they sell handcrafts.
- Mexico City National Cemetery – 31 Virginia Fabregas, Colonia San Rafael. Open daily except for December 25 and January 1; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The cemetery is the final resting place for 750 unknown American soldiers lost during the Mexican-American War between 1846 and 1848. 813 other Americans are also interred here. Free.
- National Anthropological Museum Chapultepec .
- Museum of Modern Art Chapultepec .
- Dolores Olmedo Museum Coyoacán .
- Fine Arts Palace Museum (Palacio de Bellas Artes) Centro .
- Rufino Tamayo Museum Chapultepec .
- José Luis Cuevas Museum Centro .
- National History Museum in Chapultepec’s Castle Chapultepec .
- Papalote, children’s Museum Chapultepec .
- Universum (National University’s Museum) Coyoacán . A science museum maintained by UNAM, the largest university in Latin America.
- Casa Mural Diego Rivera Centro .
- National Palace (Zocalo) Centro .
- San Ildefonso Museum Centro .
- Franz Meyer Museum Centro .
- Mexico City’s Museum Centro .
- Templo Mayor Museum (Zocalo) Centro .
- San Carlos Museum Centro.
- Frida Kahlo Museum
- Leon Trotsky Museum
- National Art Museum Centro .
- National History Museum Chapultepec.
Teotihuacan, which stands in náhuatl for the place where men became gods , is a very important archeological site 40 km northeast from Mexico City , in Mexico . With the exception of the Egyptian pyramids, the ruins at “Teo” are unrivaled in terms of a combination of both scale and intrigue. According to legend this was where the Gods gathered to plan the creation of man.
Teotihuacan was the largest Pre-Columbian city in the Americas, reaching a total population of 150,000 at its height. The name is also used to refer to the civilization this city dominated, which at its greatest extent included most of Mesoamerica.
Construction of Teotihuacan commenced around 300 BC, with the Pyramid of the Sun built by 150 BC. The city reached its zenith approx. 150-450 AD
All pictures by the author
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