Story & Photos by: Mariana Aguirre; Edited by: Michaela Guzy
My home country of Mexico is most known for sun, tequila and sombreros. It is true, we have all of these things. But what comes to mind when someone says Mexico City? The Capital City, Distrito Federal, D.F, Ciudad de Mexico or simply Mexico is the country’s largest city with a wide variety of options for anyone visiting.
First things first. You might be thinking if Mexico City is a dangerous place to visit. My only answer is that any place where 21 million+ people interact is going to be complicated. As with any large city, just use your common sense, and if you don’t have any, then tag along with a friend who does.
There are two things you should prepare for: traffic and more traffic. So take a deep breath and enjoy the ride. The anticipation is well-worth the wait to experience things you won’t find anywhere else, like Xochimilco, a World Heritage site best known for its canals and boats called Trajineras. Enjoy your hedonistic experience listening to the mariachi bands playing in boats all around you or eating a freshly made sope or a quesadilla made in the “food boat” that is passing by. A great place to go with friends, have some drinks and spend a couple of hours enjoying your surroundings.
Only 30 miles away from Mexico City you will find Teotihuacan which is an archaeological site where you can climb the Moon and the Sun Pyramids or even fly over them in a hot air balloon. Whatever you do, don’t leave Mexico without going to the pyramids and stopping by La Gruta, a restaurant in a cave with traditional Mexican food and handmade tortillas.
As with any other large city, Mexico City has a wonderful array of museums that shouldn’t be missed. The National Museum of Anthropology is home to the original Aztec Calendar, the Maya Room, and the Olmec Colossal Heads which will provide a greater understanding of Mexican cultures and beliefs. If you’re lucky maybe you can even catch the Papantla, or Dance of the Flyers, a ritual that consists of four to five participants, tied with ropes descending a 30 meter pole. The fifth remains on top, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Trust me, a site worth seeing.
If museums aren’t your thing, and you are looking for some live entertainment, I strongly suggest going to a wrestling match known as “Las Luchas”. It’s a true melting pot where you will find everyone from children with their grandmas cursing at everything that moves, to business people hanging out enjoying the verbal battle taking place in and around the ring. But the highlight is Maximo – an overweight, gay wrestler with a pink tutu.
If shopping is what you want to do then you have plenty of options. The high end international designer brands are all located in the area of Polanco or Bosques. You can also head to one of the biggest malls in the city, Santa Fe, which is home for Saks Fifth Avenue and two other big department stores: Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool.
If you are looking for arts and crafts, you should not miss the Saturday Bazaar at San Angel. Here you will find everything from paintings by local artists to silver jewelry, pre-Hispanic instruments and hand made baskets.
Even with the great diversity of experiences that Mexico City has to offer, my favorite place is still the historic center which is a World Heritage site known as Centro. Start in the main plaza called Zocalo. Visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, the oldest and largest cathedral in the Americas. Just a few steps away you will find the National Palace featuring murals by Diego Rivera. Don’t leave the Zocalo before going to the Templo Mayor, one of the Aztec’s main temples, home to the stone disk discovered in 1978 that represents the Moon Goddess.
You can literally find anything you want in the historic center. Locals shop for everything from wedding dresses, musical instruments, to jewelry and fabric.
And with all this site seeing and shopping, you are sure to be hungry. Stop by the Hosteria de Santo Domingo, serving traditional Mexican food. My favorite dish? Chiles en Nogada: which consists of poblano chiles filled with picadillo (a mixture typically containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits and spices) topped with a walnut-based cream sauce, called nogada, and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag. A delight.
You can’t leave Mexico City without trying our tacos– please don’t even think of Taco Bell or your local Mexican restaurant. For real tacos, a few favorite places are El Villamelon, try the campechano, El Califa, for the al Pastor or a Gringa and La casa del Pastor, where I recommend eating the whole menu.
If tacos aren’t your thing, try La Tecla which has a wide variety of modern Mexican food. Both La Hacienda de los Morales or San Angel Inn, feature classic cuisine, but a bit pricey. Fisher’s is a lively option for Mexican style seafood, and is also a great place to grab a drink.
With so many things to do in this city and our traffic challenges, staying in the right place is key. There are many hotel options. In the chic neighborhood of Polanco, you can stay with larger brands like the W or the Four Seasons, for a boutique option try Las Alcobas. A new hotel just opened in the Bosques neighborhood called Live Aqua, not too far from Polanco and a great option in the north part of the city. You can also stay in the neighborhoods of La Condesa and La Roma, which like Polanco have a wide variety of restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs.
Mexico City offers a variety of ancient culture, modern art, delicious food, creative cocktails, luxury hotels and traffic, but the most wonderful thing about my hometown are the people– hard working, warm-hearted and truly welcoming. Don’t miss an opportunity to meet some of them, it’s worth it.