The fabled Mexico, where the American youth invades in thousands, lured in by cheap thrills and even cheaper tequila. At the same time, its own citizens wish they could swap places with them while risking their lives trying to cross the border. Mexico City, now officially known as Ciudad de México (or CDMX), is the financial and cultural powerhouse of the county. The city is quite the sight, built in the 16th century by the conquistadors upon a foundation of a slaughtered nation. Zócalo is the main square in the capital; it is also where the temples of Tenochtitlan once towered over an island in the middle of a shallow lake. Those unsteady grounds are the reason why so many old buildings in Mexico City are slanted, not unlike the Pisa Tower. Remains of a recently discovered Mayan Temple are also located at the Zócalo, a great way to get a feel of that ancient civilization. Don’t miss out on the Palacio Nacional and the amazing murals painted by Diego Rivera. Even the massive Metropolitan Cathedral was built with the leftover stones from the Aztec settlement. Sure, the natives might have partaken in occasional cannibalism but they were also surprisingly advanced. Spaniards came, decimated the population, levelled the structures and made room for a new world of mariachis, nachos and lucha libre. Bad jokes aside, Mexico City is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the world. It’s vibrant, colourful and offers lots of fun. Mexico City is colonialism blended with characteristic street art, Aztec motifs and districts of modern architecture. Yes, there is that dash of Mexican kitsch but it just fits, and creates that unique, frivolous vibe.
If I had to pick my absolute favourite thing about Mexico City, then it would be all the stunning colonial buildings. The Chapultepec Castle is not only the prime example of such a building but also the symbol of the dual culture of the capital. The name translates to “Grasshopper Hill” and it was a sacred site for the Aztecs. What happened to it is the classic colonial mentality. The conquistadores came, destroyed everything in sight and built a huge castle to establish dominance, like true primates. The building itself served a multitude of purposes: military barracks and the royal palace among many others, but it eventually became the National Museum of History. Most of the exhibitions it hosts are focused around the Mexican history, mainly the colonization period known as “The Conquest”. The absolutely best part of every trip to the castle is the stunning view of Mexico City. Some people would think that feeding the squirrels in the surrounding park is numero uno. Don’t do that, it looks cute on social media but chance is those little buggers aren’t getting much veterinary attention. Getting bitten by a rabid squirrel can be nasty end of your Mexico trip before it even has really started.
Frida Kahlo and the before-mentioned Diego Rivera are the Mexican essentials for any art-lovers out there. You can witness their lives and creations in one of the most colourful areas of Mexico City: Coyoacán. The name is pre-Hispanic and means “Village of the Coyotes” and it’s a beautiful part of town; green and blissful, apart from the mile-long lines of tourists trying to get into the Blue House. The open house museum/art gallery depicts the lives of this marriage of this extraordinary couple. Watch the movie, it’s awesome and I don’t want to spoil it. Watch it even just for Salma Hayek with the hottest mono-brow in the history of cinema. Makes sure to sit down at Casa del Taco while in Coyoacán. It’s one of the best restaurants with traditional Mexican food. If you’d rather take a breather, then the Xochimilco nature reserve is just outside of town, it’s a bit of a crowded party area during the evenings, but very soothing during the day. You can rent a boat and cruise around the last remaining Aztec canal system while sipping mezcal, the famous local spirit.
Colonia Roma is where I would go for pure leisure, do some shopping, eat something delicious and party your heart out at night. It’s a city in a city and mind-blowing. Classy Art Nouveau villas are being rented out to independent artists and chefs, creating bazaar areas unique to Mexico City. They sell anything from handmade clothing, fried insects to mezcal induced ice cream. For getting a sense of living in this thriving neighbourhood you don’t have to make the long journey to Mexico but can stay on your couch. The Netflix movie Roma is a masterpiece shot in black and white by the Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón who is from the same city. It’s based on Cuarón’s childhood in Mexico City, as told through the eyes of the family’s maid Cleo. The movie received ten Oscar nominations and won three Academy Awards (Best Cinematography, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Director).
Best nightlife in town is also centred around Roma, especially the northern part of the district, don’t miss out on essentials such as Patrick Miller at Mérida 17 or Zinco Jazz Club (http://www.zincojazz.com/) at Calle de Motolinia 20. But the best spots remain hidden. In fact, the speakeasy culture is alive and well in Mexico City. In case you wonder: I mean those hidden, secret bars that popped up everywhere during the times of prohibition. Those weren’t easy to find and access but they were always worth the efforts. Alcohol is far from being hard to find in Mexico, but the thrill of looking for a secret bar remains. There are even rumours of a bar that you can only enter via a freezer in a certain restaurants’ kitchen. Crazy stuff.
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