Mexico City made easy

By | Category: Travel destinations

Mexico City is shaking off its shady reputation and getting back to winning ways. Kaye Holland shows you the way to go

Mexico City is often in the headlines for all the wrong reasons – read crime, congestion and pollution – but don’t be scared by its sinister rep. True it can’t be described as an effortless destination but  the colourful Mexican capital is cleaning up its act and those that do decide to explore this exuberant city are guaranteed art, culture and cuisine, fabulous deals – and a warm welcome from locals who are looking to shed Mexico City’s international reputation. What’s more, Mexico City might be a mammoth city (compromising as it does 16 boroughs and 300 neighbourhoods) but with a bit of judicious planning, a lot can be covered in just two days leaving plenty of time to hit the coastline. Go now – before the crowds catch on…

 

What to see and do
Where to start? The headline act is arguably the Plaza de la Constitution – aka one of the largest squares in the world – that’s occasionally referred to as the Zocalo (meaning ‘base’.) You’ll find a massive Mexican flag in the middle of the Zocalo which is raised,  religiously,  every morning at 8am by members of the Mexican army. On the east side of Zocalo, lies Palacio Nacional (the presidential palace). To the west lies the most iconic structure in the whole of Mexico: Catedral Metropolitana. Wander  inside for an interior so sumptuous it could convert you to Catholicism.

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Palacio Nacional

Mad about museums? Don’t miss the new Museo Soumaya Plaza Carso which houses an extensive collection of art belonging to Carlos Slim – aka the world’s richest man. Other museums worth a visit include the home of the haunted Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, and the Museo Nacional de Antropologica – chock full as it is of stupendous pre Hispanic relics.

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Had your fill of culture? Check out Condesa and Roma – two of Mexico City’s most interesting districts where the capital’s colourful Spanish history (it’s the largest Spanish speaking city in the world) can still be felt in every church, alley, square and gallery.

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Xochimilco

 

Finally when the noise, neon signs and stinging exhaust fumes of the metropolis get too much, glide on a gondola through the ancient canals of Xochimilco while perhaps planning your return.

 

Top shops
Mexico City equals retail nirvana and is sure to satisfy even the most serious of shopaholics: browse everything from books to jeans, jewels and excellent handicrafts.

El Palacio de Hierro and Liverpool are Mexico City’s smartest department stores but, if you want to put your bargaining skills to the test, check out Centro de Artesanias La Ciudadela (take the metro to Balderas). The shopping here is sensational (we love the whimsical painted animals from Oaxaxca and the brightly coloured beadwork) and so cheap (even before you begin bargaining) that you’d be nuts not to indulge.

 

Best bites
When it comes to restaurants, Mexico City is reeling with choice so arrive with a large appetite. Head to Hosteria de Santo Domingo – the city’s oldest and most atmospheric restaurant – to try the chilies en nogada (chilies stuffed with ground meat, fruit and then smothered in walnut sauce) and antojitos (tortilla based snacks), washed down with margaritas served in glasses the size of goldfish bowls. Yes eating and drinking here isn’t great for the waistline, but it is good for the soul…

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Hosteria de Santo Domingo

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Traditional cantina fare

But you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well at a cantina (traditional Mexican restaurant) where you can gorge on gorditas (round masa cakes) and quesadillas (basically cheese tortillas) for baffling low prices.

 

After dark
When night falls, make for a mezcal bar like La Botica to knock back tequila’s rustic relative. Sometimes called ‘that drink with the worm in it’, mezcal is  an acquired taste (that I have yet to develop) but as the saying goes, when in Rome… Plus it would be rude to refuse, right?

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La Botica

Feeling merry after all that mezcal? Take a taxi to Plaza Garibaldi – a great place to sing along with the city’s mariachi bands who gather in Garibaldi every single evening after 8pm. Another must when in Mexico City is to watch a wrestling – the national pastime – match. There are two venues to choose from: the 17,000 capacity Arena Mexico and the more intimate Arena Coliseo. Even if you’re not a fan of wrestling, it’s worth watching a match for the atmosphere alone: the crowd can be quite colourful cheering on their favourite luchadores (wrestlers).

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Mariachi singers in action

Excursions
If you sign up for just one excursion, make it a trip to Teotihuacan (pronounced teh-oh-tee-wah-kahn) – approximately 50km northeast of the capital.
Mexico’s biggest ancient city is home to the truly awesome Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, plus mural decked palaces. Ascending the Pyramids – particularly the Piramide del Sol’s 248 steps – can be hard work but you won’t regret a step on arrival at the top to be rewarded with a fascinating overview of the ancient city.

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View from the top

 

Sleepover
So where to stay in this city of choices? The hottest address in town is the W Mexico City which pushes the boundaries to all new levels of opulence and style. From the sumptuous beds to the silken hammocks hanging in the showers, the W is out to ‘wow’ its guests. The downside? Even one night will cost you – prices tend to match the glamour and might well bring you out in a cold sweat.
If, like us,  you don’t have deep pockets consider long-term budget favourite, Hotel Isabel, whose downtown location – it’s just a few blocks from the Zocalo –  is ideal for getting a sense of the real city.

 

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