Mexico City is a riot of colour. It is the most vibrant place I have ever visited. Rainbow brightness roars from every wall – the streets are a jumble of houses in bubblegum pink; canary yellow; burnt orange; turquoise… and then you step into the Palacio Nacional and the history of Mexico is laid out in broad brushstrokes of every hue imaginable. The mural of Diego Rivera is an incredible chronicle and homage to a people whose heritage is as rich and varied as the colours that are daubed on the walls.
Tourism in Mexico City is at an all time high. They now have over thirteen million people visiting each year, and are keen to establish themselves on the world stage as a destination spot. And why not? They boast three of the best 100 global restaurants, and there are 188 museums, putting them just behind London for the most in any city. Ideas of less-than salubrious streets with a reputation of danger should be left firmly in the past – Mexico City is cosmopolitan, crammed with culture, and offers the chance to see Latin America at its very best. Whether sipping Patron tequila in a shady, marble-tiled courtyard, or tapping your feet to a mariachi band in the Plaza Garibaldi, then there is something to tempt everyone.
So, when visiting, what are the key places to explore?
Art goes some way to defining Mexico – two of its most famous contemporary individuals, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivers, were inspired by the depth of history and culture that surrounded them. To truly immerse yourself in the story of Mexico City, visit the Palace Nacional and spend a few hours gawping, open-mouthed, at the incredible murals painted by Diego Rivera. Nothing quite prepares you for the spectacle of colour that chronicles the arrival of the Aztecs, to the invasion of the Spanish, right on through to Mexico’s independence in 1810.
For a more contained and yet no less powerful collection, head over to bohemian Coyoacan neighborhood and visit the Casa Azul – or rather, the Blue House where a collection of Frida Kahlo’s work is kept. Her paintings are full of incredible vitality, despite their morose and sometimes morbid subject matter. If you’ve admired them for afar, be prepared for the emotion that seeing them up close brings.
The National Museum of Anthropology is a must-visit for anyone wanting to attempt to grasp a sense of this wonderful country – it is an incredible piece of architecture in itself, with an umbrella-style roof that is supported by a single column and allows water to cascade into the centre courtyard. Containing one of the world’s largest collections of archaeological and anthropological artifacts, from Pre-Hispanic Mayan civilizations to the Spanish conquest, you can wander for hours taking in wonders such as the Aztec Calendar, a reconstruction of an eighth century Mayan tomb, and reproduction of the vine-laden Templo en Campeche de Chaac.
For those interested in learning about the famous tipples of Mexico, we recommenda trip to the Tequila and Mezcal museum. Learn all about the agave plant, the difference between the two beverages, and the varieties available – then spend some time perusing the fabulous gift shop.
The trendy area of Zona Rosa is well know for its shopping – here you’ll find major brands, boutique shops, and designer stores. For something a little more quaint then you absolutely must visit San Angel on a Saturday. When the weekend rolls around, traders and stalls pop up with their vibrant wares – glorious paintings that turn the streets into decorated galleries; beautiful swathes of cloth and material;and hand-crafted curios such as silverware and pottery. Exploring the many kiosks and wandering around the gorgeous colonial-style houses makes for a wonderful day out.
A lovely afternoon can be spent in the district of Xochimilco, just south of the city. This UNESCO heritage site reminds visitors that the Aztec capital was situated on a lake, navigated by a huge system of canals. It’s rather jolly to hire a trajinera and be punted along amongst the floating gardens – at weekends this is a popular choice for Mexicans of all ages, and water-bound picnics are regular occurrences.
No visit to Mexico City would be complete without a trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, about 30 miles northeast of the city. It translates as ‘the place where the Gods were created’, on account of the Aztec’s assumption that only divine beings could have produced such magnificent structures. Wandering around the ruins of temples gives some insight into the incredible dexterity of the people of the past. If you’re feeling fit, you can climb the 248 steps of the Temple of the Sun and be rewarded with breathtaking views and vast blue skies.
Food and Drink:
Naturally there is one spirit in particular that resonates with Mexico, and it would almost be sacrilegious to visit without drinking some. Here, the agave plant rules, and the top drink is tequila. Whether enjoyed in margaritas (of which there are many), or drunk neat, then there’s no-where on earth that it will taste so good. And the best? It has to be Patron, the hand-crafted, ultra premium tequila from Jalisco. Its smooth taste ensures both connoisseurs and novices alike will be announcing it as a favourite. And when it comes to bars, Mexico has a great variety. Again, Zona Rosa and the youthful Condesa neighborhood offer a plethora of opportunities to let your hair down. One of our favourite bars for cocktails was LA No 20 Cantina. With three sites in Mexico and one in Florida, it perfectly mixes swanky art-deco chic with vivacious evening fun, and the cocktails are fabulous. A tip? Order the frozen margarita – you’ll be on Instagram in seconds.
When it comes to gastronomy, Mexico City has a huge number of opportunities to excite your palate. The street food culture here is wonderful, with tasty taco stands lining many streets. For fine-dining, Pujolis rated as the sixteenth best restaurant in the world, and has a stunning taster menu. A great in-between option is El BajioCocina Mexicana, offering traditional and authentic cuisine in a quirky environment. And whatever you do, make sure at some point you have a breakfast of Huevos Rancheros. It really is the best start to the day.
Where to Stay:
Mexico has an abundance of places to rest your head, ranging from boutique hotels, comfortable hostels and more swish lodgings. For a purse-friendly and lovely stay, book into Casa de la Condesa.This family run establishment gives visitors a chance to travel back in time and relax in the hacienda-style surroundings – there are glorious curios dotted about the place, warm and helpful staff, and a pretty little courtyard to enjoy breakfast. The rooms are cool, have an authentic Latin-American feel, and many boast a little balcony overlooking the sparkling fountains outside.
If you’re feeling like something a little more luxurious, then it has to be MarquisReforma. This glossy and sumptuous five star hotel and spa has everything one could wish for in ultimate comfort – huge suites that boast sliding partitions between bedroom and lounging areas, expert masseuses on hand to release any tensions, and two delicious restaurants. The foyer itself is a thing of beauty, resplendent with marble, arching figures of dancers, and an impressive water feature.
Aeromexico flies non-stop from London Heathrow throughout September for an average of about £1200 return.
For more details of Mexico City, see the CDMX website
Words and photos by Rebecca Milford @rebecca_anne_m