Christina writes and edits Travelling Companion. Her writing covers expeditions, food, and culture for the blog.
A Weekend in Mexico City Trip Report
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For Ramon’s 30th birthday, we celebrated by visiting his 30th state Louisiana. My 30th was just a few months after his, and I was not sure how I wanted to spend it. Ramon was a hawk, looking for last-minute flight deals when Mexico City popped up. I have never been to Mexico City, but I have multiple friends who raved that the city is great.
Night Life? Check.
So arming ourselves with a few suggestions for places to visit, we booked my 30th birthday weekend trip to MXDX. Here are some of the best things we saw and did on this quick trip:
Hemiciclo a Juarez
Right outside our hotel was a monument to a past Mexican president, Bendito Juarez. History nerds that we are, Ramon and I happily learned a lot about this amazing man throughout this stay. President Juarez pops up in murals, buildings, and music while walking the streets of Mexico City. Bendito Juarez was an indigenous president from Oaxaca who led Mexico through their Liberal Reform and the French Invasion.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bella Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is best known for its striking architecture, along with Diego Rivera’s Man, Controller of the Universe. The original version, Man at a Crossroads, was in New York City but was destroyed by Rockefeller because of the anti-capitalism message. It is hard not to be taken aback by this piece. Ramon, who is not as enthusiastic about the arts as I am, really enjoyed taking in the mural, discovering various historical and symbolic aspects. I recommend going to the Palacio de Bella artes when it first opens. By the time we left, the place was taken over by various school and tour groups.
Zócalo is the main city square in Mexico City, the country’s version of the National Mall, but a deeper history. Zócalo was the main square during Aztec times and is now where the majority of national government business convenes. Aztec roots are not forgotten.You will find street performers dancing traditional Aztec dances, wearing traditional Aztec garb, and providing spiritual offerings and/or cleansing for a few pesos. They are definitely worth a few minutes of your time to stop and enjoy some culture. Attached to the Zocalo is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor Museum, and the National Palace.
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
Ramon and I did a quick walk through the Cathedral, as we knew we had limited time in the city. Similar to the other cathedrals, inside you will find various chapels dedicated to various saints, along with a crypt where archbishops are laid to eternal rest. The most striking thing from this stop was learning the Spaniards used sacred ground from the Aztecs to build the church. Before entering the cathedral, there are two large glass windows on the ground that show the archeological dig of the Aztec holy ground.
For the Templo Mayor, I suggest carving out a half day. This is an archeological site of the main Aztec Temple. It is breathtaking. I recommend either bushing up on Aztec history or going with a tour guide. I feel like we may have missed some important aspects of the temple. At the end of the archeological site is a beautiful museum where you can walk through the various artifacts from the dig. A worker from the museum asked if we would like to have a personal tour guide. We took him up on the offer, and so glad we did. He made the history come alive while we looked at jewelry, bones, and codex writings. Best part, it was free! We only went through the first floor of the museum since we already clocked four hours in Templo Mayor, and had to keep going.
Warning: There are multiple human skulls on display, mostly from human sacrifice from the Aztecs. It is sobering, but a real part of human history.
The Palacio Nacional (National Palace) has two main attractions in addition to its unique architecture. Diego Rivera has another mural describing the history of Mexico. There is also a small museum where you can walk through the rooms occupied by President Juarez, and learn more about his remarkable life. What kept us longer at the Palacio Nacional was a group of high school kids dancing Ballet Folklorico. Ballet Folklorico is a type of national folk dance, and each state has its own specialty. Seeing the dancers was a great reminder of just how size and diversity of Mexico. Each group danced their local folk dance for the tourist, and they were fantastic.
After a long day in the main square, Ramon and I decided to take it easy for a nice long dinner at Miralto. Miralto is located in the Torre Latinoamericana and was a suggested stop from Ramon’s cousin for the uncompromising views of the city. The views did not disappoint. We scheduled ourselves to be there just before sunset to watch the city turn from day to night, and we were memorized of seeing the city breathe full of life. The food was forgettable; there are way better places to eat in the city. I recommend getting a drink at the bar for these views, without needing to pay for entry to the observatory, and skipping the food.
Plaza de La Solidaridad
Across the street from our hotel is a small plaza called the Plaza de La Solidaridad (Plaza of Solidarity). During the day, it is an open air shop, where local people are selling food, clothes, and gadgets. This is a perfect place to stock up on gifts, and to try out some street food. At night, this plaza comes alive with a local band, and some of salsa dancing. Ramon and I joined the party, hoping to dance off a few extra calories, before heading in for the night.
Diego Rivera Mural Museum
Similar to President Juarez, Diego Rivera is everywhere. This museum is a few feet from our hotel, and finishing up restorations. We squeezed this visit in before heading to the airport. Because it was not in its full glory, the cost to get in was waved. The only piece open to the public was Rivera’s most famous painting, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda. Another complex piece, it would have been helpful to have someone or something walk us through the painting. It was overwhelming and beautiful.
Overall, seeing the city made two things clear.
1. We were correct in focusing in one district for the first visit.
2. We need to return.
Some hardest parts to handle were, the size of the city, the number of people in the city, the air quality, and the altitude. Mexico City is very large. Overlooking the city from Miralta, I felt overwhelmed knowing I could never discover all of Mexico City. The city also has so many people within the borders. It is home to roughly nine million people within the proper city limits, and close to 21 million people in the greater urban area. Walking the streets can feel suffocating, especially for someone who has claustrophobia. One quiet time when we were able to enjoy the city without the sea of people was early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday. On these mornings the street in front our hotel, Avenida Juarez was closed to cars. We watched numerous people walking and biking up and down the street without a car in sight.
Mexico City can also suffer from poor air quality, and it is high in altitude. By the end of the first day, I knew we could not push ourselves the next day, and was happy to partake in hotel amenities.
All that being said, Mexico City has a spirit, unlike any other city. Ramon and I fell in love with Mexico City. The people are warm and welcoming, the culture is comfortable, and the city is beautiful. We have so much more we want to see, guaranteeing our return. What do you recommend for us to visit on our next trip to Mexico City?