THE GREAT MEXICAN CAPITAL
WHAT TO DO IN MEXICO CITY? MY JOURNEY
Former college of San Ildefonso
Mirador Torre Latino
Former college of San Ildefonso
The historic center of Mexico City is the district not to be missed! Starting with Zócalo Square, one of the largest squares in the city. Covering 46,800 sqm, it’s impressive to be in the middle. There are sometimes events in the square, as well as decorations on the facades, it all depends when you are there. It’s surrounded by buildings with similar architecture including the national palace (palacio nacional) and the government building (edificio de gobierno). Not to mention the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City (Catedral metropolitana de la ciudad de México) which overlooks the square. Its architecture is really beautiful, inside and outside! The interior is huge! There are wonderful paintings! The organ is impressive, I saw a resemblance with the one in Seville. The facades have many well maintained statues. The details are stunning.
From the square, you can visit the Major Temple (Templo Mayor). Ruins of an Aztec temple, right in the middle of the city center. There was once a large 45m high pyramid dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. This one was built in several stages due to the different reigns. But the archaeological site doesn’t just have a pyramid. You can walk on a path above the ruins to get a closer view. In the museum there are miniature representations and lots of explanations (mostly in English and Spanish) about the place. It helps to imagine what it was like back then. The Templo Mayor museum is very interesting because it talks about the religion, the offerings, the history of the temple, but also about the region in general. It’s about 2 hours to visit the whole place.
Behind the square there’s the former college of San Ildefonso (Antiguo colegial de San Ildefonso). Formerly a Jesuit college, this one has a section dedicated to art exhibitions. I’m not a fan of modern art so I wasn’t really convinced by the exhibition. Art is a matter of taste. But the building itself is worth it! Two large interior courtyards with magnificent architecture! And the most impressive are the magnificent murals! If you are on a tight budget, this isn’t a must for me.
From the square, there’s the large pedestrian Madero Avenue that goes to Aladema Park. This avenue is full of shops and restaurants, with a mix of old and new architecture. It’s here that there’s a very famous restaurant, the casa de los Azulejos. An unique architecture, which reminded me a bit of Portugal to be honest. You can go take a look inside without taking anything (or pretend that you aren’t interested because the prices are high), it’s super beautiful! Don’t hesitate to go up to the first floor to have an overview. At the end of the street, there’s the Mirador Torre Latino. High of 183m, you won’t be able to miss it with its unique architecture which resists very well to the seismic activities of the region! We didn’t so I can’t say about the view. At the end of the Madero, there’s the Museum of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes) which from the outside is magnificent! You can’t miss its golden roof. Aladema Park, where the museum is located, is a great place to take a break and watch the busy pace of Mexico City.
A street to do near the historic center is Regina Avenue. A small pedestrian street with bars and restaurants. Quite cute with a good atmosphere.
To visit the historic center and the few museums, allow a good half day, or even a day depending on your pace.
Entrance fee to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City: free
Entrance fee to the major temple museum: 85 pesos
Entrance fee to the Torre Latino viewpoint and its museum: 200 pesos
Entrance fee to the former college of San Ildefonso: 50 pesos
National Museum of Anthropology
It’s a huge park in downtown Mexico City. Very pleasant to walk around. What surprised me was the countless number of food stalls and souvenirs! You won’t run out of food, don’t panic haha. On the outskirts of Chapultepec lake (lago de Chapultepec), you have the letters CDMX to take a souvenir photo. You can also rent pedal boats at the lake.
It’s in this park that there’s the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología). One of my favorite museums in Mexico. When you enter it, you will see a work that looks like a large mushroom, pouring water from the roof towards the middle, around the main column. It’s very beautiful. But we aren’t going there just for this reason. The museum houses a multitude of objects dating back several centuries, including a famous Aztec calendar, discovered under the major temple in 1790. It’s here that you’ll learn the most about the history of the country and its different regions, the religions, rituals. It’s very interesting. This museum is for me a must to learn more about Mexico. Count about 4 hours to visit all the rooms, or even more.
When leaving the museum, listen carefully. You will hear a little melodious music with flute and drum. Look above the trees, you will see a musician above a blue pole, and his Totonac dancers descending the column upside down, via a simple rope. They do the rite of Valdores, the dance of the birds. A tradition that dates back to Mayan times. They are there from Tuesday to Sunday.
Not very far, there is also the castle of Chapultepec (Castillo de Chapultepec), the national museum of history. Perched on top of a small hill, if you want to learn more about Mexico, I think it’s a good one. I can’t say more about it because we didn’t do it due to lack of time (and museum overdose haha). But I had good feedback on this museum.
Entrance fee to National Museum of Anthropology: 80 pesos
Entrance fee to Chapultepec Castle: 85 pesos
THE OTHER DISTRICTS OF MEXICO CITY
Mercado San Juan
Angel of Independence
Apart from the historic center, there are other places to visit in the city:
- Avenida Paseo de la Reforma: from the bosque de Chapultepec, there’s this large boulevard which is pleasant for a stroll. Each roundabout is quite pretty. Especially the Angel of Independence (angel de la Independencia) perched above a large column. Besides, there’s a work on the boulevard where you can take a picture of yourself in front of golden wings.
- Monument to the Revolution (monumento a la Revolución): a beautiful monument in the middle of a large square. It’s quite impressive to see up close.
- Mercado San Juan: the cheap market to taste Mexican specialties. It’s so good!
- Calle Dolores: I didn’t know but there is a Chinatown in the city center. And it’s in this street that everything happens. Lots of Chinese shops and restaurants.
- Do you want to taste a typical alcohol? Go to the Pulqueria los Insurgentes and taste the Pulque. Natural isn’t good, even the Mexicans say so. But with fruit flavors, it’s not bad. Pulque is an agave-based alcohol.
There are certain neighborhoods to avoid in Mexico City. Our friends told us about Tepito and La Doctores. Ask your accommodation again where not to go so you don’t go in neighborhoods where you aren’t supposed to be.
Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
To go to the archaeological site of Teotihuacán, it’s super simple. Go to the Autobus del Norte bus station. When you enter the station, go to door 8. From there, you have an office indicating Teotihuacán, where you can buy your tickets (only in cash). There are buses approximately every 30 minutes. Then you’re on the bus just over an hour before arriving at Los Pirámides. Once there, there are several entrances, go to the closest to you. There are guides present at the entrance if you want. But if you went to the anthropology museum the days before, this isn’t necessary. There are some explanatory panels on site. But most of them are damaged.
Teotihuacán is a huge Aztec site! It was once one of the largest cities in Pre-Columbian America. Many political, commercial and religious exchanges took place there. The site is made up of two large pyramids, the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon, connected by the alley of the dead. The pyramid of the moon is the more beautiful of the two, and much better preserved. It isn’t possible to climb on the temples but there are some places where you can climb up to get an overview. You can even see ruins of dwellings. It’s quite easy to imagine how they lived at the time.
The site is very large, count a good 3 hours to visit the whole site. Once you are done, take the exit in front of the Pyramid of the Sun (gate 2). From there ask the locals where the bus stops as there’s no sign.
Return ticket price from Mexico City: 106 pesos.
Entrance fee to the Teotihuacán archaeological site: 85 pesos.
Mexico City pleasantly surprised me. There are so many neighborhoods and museums to see. It really is a capital to visit for a few days.
WHEN TO GO?
We were there at the end of August. It was hot but it was ok. The city is at 2,200m above sea level.
I think 4 days is enough to visit the city. You will have time to walk around, visit the museums you want, and go to the Teotihuacán site.
WHERE TO SLEEP? MY ACCOMMODATION
ROOM IN THE HEART OF THE DOWNTOWN
2 minutes from the historic center of Mexico City
Price: €23/night for a room with a double bed.
An adorable host! You have a private bedroom, and the rest is shared with the host but quite honestly you won’t step on each other. The apartment is also super well located, close to the central square and the market!
MY 3 TIPS TO VISIT MEXICO CITY
- Don’t go in neighborhoods that locals don’t recommend. When you get there, ask them which places to avoid.
- If you go out at night, always take an Uber.
- Take accommodation close to the historic center because Mexico City is huge!