When people travel to Mexico, most tend to focus on the heavily touristy and beach focused cities like Playa, Tulum, Cancun and Acapulco or Cabo. Rarely do they think of the capital Mexico City as a destination. I even received numerous warning for safety when I mentioned to friends that I am traveling to Mexico City for a quick vacay. I think the city gets a bad rep because media keeps painting it as a dark, dirty, dangerous and crime and drugs infested place. Yes, there are pockets in the city that foreign tourists should not wander into on their own, much like I wouldn’t recommend South Central LA to any visitors, but for the large part of Mexico City, it does not deserve the rep.
Today, I am hoping to bust the misconception of Mexico City by showing you the culture, beauty and history of Mexico City in Part 1 of the Top Places To Visit In Mexico City. I will be taking you on a visual tour that highlights a few worthy places in the Historical Center or as the locals call it “Zócalo” of Mexico City as well as the colorful and vibrant Xochimilco, also known as Venice of Mexico with extensive canals and colorful Trajinera boats. So let’s get on a mini journey to Mexico City.
Plaza de la Constitución
Residents call it the Zócalo (meaning base or main plaza) it extends in all directions for a number of blocks it is one of the world’s largest city squares. Fun fact, 2015 James Bond franchise Specture filmed the opening scene in the Zócalo where they flew helicopter over the city square. It is bordered by the Cathedral to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west, the Nacional Monte de Piedad building at the north-west corner, with the Templo Mayor site to the northeast, just outside view. In the centre is a flagpole with an enormous Mexican flag ceremoniously raised and lowered each day and carried into the National Palace.
The Metropolitan Cathedral
Dedicated to the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, The Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the Americas. The cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan. Over the centuries, the cathedral has suffered some damage. A fire in 1967 destroyed a significant part of the cathedral’s interior while the soft clay soil it is built on has been a threat to its structural integrity until reconstruction work beginning in the 1990’s finally stabilized the cathedral in 2000.
Templo Mayor is an archeological site and museum, is the center of the ancient teocalli, located just northeast of the Zócalo. It is one of the UNESCO Worle Heritage Site. Excavate began in 1978, when electrical workers stumbled upon an eight-ton stone disk depicting the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui when they were digging underground for tracks. The excavation unearthed a pyramid built in multiple layers which represents the cosmology of the Aztec world circa 1520s. According to folklore legend, this is the spot where the Aztecs saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak, which becomes the national symbol of Mexico today.
Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles)
An 18th-century palace built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family. The building is distinguished by its prominent facade of white and blue tiles covering 3 sides of the estate. Inside, the main courtyard contains a fountain crowned with mosaics and is known as the flagship restaurant for the Sanborns who owns the property. The exterior facade of the building is very popular for photos among the travelers and bloggers because it is so dramatic and intricate in design.
Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts)
The Palace of Fine Arts a prominent cultural center that has hosted some of the most notable events in music, dance, theater, opera and literature and has held important exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography in Mexico. The exterior of the building is primarily Neoclassical and Art Nouveau and the interior is primarily Art Deco and house a prominent mural by Diego Rivera.
Monument to the Revolution and The Angel of Independence
The two more well known monuments in Mexico City. Monument to the Revolution is located in Plaza de la República, commemorating the Mexican Revolution. It is considered the tallest triumphal arch in the world, it stands 220 ft tall and was initially planned as the Federal Legislative Palace. Construction went to a haul when funds ran out in 1912 and was completed in 1938 as a mausoleum for the heroes of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. When we visited, there was a huge street art in front of the monument that covers the ground in front of the monument giving it a larger than life visual effect.
The Angel of Independence monument was completed just before the celebration to commemorate the first hundred years of Mexican Independence in 1910. Visitors are allowed to enter the monument, view the memorial plaques at the base level, and climb to the top of the tower on weekends. Though free, visit must obtain a permit from the Cuauhtémoc borough. There is no elevator to the top of the monuments (equivalent to 14 stories), and the climb is a steep and dark and arduous climb where there is no landing for breaks. Take deep consideration before you make that commitment.
The borough of Xochimilco was created in 1928, when the federal government reorganized the Federal District of Mexico City into sixteen boroughs. Today it is more notably known for the canals, and the small colorful boats called Trajinera that float on them. These canals are popular not only with tourists but with Mexico City residents as well, especially on Sundays and any major holidays. A fun fact about these Trajineras, each boat is named after a lady and there is no single Trajinera named the same. People can sit on the boat enjoying a ride down the canal while smaller vendor boats that sells food, beverage and crafts float among them. You can also hire Mariachis to play for you on the boat when a special celebration calls for. Jose, our guide tells us that the locals will spend hours on the boat, drinking, eating and enjoy family time on the weekends, early arrival is highly recommended.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of top sites to visit in Mexico City. Next week, I will have more historical sights so stay tuned!