Ask people in Mexico City and they invariably tell you it’s the world’s second largest city with 36 million inhabitants, second only to Shanghai’s 42 million. Of course, I have no way of independently verifying this, but a Google search reveals that the population is much lower and Mexico City isn’t second. In any event, the place is huge.
Such a huge city has its share of traffic problems and pollution can get very bad. But on the June weekend when I visited, it was sweater cool and the skies were very blue. Situated in a bowl surrounded by mountains, I can see how the pollution can vary. But its elevation usually makes the climate mild, despite the erroneous mythology to the contrary. Traffic, alas, is definitely a problem. I suggest you don’t drive in Mexico City.
Mexico City recently achieved statehood, just as Washington, D.C., sometimes clammers to be its own state. The Mexican capital used to be referred to as Distrito Federal (or D.F.) but under its new statehood management the city is entering the modern age, sprucing up, and is as classy in parts as the fanciest places in Hollywood. Under its new name of CDMX, which stands for Ciudad de Mexico (the name of the new state), the city is going through a re-branding giving its taxis and shoe polishing stands the unified moniker of CDMX.
If you stay in the center of town, those areas are known as the Historical District, the Zona Rosa, Polanco, and Cuauhtémoc, you won’t even know you’re in Mexico except for the Spanish signage everywhere. Still, the American and European brands, Zara, Starbucks, Chili’s, Deloitte, Regus, and the sort dominate the streets.
You can walk between all these districts, but there is also a very effective subway and bus system should you be a bit more daring. These areas are all basically connected by the wide Paseo de la Reforma (the Reforma), the Broadway of Mexico City.
All the American brand hotels are here. The Sheraton is right next to the American Embassy which is right on the Reforma, but a personal favorite is the Camino Real in Polanco if you can afford it, for a more local experience without sacrificing any comfort. Even if you don’t stay there, they have the world’s best Sunday brunch. Don’t miss it.
There’s so much to do in Mexico City that you can’t possibly see it all in a lifetime. The standard sights include water gardens and pyramids in the outskirts and the main square, the Zocalo. I wanted to check out some of the “newish” museums during my recent trip. Here are 3 I highly recommend.
The richest man in Mexico is Carlos Slim. Several years ago he opened the Museo Soumaya in a spectacular building. The museum, one of the best I’ve visited anywhere, located in Mexico City’s equivalent to Beverly Hills, contains an awesome collection of Rodin sculptures, the second largest in the world. Other collections in the museum are also worth seeing, noteworthy among them are the Asian collection of ivory miniature carvings, the Picasso’s, Renoir’s, and da Vinci’s. Go to the cafeteria for the best $10 all-you-can-eat Mexican lunch buffet in town, usually crowded with business people from the posh office buildings in the surrounding upscale neighborhood. To see the entire museum would require more than a day, so if that is of interest, plan to return. A bonus: the museum is FREE.
Next door to the Soumaya, as if to snub his nose at Carlos Slim, Mexico’s second richest man, owner of the Jumex juice company, has opened an equally spectacular museum bearing his name (not free). This museum specializes in contemporary art. An Andy Warhol exhibit was featured on the day I visited. Near these museums is one the city’s super high-end shopping centers, the very popular, open-air Antara center. The surrounding area has some of the city’s best restaurants and nightlife.
Several years ago, near the city’s main plaza, the Zocolo, and its cathedral, a buried Mayan city was discovered as a new subway line was being excavated. Today, the newish visitor site continues to be excavated and a fantastic museum displays some of the discovered artifacts. The Templo Mayor Museum brings the Mexicas (the word used to describe the indigenous cultures) to life, and is the second “new” place to see.
You can still see some of these things at the amazing anthropology museum in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park or at the pyramids outside Mexico City at Teotihuacan. This newer museum offers an alternative right in the center of the city!
The Templo Mayor Museum has a ground floor exhibit. From there you can walk up to the “Second Floor.” Once on the Second Floor, you can only exit by walking through all the exhibits on several levels. The museum is vast. Allow at least ½ a day to see it thoroughly.
The capital of the pre-Hispanic civilization was centered where the main plaza of Mexico City is today. On this site, the ancient capital, Tenochtitlan, is being unearthed and displayed.
Featured in the exhibits is an explanation of how archeologists use modern scientific techniques to determine the original colors of the artifacts displayed. One of the main attractions is a humongous stone relief of Tlaltecuhtli, the Earth goddess of the Mexicas, weighing 12 tons. It was originally at the foot of the main temple in the pre-Hispanic city. Its colors have been painstakingly restored to their original luster over 3 years of arduous work. When the Spanish conquered Mexico between 1519 and 1521, they discovered and destroyed this beautiful monumental sculpture. Today it has been restored to its original magnificence along with other similarly astounding objects, from funerary displays to offerings originally deposited at the ancient Main Temple as gifts to gods for good crops, war victories, and fire, among other aspects of Mexica life.
A final new sight is the little-known, hard-to-find, Museo Carranza, located in the home of one of the early presidents of Mexico, Venustiano Carranza, a block off the main street, Paseo de la Reforma, and down the street from the British Embassy. I was the sole visitor at the museum so it was like having a private showing. The exhibits piece together early Mexican history, especially the early constitutions of Mexico, in numerous displays through the two-story house and the adjacent horse stables now converted to additional museum space on the second floor. One drawback: the signage is all in Spanish. But if you speak Spanish, the guides are excellent in answering questions.
You can see how an upper class Mexican family lived in the early 20th century, including an exhibit of one of the earliest plumbed bathtubs. President Carranza was exiled from Mexico after his term on charges of corruption. His daughter, living in the United States, eventually donated the family home as a museum in 1961, but the family never returned from exile.
During his term President Carranza introduced a constitutional form of government to Mexico when there was still fighting among various factions throughout the country led by labor organizers seeking better living conditions. Two of the factions were led by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, respectively. I suggest you do a little Google research before you go to get oriented. Then see the artifacts of history all well-displayed at this wonderful, but underutilized museum, focusing on perhaps the most consequential period of Mexican history.