It was sad to be leaving South America, an amazingly varied continent that could steal anyone’s heart. But we were on our way back to the familiar metropolis of Mexico City; and what a sight to fly into at night. It was a Saturday evening, and we once again had an action packed itinerary of activities and sights we had missed out on during our last visit. You could spend a lifetime in this city and continue to be amazed every day. Mexico City is rumoured to have over 150 museums, and we were nowhere near through completing the list!
Checking into the Mexico City hostel, we were given a great double room with a balcony overlooking the Zocalo – for less than £20 per night – this city is still incredible value. After a quick shower, we were out looking for somewhere to celebrate our arrival. Whilst the historic centre is the perfect place to base yourself for the sights and daily activities, local restrictions prevent bars and nightlife in the main square. Apart from the shopping street of Puerto Madero (which is always buzzing) you might not find too much within walking distance of an evening, unless you know where to go.
Fortunately, we found the rooftop bar of Hostel Mundo Joven which welcomes outside guests for a small price. This is actually a huge decked rooftop terrace with DJ, providing 360 degree views over the Zocalo. The place was packed. Not surprising when you can get a few beers and a chorizo-dog for less than a fiver.
The following day, we were up early to take the Campanario Torre tour which involves climbing up the bell towers and out onto the roof of the main cathedral.
There is an hourly tour which is an unbelievable bargain at 20 pesos (about 80p) and it even includes a guide for 1 hour. For Rob and I who are used to being on roofs, it was a busman’s holiday, but the tour was really interesting and provided a great view over the buzzing Zocalo by day. As it was Sunday mass, we were treated to a long and thorough bell-ringing when we were on the roof and this left our ears ringing for the rest of the day. Did we mention that Mexico City was boiling hot yet again?
Next up, we were off to see the ruins of Templo Mayor. Mexico has innumerable ruins, historic sites and artefacts, and this one on the surface does not look that impressive. Despite these ruins being located in a prime position next to the main cathedral, this was my third trip to Mexico City and I still hadn’t managed to go inside! Today was my lucky day though, as this turned out to be yet again another one of the many incredible highlights of the city.
The ruins themselves have only been excavated to a certain level and are not too interesting at first glance. However, the real highlight is found later on, and completely exceeds the pricing of the ticket (still only about £3 each). At the end of the ruins site, you are treated to a mind-boggling seven storey museum which showcases a treat of precious carvings, stonework, jewellery, furniture, and all manner of ancient relics which were found at the site, and have been cleaned up for display. The sheer volume of history and artefacts in Mexico should really deem the entire country to be UNESCO – who knows what is going to be found next?
Spotting a beautiful terrace restaurant overlooking the Zocalo, we did a little research on the maps.me app (the most useful offline travel friend one could have). We realised that this restaurant and café was part of the Librería Porrúa bookshop and headed over. We enjoyed refreshing smoothies and plates of delicious tacos de carnitas and tacos al pastor, for less than £7 each. And just look at this place…
With no time to digest, we were off to our next destination, the highly coveted district of Coayacan. Locally, this area is favoured for its Sunday arts and crafts fair and street markets; it is also the home of Frida Kalho the famous Mexican artist.
Naively, we had overlooked the Sunday discount for locals, and when we arrived we were informed there was a two-hour queue. Instead, we strolled the market which reminded us of one of the antique and art markets we visited in Sao Paulo, although was smaller and didn’t have as much variety. The rain arrived very soon, and so we took shelter in a nearby underground bar which looked like it had a great night scene. We didn’t feel we saw the best of this area so will need to go back!
Next on our list was the National Art Museum. Housed in a beautiful building designed by Italian architect Silvio Contri; the frontage features in some of the scenes from the James Bond movie Sceptre.
The building is as impressive as (if not more!) than the artwork itself. Mexico City has so many museums, with loads of these being high quality art museums; the Museum of Modern Art and Museo Soumaya make up just some of these. You really cannot imagine the volume of artwork held in this city alone, although there are many similar quality museums all over the country. The National Art Museum was free to us foreigners on Sunday, our lucky day. The building houses several floors of classic paintings of the city ranging from the sixteenth to twentieth centuries, as well as portraits and sculptures such as that of Charles IV of Spain. The building itself is so beautiful we couldn’t believe it was constructed to show the artwork, it felt more like a palace (in fact we later found out that it used to be Communications Palace but was remodelled when the artwork collection was introduced). But that’s Mexico.
Carrying on our theme for a busy day, we stopped by another absolutely beautiful rooftop bar, called Balcon de Zocalo. This is situated at the top of the Zocalo Central Hotel and is open to outside guests. We even considered treating ourselves to dinner, but it was a bit haute! So we settled on some delicious (red wine?) cocktails instead. After our big day of sightseeing, we also felt completely under-dressed amongst the city’s elite!
After heading back to refresh, we were back out to one of our favourite restaurants, Sanborns. This is a no-frills Mexican diner-style chain (again bizarrely linked to a bookshop) which can be found all over Mexico. Locals seem to love or despise it, although I’m guessing something like this would go down a treat in the UK.
Delicious tacos, enchiladas, soups, and burritos can be found in this place, and we ordered loads. The Puerto Madero branch is particularly inviting as it is housed in an 18th century palace which has beautiful murals on the walls and a barrelled ceiling. Food here is cheap as well, at around £4 a meal. After retiring to the sports bar upstairs (where we were given a huge complimentary platter of meat and cheese with our drinks!!) we were ready to call it a night.
The following day, we were off to see the less-famous, although just as impressive Teotihuacan pyramid site. Accessible by a one-hour bus from the outrageously modern bus terminal in the north of the city, this place makes a great trip from Mexico City. A lot of hostels sell a tour for about £30, although we easily managed to do the full day trip for about £13 each, including taxi, bus, and admission. This also means you don’t have to stop at shops on the way!
Another scorcher of a day, clear blue sky welcomed us to the extensive site. I was even forced to buy a hat!! The area is dry and desert-like, and the heat can be overwhelming. There are many pyramids, but the sun and moon are the biggest and give the best views. Unlike Chichen Itza, you are able to climb these.
We spent a few hours climbing up and down steps before panting back to the bus. Rob absolutely loved the site and didn’t want to leave. Absolutely exhausted, we collected a Domino’s at the station on the way back to our room – at £1 for an individual Farmhouse, you can’t get a better bargain!
On our final day in the city, we were off to another main attraction in the Zocalo; the National Palace. Recently refurbished, this 200m long complex of buildings is used as presidential offices and also the treasury room. We were visiting mainly to see the huge murals depicting Mexico’s history, which were painted by Diego Rivera in the 1930s and are famous throughout Mexico.
The grounds were well-kept and it was a worthwhile visit, although outside of the murals we didn’t know what else we were meant to be looking at. The site had a vastness and emptiness that reminded us of the Kremlin in Moscow. However, it was free once again to visit this Mexico City site.
Finally, we took a taxi to the beautiful Chapultepec Park. This natural area is absolutely massive (twice the size of Central Park in New York) and even includes a castle, a theme park, botanical gardens, a zoo and several museums.
We strolled in the beautiful weather before heading back to our hostel to collect our bags and take our onwards bus to our next destination; Puebla.
Once again, we hadn’t managed to see everything we had planned, and before leaving we had already made arrangements to extend our return trip. We really cannot get enough of this city; no wonder it was named as the top travel destination in 2016 by the New York Times!