Things to Do in Mexico City
||Mexico City has pleasant summers and mild winters, with an annual average temperature of 64 °F (18 °C). Seasonal variations in temperature are small, but May is the warmest month of the year, and January the coldest, when night frosts are possible. Mexico City has a high average annual rainfall, most falling in summer, the wettest month being July, and the driest month February.
Mexico City is the world's third-largest metropolis (only Tokyo and NYC are bigger). Mexico's best and worst ingredients are all here: music and noise, brown air and green parks, colonial palaces and skyscrapers, world-renowned museums and ever-spreading slums.
One moment the city is all Latin beats, glamour and excitement; the next it's drabness, poverty, suffocating crowds and rancid smells. In spite of the negatives, Mexico City is a magnet for Mexicans and visitors alike. You certainly won't be bored.
Mexico City's 350 colonias (neighborhoods) sprawl across the ancient bed of Lago de Texcoco and beyond. The vast urban expanse is daunting at first, but the main areas of interest to visitors are pretty comprehendible. The historic heart of the city, El Zócalo, and its surrounding neighborhoods are known as the Centro Histórico (Historic Center) and are full of notable old buildings and interesting museums. Avenida Madero and Avenida Cinco de Mayo link the Zócalo with the Alameda Central park. West of the Alameda, across Paseo de la Reforma, is the Plaza de la República, a fairly quiet, mostly residential area with budget and mid-range hotels. Mexico City's grandest boulevard is Paseo de la Reforma, running across the city's heart, connecting the Alameda to the Zona Rosa and the Bosque de Chapultepec. The Zona Rosa (Pink Zone) pulsates with glitzy shopping, eating, hotel and nightlife; it's bound by Paseo de la Reforma to the north and Avenida Chapultepec to the south. The Wood of Chapultepec, known to gringos as Chapultepec Park, is to the west of the aforementioned districts. It's a big bunch of greenery and lakes, with museums and cultural tidbits to-boot.
Five kilometers (3mi) north of the city center is the Terminal Norte, the largest of the city's four major bus terminals. Avenida Insurgentes Sur connects Paseo de la Reforma to most points of interest in the south. Just west of Insurgentes, south of the Zona Rosa, is Colonia Condesa, a restaurant hotspot. Farther south are the atmospheric former villages of San Ángel and Coyoacán and the vast campus of UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. To the southeast, canals and gardens (and many a tourist) wind through Xochimilco.
Mexico City's climate is temperate year round, though it can get a little nippy at night from November to February. During this period, because of thermal inversion, air pollution is often at its heaviest. You can generally count on April for ubiquitous lilac-colored jacaranda blossoms coupled with nice temperatures. Though the city will sweep you up at any time of the year, the holiday periods of Semana Santa and Christmas to New Year's are particularly jovial, busy times to visit. Many Mexicans do their holidaying in July or August.
Public Holidays: New Year's Day (1 January), Constitution Day (February 5), Day of the Flag (24 February), Anniversary of Benito Juárez's birth (21 March), Good Friday (March/April), Easter Sunday, Labour Day (1 May), 1862 Victory Celebration (May 5), Día de la Independencia (16 September), Día de la Raza (12 October), Día de la Revolución (20 November), Día de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (December 12), Día de Navidad (December 25).
Between Christmas and Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day or Epiphany) on 6 January, Santa Clauses around Alameda Central are replaced by the Three Kings. Kids get loads of gifts, and the streets are aflutter with shopping stalls. In March, the plazas, palaces and theaters around the city are taken over by the three-week Festival del Centro Histórico, a program of classical and popular music, dance and cultural events. Semana Santa, Holy Week, starts on Palm Sunday, and closures are usually from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.
On Labor Day, Día del Trabajo, there is a big unionists' gathering in the Zócalo in the morning, as well as parades around the city, and 5 May, Cinco de Mayo marks the anniversary of Mexico's 1862 victory over the French. Día de la Independencia (16 September), commemorates the start of Mexico's war for independence from Spain, and on its eve, thousands of people gather in Zócalo to hear the president recite a version of the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores). Mexico's most characteristic fiesta by far, though, is Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead; a happy atmosphere prevails as families build alters in their homes and visit graveyards to commune with the dearly departed, bearing garlands, gifts and food. 12 December is another big day on the Mexican calendar, celebrating the Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the country's major religious icon and Mexico's national patron. Groups of brightly costumed indigenous dancers and musicians perform on the basilica's large plaza for two days.
Dominating the east end of Alameda Central, Mexico City's leafy city-centre park, is the white-marble Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts). Construction of the concert hall began in 1904 under Italian architect Adamo Boari, who tended toward neoclassical and art nouveau styles. But the building's heavy marble shell began to sink into the spongy subsoil, and work was halted. Architect Federico Mariscal eventually finished the interior in the 1930s, with new designs reflecting the more modern art deco style. This is the place to see if you're mad about murals: some of Mexico's finest are found upon the immense wall spaces of the second and third levels. Works by Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera are among the highlights.
Speaking of Rivera, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera was built in 1986 specifically to house a single outstanding mural of his. In his Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda), the artist imagines many of the figures who walked in the city from colonial times onward. All are grouped around a skeleton dressed in prerevolutionary ladies' garb; a pug-faced-kid version of Rivera and Frida Kahlo, appear next to the bony figure. The museum has a space for temporary exhibitions.
Bosque de Chapultepec
Chapultepec, which means Hill of Grasshoppers in the Aztec language (Náhuatl), once served as a refuge for the wandering Aztecs before eventually becoming a summer residence for Aztec nobles. In the 15th century, Nezahualcóyotl, ruler of nearby Texcoco, gave permission for the area to be made a forest reserve. The Bosque de Chapultepec has remained Mexico City's largest park to this day. It now covers more than 4 sq km (1.5 sq mi) and has lakes, a zoo and several excellent museums. Still an abode to Mexico's high and mighty, it contains the current presidential resident (Los Pinos) and a former imperial and presidential palace (Castillo de Chapultepec).
One of its handful of museums, the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum) is one of the finest museums of its kind in the world. It is extremely large and overwhelming, with more than most people can absorb (without brain strain) in a single visit. The ground-floor halls are dedicated to pre-Hispanic Mexico, and the upper level covers the way modern Mexico's indigenous people, the descendants of those pre-Hispanic civilizations, live today. With a few exceptions, each ethnological section upstairs covers the same territory as the archaeological exhibit below it, so you can see the great Mayan city of Palenque as it was in the 7th century, then go upstairs and see how Mayan people live today.
The park has other museums, including the Museo del Caracol, which covers the subject of the Mexican people's struggle for liberty, the Museo de Arte Moderno, which has a permanent collection of Mexico's notable 20th-century artists, the excellent children's museum Papalote Museo de Niño and the Museo Nacional de Historia.
Centro Histórico (Historic Centre), brims with fine colonial buildings and historic sites. Its nerve centre and the heart of Mexico City is Zócalo, the Plaza de la Constitución, which is home to the powers-that-be. On its east side is the Palacio Nacional, built on the site of an Aztec palace, which formerly housed the viceroys of New Spain. It now holds the offices of the president, a museum and the historical murals of Diego Rivera. On the northern part of the plaza is the Catedral Metropolitana (built by the Spaniards in the 1520s on the site of the Aztecs' Tzompantli), while on the south you'll find the offices of the Distrito Federal government. The plaza is also a stomping ground for political protesters - it's often dotted with makeshift camps of strikers or campaigners. At daily the huge Mexican flag flying in the middle of the Zócalo is ceremonially lowered by the Mexican army and carried into the Palacio Nacional.
Also in the vicinity is the excavated Templo Mayor (Main Temple) of Aztec Tenochtitlán. Its excavation commenced after electricity workers happened upon a buried eight-ton stone-disc carving of the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui in 1978. The temple is thought to be on the exact spot where the Aztecs saw their symbolic eagle with a snake in its beak perching on a cactus - still the symbol of Mexico today. In Aztec belief this was literally the centre of the universe. Like many other sacred buildings in Tenochtitlán, the temple, first begun in 1375, was enlarged several times, with each rebuilding accompanied by the sacrifice of captured warriors. What we see today are sections of several of the temple's different phases. Museo del Templo Mayor, an excellent museum within the Templo Mayor site, houses artefacts from the site and gives a good overview (in Spanish) of Aztec civilization.
The Museo Nacional de Arte (National Art Museum) is one of the most stellar museums in the area, while the panoramas from the modern Torre Latinoamericana skyscraper are the truly tremendous.
About 10km (6mi) south of downtown, Coyoacán was Cortés' base after the fall of Tenochtitlán. It remained a small town outside Mexico City until urban sprawl reached it 50 years ago. Close to the university and once home to Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky (whose houses are now the fascinating Museo Frida Kahlo and the Museo Léon Trotsky), it still has its own identity, with narrow colonial-era streets, plazas, cafés and a lively atmosphere. Especially on the weekends, assorted musicians, mimes and craft markets draw large relaxed crowds from all walks of life to Coyoacán's central plazas. A pleasant way of approaching Coyoacán is via the Viveros de Coyoacán (Coyoacán Nurseries), a swath of greenery, popular with joggers.
Sixty years ago San Ángel was a village separated from Mexico City by open fields. Today it's one of the city's most charming suburbs, with many quiet cobbled streets lined by both old colonial houses and expensive modern ones, and hosting a variety of things to see and do. Every Saturday the Bazar Sábado brings a festive atmosphere, masses of colour and crowds of people to San Ángel's pretty little Plaza San Jacinto. The 16th-century Iglesia de San Jacinto, off the west side of the plaza, is entered from a peaceful garden where you can take refuge from the crowded market areas. Ten minutes walk northwest of the plaza is the Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Studio Museum, the 1930s avante garde abode where the famous couple lived from 1934 to 1940, when they divorced. The museum has only a few examples of Rivera's art and none of Kahlo's, but has a lot of memorabilia.
Plaza Loreto, a 600m (a third of a mile) walk south of Plaza San Jacinto, is Mexico City's most attractive mall, converted from an old paper factory a few years ago. It's more than just a place to shop: there is a mini-amphitheatre for performances, two multiscreen cinemas, a variety of eateries and the excellent Museo Soumaya, which houses one of the world's three major collections of French sculptor Auguste Rodin, plus work by Degas, Matisse, Renoir, Tamayo and others.
Xochimilco, which means 'Place where Flowers Grow' in Náhuatl, lies about 20km (12mi) south of downtown Mexico City. It is known for its canals, which remain one of Mexico's favourite destinations for fun and relaxation. Hundreds of colourful trajineras (gondolas), each punted by a man with a pole, cruise the canals with parties of merrymakers and tourists. You can board one at one of the embarcaderos (boat landings) near the centre of Xochimilco. On weekends, a fiesta atmosphere takes over and the waterways become jam-packed with boats, people and tourist-targeting touts. Weekdays offer a more relaxing vibe.