Life in Mexico City

Food. There’s a wide range of regional dishes that can be found in restaurants in Mexico City. Some dishes were inherited from the Aztecs and others are a combination of those brought by Spaniards and other cultures. Mexican food is delicious and very different from one region to another. There is much more to Mexican food than the ‘Tex-Mex’ served up in ‘Mexican’ restaurants abroad. The city also has a full range of international restaurants that cater to any taste. You can find a wide variety of fruit and vegetables at the many markets in Mexico City at very fair prices.

People. People in Mexico are warm and friendly, they like to show and talk about our culture. They are very welcoming to visitors and love learning about people and the places they come from. With up to 20 million people living in the Mexico City area you have a good chance of meeting and talking to people.

Climate. Because of it’s geographical position and altitude, Mexico City has a very pleasant climate. The rainy season begins in May and ends around October, consisting generally of sunny mornings followed by cloudy, rainy afternoons. In the winter you need to use sweaters and coats in the morning and evening (there is no central heating in Mexican houses!) For most of the rest of the year you need layers: Cool mornings give way to very hot afternoons. Outside Mexico City, the climate varies considerably because the country is so large. There are very hot coastal regions, humid forest regions, cool mountain zones and deserts that fall below freezing in winter.

Transport. A cheap and efficient metro system will take you to anywhere in the city. Public transport is much cheaper than in Europe or North America; with one trip costing around 5 pesos, which is only 25 pence or around 40 cents. There’s also a system of buses called Metrobus which cross the city and link with the metro system. Buses in general can take you everywhere and they’re also cheap. Taxis are cheap and plentiful, a fifteen-minute taxi journey will cost around 4 dollars. You can also use uber which is very efficient and safe.

Night life. Like any big city, Mexico has the nightlife to cater for every taste: The wildest night clubs to the calmest restaurants and bars. You will never be stuck for something to do in the evenings. There are a lot of places where you can hear live Latin American music and dance at the same time.

Security. Mexico has not had the best press around the world over recent years and there have been security issues mainly linked to drug trafficking. However, Mexico City is not only a polluted and crowded city but a safe and rewarding place to live if you take the normal precautions necessary in any large city. The lawlessness and gang issues that make up most international news reporting about Mexico are mainly a problem in the north of this huge country, well away from Mexico City and there are many regions of the country that are totally unaffected by these problems.

Shopping. Mexico City is a great place for shopping. There are shopping malls in many areas with international brands and you can buy local crafts at the big market in La Ciudadela, in Fonart, a government sponsored craft market and in the famous Bazaar del Sabado in San Angel which only opens on Saturdays.

Museums. There are a large number of very good museums that are worth visiting in Mexico City. The most famous is the world-renowned Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec where you can see incredible examples of the Aztec and Mayan cultures. The National Palace and Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso have wonderful murals by Diego Rivera and other Mexican artists. Other places worth visiting are the Palace of Fine Arts with more murals and the Museum of the Great Temple where you can see the ruins and relics form the main Aztec temples. Finally a trip to Chapultepec Castle is also worthwhile.

Places of interest: Mexico City

The Zocalo, the town square built on what was once the epicentre of Tenochtitlan (the ancient Aztec capital), is today the beating heart of Mexico City. Here, only a few steps take you from the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral to the excavated sections of the Templo Mayor (Grand Temple) on top of which the cathedral is actually built. Yet more architectural jewels dating from Mexico’s time as a Spanish colony surround the rest of the square, and the teeming streets nearby reflect the city’s frenetic life: high-powered business executives, ostentatious limousines, modest tradesmen, ordinary working people and foreign clothes shops all jumbled together in the crowded roads that make up this complex city centre. A hint to tourists, it would be no good asking for ‘Constitution Square’, because no-one would know what you are talking about. Much better to call it by the name the locals use: ‘the Zocalo’, which is an obligatory reference point for any Mexico City dweller. This square, one of the largest in the world, has witnessed almost all Mexico’s key political, civic and cultural events over the last 700 years; and below the square inside the metro station, there is a display of models and photographs of the area down through the centuries.

The Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest), covering 647 hectares, is one of Mexico City’s largest green ‘lungs’ and a most delightful place to visit. The name Chapultepec comes from the Nahuatl meaning ‘Grasshopper Hill’, and the area is divided into three sections. It is home to copses and spinneys, lakes and several places well worth visiting, the majority of which are to be found in the First Section very close to Paseo de la Reforma (Reforma Avenue), the major road traversing the capital from west to east. At the entrance to Bosque de Chapultepec we find the Monumento a los Niños Heroes (Monument to the Child Heroes), dedicated to the young cadets from the Military Academy who defended the fortress that Chapultepec Castle used to be against invading US forces in 1847. Keep walking, and you will face the challenge of climbing a small hill to reach Chapultepec Castle itself, the building being first an imperial then presidential palace. Today, Chapultepec Castle houses the National History Museum. In addition to murals painted by Siqueiros, also open to the public are the sumptuous chambers of President Porfirio Diaz and his wife

After visiting the Zocalo, a short walk of six blocks along Madero Street, now a pedestrian precinct, will bring you to another monument of which all Mexicans are so proud: the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), another highlight you simply must not omit from your tour. The building was commissioned by President Porfirio Diaz to replace the old National Theatre, and the project began in 1904 under the direction of Italian architect Adamo Boari. Bellas Artes is home to Mexico’s Ballet Folklorico (Folk Ballet Company), which performs there on Wednesdays and Sundays, and all the best expressions of dance, painting, sculpture, music and literature find a stage at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the country’s foremost gallery and concert hall for Mexican arts. Works by the famous muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo adorn the walls inside, and Bellas Artes also houses Mexico’s National Museum of Architecture. And the best way to round off a superb concert or midday visit is to call in at the Bellas Artes restaurant, itself an elegant setting in which to savour the luxury of the mid-twentieth century.

Long before tourism became a professional, organized activity, Coyoacan was already a favourite with both locals and visitors. No wonder then, that the Mexico City government began calling it a ‘Magical Neighbourhood’. Coyoacan was originally a small village on the outskirts of the city, and it still preserves a provincial country atmosphere. At weekends, countless visitors stroll through the main square (Jardin Centenario ___ Centenary Garden) to enjoy Coyoacan’s famous street theatre or markets selling traditional Mexican food and handicrafts. Going back in time some 80 years, when Coyoacan was still a small village outside ‘the city’, and Rio Churubusco (now a major road) was as its name suggests a river flowing freely, the painter Frida Kahlo lived at Londres 247 (247 London Street). Her home was the meeting place where artists, bohemians and politicians, among them Leon Trotsky, gathered to share the traditional Mexican fare their hostess served them, discussing all manner of topics, sometimes quite heatedly after a tequila or two. This house, where Frida Kahlo was born, lived and died, is now a museum. However, as the house has been preserved exactly as the artist herself decorated it, you can easily imagine the way of life in Frida Kahlo’s famous ‘Casa azul’ (blue house).

Mexico City was originally founded on a small island in the middle of a lake, and so the city grew as a network of canals and artificial islands called ‘chinampas’. The Templo Mayor (Great Temple) itself was built right at the heart of this complex. When the Spanish arrived, they constructed the Metropolitan Cathedral on top of the temple, and thus erased for centuries any memory of this imposing old pre-Hispanic temple. At the end of the 70s in the last century, workers laying electric cables accidentally unearthed a series of structures that archaeologists identified as the long lost temple. Fortunately today, you can visit a large exposed section that is well-preserved and in a good state of repair. There you can admire parts of the temple that were dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, or to Tlaloc, the god of rain. Further inside, between the walls of various temple sections, you will find altars, serpents carved in stone and an imposing ‘Tzompantli’, which is a wall covered in representations of skulls. This last is because the Aztecs venerated the dead, a tradition we Mexicans continue to this day..

One of the most widely recognized symbols of Mexico City and the country is the Angel of Independence column that rises majestically in the middle of the Paseo de la Reforma. The first stone for this famous monument was laid by Porfirio Diaz on 2nd January 1902, and the architect Antonio Rivas Mercado was commissioned to oversee the project. Rivas Mercado also designed the Juarez Theatre in the city of Guanajuato. The Independence Monument, commonly known simply as the ‘Angel’, was designed to pay homage to the heroes of Mexico’s Independence. The original project called for a stone base surmounted by a Corinthian column crowned with an angel, which was to be erected in the Zocalo during the government of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Said project could not be carried out, and at the end of the XIX century architect Antonio Rivas Mercado returned to the drawing-board, taking inspiration from several famous columns from around the world, for example Trajan’s column in Rome, the column in the Place Vendôme in Paris and the Alexander Column in St. Petersburg. All these columns were erected to commemorate the triumph of an ideal in their respective countries.

The campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, popularly known as the UNAM, not only houses Mexico’s most prestigious educational institution, but also allows visitors to appreciate some magnificent works by Mexican muralists. For example, the mural on the Olympic stadium, seat of the Olympic Games hosted by Mexico in 1968, was created by Diego Rivera. The complex mural on the Central Library, that depicts pre-Hispanic cosmology, was created by Juan O’Gorman, and the central tower of the Registry building proudly displays a work by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Expansive green areas, the Registry tower and the Central Library mural all feature on the most memorable postcards of this campus, which in all covers 7 square kilometres, and houses a combined population of more than 300,000 students, academics, researchers and administrative personal. Two kilometres south of the Registry building you will find the University Cultural Centre which houses the National Library and Media Library; one of Latin America’s best, most modern concert halls (Sala Nezahualcoyotl); three theatres; two bespoke dance theatres; a bookshop; two cinemas; and the ‘Azul y Oro’ (Blue and Gold) which is one of the best restaurants in Mexico City. And all of this is very near the open-air sculptured space of volcanic lava which you can enjoy too.

The archaeological site of Teotihuacan is one of the most exceptional in Mexico. The Aztecs believed the gods had created the universe in this ancient city, which once flourished as the epicentre of culture and commerce during the Classical Period in Mesoamerica. Teotihuacan lies some 50 kilometres to the north of Mexico City, making it an ideal day-trip for history and anthropology lovers. The site was inhabited from the year 200 B.C. until its fall almost a thousand years later; and it is thought that, at its apogee, Teotihuacan had a population of about 200,000 inhabitants. This ancient city is shrouded in mystery which only increases its charm and allure. Experts still do not know which ethnic group the inhabitants of Teotihuacan belonged to, nor what language they spoke. Therefore they are simply referred to as Teotihuacans. The name of the site, which means ‘place of the gods’, comes from the Aztecs who considered this city a holy place, even though it had already been abandoned hundreds of years before the Aztecs themselves began to flourish as a civilization.

The Basilica de Guadalupe, officially called Insigne y Nacional Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe (Notable and National Basilica of Saint Mary of Guadalupe), is a Roman Catholic sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary in her title of Guadalupe. The Basilica is located at the foot of Tepeyac Hill in the Gustavo A. Madero district of Mexico City, and currently forms part of the Primary Archdiocese of Mexico, through the Guadalupana Vicarship the current incumbent of which is Monsignor Enrique Glennie Graue who holds the title of Vicar General and Episcopal of Guadalupe and Rector of the Sanctuary. The first Basilica dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe was designed by the architect Pedro de Arrieta, and construction began in March 1695. On 1st May 1709 the Basilica opened its doors with a solemn novena. In 1749 the Basilica was granted the title of collegiate, in other words, despite not being a cathedral it still has its own chapter. The main entrance is open and simulates a screen, and the four octagonal towers in the corners (crowned with yellow tiles with a blue border, the same as on the cupola bearing the cross) have a meaning associated with New Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of gold mentioned in the Apocalypse.

Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology and History is considered one of the world’s major museums, because it contains the largest collection of pre-Colombian art on the planet distributed among the 24 thematic halls that make up the largest museum in Latin America. The National Museum of Anthropology and History was designed by the Mexican architect, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, and others of his works are the Basilica de Guadalupe, the Templo Mayor Museum and the famous graphic identity of the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968. The Anthropology Museum is divided into various exhibition halls, each one dedicated to one of the cultures that flourished on Mexican soil starting from 3,000 years ago, and among which we find the Olmec Room, the Teotihuacan Room, the Mayan Room, the Mexica Room and others of equal importance. In addition, the museum has a bespoke exhibition area to display temporary visiting exhibitions from others of the world’s major museums.

For several years the Latin American Tower was the highest building not only in Mexico but also in the whole of Latin America. Inhabitants of Mexico City have long been proud of their Tower firstly because during its construction the building broke several engineering records using Mexican technology, but also because the Tower survived the 1957 and 1985 earthquakes with only minor damage. Today, it is no longer the tallest building in Mexico City, having been surpassed by the Pemex Tower, the World Trade Centre and more recently by the Torre Mayor (Major Tower). However, the Latin American Tower still holds a special place in the hearts of Mexico City dwellers as the city’s classic skyscraper, and one of the most distinctive watershed moments in the city’s development. Building of the Latin American Tower began in 1949, and was completed 7 years later in 1956, being officially opened on 30th April of that year. During the Tower’s construction several building aspects novel for those times, were incorporated into the design of its foundations, given the Tower is located in an area prone to earthquakes. The technique involved installing a system of rails to protect the structure from damage, and the strategy proved its value in 1957 and 1985.

One of the roots behind the cultural diversity of Mexico City lies in its unique, original neighbourhoods which, despite being absorbed into the great metropolis, still preserve their distinctive characteristic identifying features. If you genuinely want to get to know Mexico City and discover some of its real treasures, you need to venture into and explore these individual neighbourhoods, lose yourself in their lanes and alleyways, appreciate their architecture, witness their customs, savour something of their magic and authenticity, and breathe the distinctive air of each one. Strolling through them is a true delight, because you will find charming sites and historical spaces that still live on within the fabric of this metropolis, all blending in with modernity to create fascinating contrasts


Bohemian and picturesque

One of the roots behind the cultural diversity of Mexico City lies in its unique, original neighbourhoods which, despite being absorbed into the great metropolis, still preserve their distinctive characteristic identifying features. If you genuinely want to get to know Mexico City and discover some of its real treasures, you need to venture into and explore these individual neighbourhoods, lose yourself in their lanes and alleyways, appreciate their architecture, witness their customs, savour something of their magic and authenticity, and breathe the distinctive air of each one. Strolling through them is a true delight, because you will find charming sites and historical spaces that still live on within the fabric of this metropolis, all blending in with modernity to create fascinating contrasts.


Mariachis, tequila and tradition

Not very far from the centre of the city lies a musical square of world renown. This is where mariachis gather, dressed in their traditional outfits, to play their music for anyone who wants to listen and most of all is prepared to pay them for it. This is the ideal spot to hire a mariachi to play your loved one a romantic serenade, or simply to accompany a typical Mexican night out. Around the square there are many cantinas, such as the typical Tenampa, where patrons gather to listen to folk songs or to cry or sing along over a good tequila (more than one, usually). In the Caminito Market visitors can taste any number of typical Mexican snacks accompanied by a variety of sauces or dressings. A recent addition to the square is the Museum of Tequila and Mezcal, where the visitor can learn the history of the industry and the production processes of these two authentically Mexican drinks. In the singing, lamentations and tequilas, Garibaldi will provide you with a unique experience unmatched anywhere else in the world. We recommend you visit in the evening when the atmosphere is more festive.


The spirit of the Day of the Dead

This little village to the south of Mexico City comes into its own on the Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate one of their most typical festivals: veneration of death and remembering our dearly departed. In Mixquic, the altars are carefully set out with offerings, sugar skulls and marigold flowers to honour the dead, as well as objects belonging to the departed and their favourite foods. The cemetery is without doubt Mixquic’s main attraction, where pagan customs fuse with today’s religious practice. Every year, as tradition dictates, the inhabitants of Mixquic visit the graves of their relatives and loved ones, setting out offerings and lighting the paths with candles for the dead to find their way. Not much happens here during the rest of the year, life goes on peacefully while everyone waits for this festival to come round once again, for the roads to be impregnated with mysticism, aromas, colours and flavours of this age-old tradition that Mixquic has found a way of preserving better than anywhere else.


Visiting the villages that make up Mexico City

From a simple quesadilla (cheese pancake) to gourmet cooking, exhibitions, museums or dance classes, the centre of Tlalpan will bring to mind a small village full of fascinating contrasts. Even though Mexico City is one of the world’s most chaotic cities, parts of it have managed to maintain a peacefulness and a certain bohemian atmosphere where one can still enjoy a stroll through the streets and cultural centres or drink a leisurely cup of coffee in its arcades. In the square we find a bit of everything: a kiosk, a garden with traditional benches, every type of business, a variety of restaurants with terraces, someone selling corn-on-the-cob, a beggar, tamales on the street corner, and even the Cantina Jalisciense which is said to be the oldest in existence in Latin America, still opening its doors after 142 years.

Magical Villages

San Sebastian Bernal is the full name of the village which is home to the third largest monolith in the world, after the Rock of Gibraltar and Brazil’s Sugar Loaf. The cobbled streets, the surrounding countryside and the handicrafts in Bernal make time stand still to admire the needlework, bed-covers and tablecloths woven on 100-year old looms. Bernal was founded in 1642 by a group of Spanish families who settled on these lands. The town has elegant buildings that date from the XVIII and XIX centuries and that still preserve architectural styles of singular beauty. Ancient balconies ablaze with flowers and lanterns give life to this magical little village where charming handicraft shops display spectacular and laboriously worked tablecloths and bedspreads woven on looms that are 100 years old.

Cholula is a municipality in the provincial state of Puebla and lies 22 kilometres outside Mexico City. Cholula contains attractions most of all related to art and history. Indeed, here in Cholula syncretism flourishes in every corner. The name Cholula comes from the Nahuatl language, and means ‘water that falls in the place of flight’. The town was founded before the Spanish Conquest (1557), and was an important religious centre where Quetzalcoatl was worshipped. Indeed, people congregated here from all over the Anahuac Valley. Cholula gave refuge to groups of Toltecs after they had been expelled from Tula, and it was they who created the ceremonial centre, which converted Cholula into a 'Holy City'.

In addition to being famous for its canals and punts, Xochimilco is home to one of the most typical plant nurseries and market gardens in Mexico City. The name of this district of Mexico City is a proper name of Nahuatl origin that can be translated as ‘Place in the seed-bed of flowers’ or ‘Field of flowers’. Visit the Madreselva Market, one of the most traditional, which is located in Lomas de Tonalco, Calzada Xochimilco, Tulyehualco, and there you will find every type of flower, plant and bush imaginable, plus other difficult-to-find curiosities such as the birch tree. Another good option is the Plant Market in Cuemanco, the biggest in Latin America covering 13 hectares. Here you can make your purchases at reasonable prices because there are no middlemen, sales coming directly from the producer. Why not buy an orange or lemon tree to plant at home; or choose from the cacti, orchids, bonsai and many other varieties.


The mysticism of the Mayan culture and natural beauty make Cancun, Quintana Roo, the ideal retirement destination for those who seek to make their life beside the sea. Located in the northeast of Quintana Roo, some 1,700 kilometres from Mexico City, you will find a destination that has ceased to be a simple fishermen’s island surrounded by virgin forest and deserted beaches, and turned into the best known Mexican tourist centre on the international scene. Currently this destination hosts all the world’s principal hotel chains, best restaurants and first class tourist services. Even though Cancun is much more than a beach, it is not possible to refer to this destination without mentioning its marvellous extensions of white sand. Indeed, it is possible to walk the length of Cancun’s more than 22 kilometres of beach because they are all open to the public. Many beachfront hotels have beach chairs set out under the shade of palapas (beach sunshades made of straw) to protect visitors from the effects of the sun. And in fact Cancun is surrounded by three different bodies of water, each one beautiful in its own way.

A little bit of history: it is said that under Spanish domination, pirates ransacked Huatulco, but they were not able to rob Huatulco of her beauty. The Pacific Ocean caresses the shores of Huatulco’s 36 impressive beaches, distributed the length of 9 bays, all of which are blessed with warm waters and golden sand. This zone was a successful commercial port and a favourite haunt of Elizabethan pirates and sailors such as Sir Francis Drake in 1578 and Sir Thomas Cavendish in 1587. In January 1832, during the War of Independence, the Mexican Picaluga brothers betrayed the revolutionary insurgent Vicente Guerrero on the shores of Huatulco and handed him over to a firing squad –the beach where it is said these events took place is called ‘La Entrega’ (Handing Over).

At the tip of the Baja California peninsula you will find Los Cabos, a region with an interesting duality. What is this dichotomy? That this tourist destination is distinguished by its two dramatically different personalities. On the one side there is tranquil San Jose del Cabo which has kept the appearance and atmosphere of authentic small town Mexico. Cobbled streets, intimate restaurants and boutiques are part of its charm. By contrast, strident Cabo San Lucas located on the other side of the ‘Corridor’, is the perfect place to party, with animated bars and glamorous shopping centres close to the marina.

Before ‘The Night of the Iguana’, filmed by John Huston in 1964, Puerto Vallarta was just a sleepy little village on the Pacific coast at the point where the provincial states of Jalisco and Nayarit meet. However, Elizabeth Taylor came to keep an eye on her paramour, Richard Burton, while he was filming there with the voluptuous Ava Gardner. Rumours published about the torrid romance between Burton and Liz, plus word of the film, put Puerto Vallarta firmly on the tourist map. Puerto Vallarta and its environs are really several destinations rolled into one, with each having its own character and charm. The Cuale River divides the town into north and south. In the extreme south you will find the picturesque Romantic Zone where the Playa Los Muertos (Beach of The Dead) attracts sun worshippers to its golden sand and numerous beach bars.