Mexico City has remained a beating heart of Latin America since Aztec times. Now it provides unparalleled cuisine, energetic nightlife and a wealth of history in the hectic, high altitude metropolis. The diverse neighborhoods each provide a different taste of Mexican culture and lifestyles. Explore the massive city and nearby ruins to delve into its past, which dates back more than 13,000 years.
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Mexico City occupies 1,484 square kilometers of land surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. The chaotic capital city has remained the cultural epicenter of the region since the Aztecs established it as Tenochtitlan in 1325. Over 20 million people inhabit the bustling metropolis, characterized by an amalgam of modern and ancient styles expressed in art museums and its assorted architecture. The city is strewn with prehistoric and Spanish colonial ruins interspersed with contemporary buildings. Mexico City encompasses diverse displays of modern Mexican culture and layers of rich history waiting to be uncovered.
The Aztecs remained in control of Mexico City till Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes conquered it in 1519. Napoleon took over rule of Mexico in the early 1800s, but the country swiftly gained independence and formed its government headquartered in Mexico City in 1824. Since then, the city has experienced steady growth in population, and the mix of Spanish and indigenous cultures creates a unique environment in a lively metropolis.
The city is socioeconomically diverse. The majority of Mexicans identify as Roman Catholic, and the Church has been influential in shaping social values, such as an emphasis on family. As a daily meal, many Mexico City residents eat corn or wheat tortillas with beans, tomatoes, rice, chorizo and chili peppers. Inequality exists between those with indigenous heritage and those who claim European ancestry, and this is reflected economically. The service sector provides ¾ of residents’ income and ¼ is derived from manufacturing. Commuters drive long distances to earn their wages in the city, and the cars contribute to the traffic and pollution problems in the region.
The colorful Centro Historico rests at the center of the city atop ruins of the Aztec capital and near La Alameda Park, good nightlife, restaurants and transportation. Gran Hotel Ciudad de México borders the historic Zócalo plaza. The hotel decorates its elegant, spacious rooms in the Belle-Epoque style. Hotel NH Mexico City Centro Historico caters to a more minimal and modern taste. It is situated at the center of all action in Mexico City, as well as many of the most popular tourist destinations.
Stay on the Avenida Presidente Masaryk in the Chapultepec Park area and enjoy access to museums, shopping, restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Suites Contempo offers large rooms and a rooftop restaurant with an array of Mexican and international fare at a reasonable price. It’s within walking distance of Chapultepec Park, the Museum Antropologica and dining options in the Polanco and Reforma neighborhoods. The Green Park Hotel provides a dining room and bar with live music, and their rooftop patio affords a view of the park. The boutique hotel transports visitors to a bygone era through its architecture and decor. Opt for a room facing the courtyard for a quieter space.
The Condesa neighborhood emits a Bohemian vibe with its eclectic shops, art galleries and hip eateries. The 14-room Hotel Villa Condesa is draped with greenery, and it offers international cuisine and free use of bicycles. Stay here as a single person or couple, as the hotel doesn’t welcome children under 12 years old. Hotel Condesa DF features an upscale French restaurant and rooftop sushi bar from where guests can watch the sunset. It is situated on a tree-lined road within easy access of public transportation.
Stay in Roma to get away from many tourist hotspots but remain close to the center of action in the city. Benidorm is the best choice in the neighborhood for business travelers. It offers a business center, meeting rooms and restaurant with local and international cuisine. It is located only 4 minutes walking distance from the metro station. METRO Boutique Hostal maintains many different types of chic rooms and provides a free basic breakfast to guests. It is close to many restaurants and bars, and it is priced reasonably.
Mexico City experiences the best weather from March through May, and it also hosts many celebrations during this period, like Cinco de Mayo and Festival Centro Historico. Summer delivers heavy rain and lower hotel prices. Between September and November, the rain begins to lessen and a chill takes hold. Pack layers to visit the city for Dia de los Muertos on Nov. 1. Accommodation is usually at its lowest rates in the winter, but temperatures can drop to around 60 F in the day and 40 F at night.
Mexico City is a foodie’s dream, with street dishes dating back to the Aztec times, modern culinary blends and traditional juices, beer and liquor in one-of-a-kind stops on every block.
Make sure to try pulque, a popular foamy drink made from the native maguey plant. Fruit juice stands rest on many streets, but the beverages are often overly sugary. Cantinas offer a casual bar vibe, and they provide free food with drinks. Cantinas are a great place to hang out in the afternoon and grab a beer, and they usually offer a full menu to those who ask for it. Mezcalerias serve mezcals made from indigenous agave plants. As they often offer a overwhelming amount of options, it’s a good idea to ask your server for recommendations.
Some of the best food in Mexico City can be found on the street. Head to Chilpancingo to sample great options. Try tamales wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves as an on-the-go snack. Cooks prepare tlacoyos on an open-air griddle. The indigenous group that once inhabited Toluca, which rests west of the city, created the stuffed corn masa meal. To find the best taco stand, look for the ones with large grills and lots of patrons. Many will include buckets of salsa and fresh cut limes. Other taco sellers will provide their fare in large batches in plastic trash cans. They are clean and also a delicious choice.
It’s possible to squeeze in all the tourist attractions in Mexico City in about 4 days, but a longer stay will allow for more time to explore sites off the beaten path.
Main attractions in Mexico city and the surrounding area include: