Recently I had the good fortune to take one of my dream trips – Mexico City, aka el DF – with one of my favorite travel buddies, my sister, Lee. We had a fabulous time, even better than I anticipated. I cannot recommend a trip to this most fantastic of cities highly enough! I hope these blog posts will motivate you to go and help you plan your trip to el DF.
Mexico City is an easy four-hour flight from San Francisco. We went on a Thursday through Tuesday. Our next trip will be Wednesday through Sunday as on Mondays most of the city’s hundreds of museums and galleries are closed. The cultural and artistic life of the city is so varied and rich, you will need every possible moment to soak it all in!
Our home away from home, The Red Tree House located in the Condesa neighborhood. There is a reason why The Red Tree House is consistently rated as a “Traveler’s Choice” by TripAdvisor. It is a homey and stylish B&B, where the owner, Victor, greets you like you are a movie star (The CCC LOVED that!) and every morning you start your day with the most delicious Mexican breakfast. Think: churros and enchiladas Suizas.
The Red Tree House has two buildings, the main one and La Rama, a smaller building across the street. I recommend staying in La Rama as it is away from the hustle and bustle of the main house and you are guaranteed privacy and quiet – very important after a busy day touring in a city of 20 million people.
Our first day in Mexico City started with walk through the neighborhoods or colonias of Hippodromo and Condensa. What struck us was how verdant the city is. We “ooohed” and “aaahed” at the lush landscaping and all the people enjoying the many parks – we strolled through three parks all within a mile of each other.
I fell in love with this pyramid in a metro stop! The quintessential example of mysterious ancient with mid-century crumbly. Built in the pre-Hispanic period, the pyramid was uncovered in 1967 when the city was building the Pino Suarez metro stop – one of the busiest stations in the system. Ehecatl, with his breath, is credited with creating the sun and moon, the earth, and humans.
A note about the metro: Take it! Traffic in el DF is terrible and so are many of its drivers (pedestrians do not have the right way of way). The metro is fast, efficient, clean, safe, and CHEAP (0.25 per ride!). We took it everywhere at all times of day, including rush hour (when tourists are told it is absolutely prohibido). If you can ride the NYC subway, you can ride the metro in el DF.
After spending the morning taking in the sights and sounds of Hippodromo and Condesa, we took the metro to Zocalo, el DF’s central square and the heart of the city. Since the 1300s, when Mexico City was Tenochtitlan, the mighty capital of the Mexica (meh-SHEE-ka) empire, the Zocalo has been an important site for ritual, celebration, and commerce. In the Zocalo, you can experience Mexico City’s multi-layered history from the pre-Columbian Templo Mayor to the European colonial Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana.
The Catedral Metropolitana is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. Hernan Cortez had the cathedral built in 1524 to replace the Mexica’s Templo Mayor and as a symbol of European colonial domination.
Unfortunately, the Palacio Nacional which houses Diego Rivera’s famous mural, “Epic of the Mexican People in Their Struggle for Freedom and Indpendence” was closed the day of our visit. The night before was “El Grito”. El Grito celebrates Padre Miguel Hidalgo’s call for Mexico’s independence from its European colonizers on September 16, 1810. Eleven years later, Mexico claimed its independence from Spain. What is El Grito? “Viva Mexico!”
Mexico City is a walkable city. For tourists, there are very few places you can’t get to on foot and via the metro (yes, I loved the metro!). You do need sturdy shoes that are preferrably black as the sidewalks can be dirty and irregular. After spending time in the Zocalo and having a rest and a beer at the bar at the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico (a bit down in the heels but worth it to see the massive Tiffany Glass ceiling in the lobby. Nice bathrooms too.) We headed towards the Alameda Central.
After taking in La Torre’s vistas, we came down to earth. Time to visit one of the world’s most beautiful buildings: El Palacio de Bellas Artes. Completed in 1934 el Palacio is a cathedral in its own right inspired by the traditions of Neoclassicism, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco. The interior houses murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. It is also home to the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico.
Though not on our guidebook’s top things to see in el DF, El Palacio Postal should be. In continuous operation since its opening in 1907, Palacio Postal is a mix of design influences including Baroque, Gothic, Art Nouveau and Neoclassicism, just to name a few. The result is both soothing and engaging. When has a post office ever made you want to go to a post office?
We ended our day with dinner at Cafe de Tacuba. In the style of Ole Mexico, Cafe de Tacuba has been serving traditional Mexican fare for over 100 years. It was tasty too! The enchiladas con mole poblano were perfect: rich and smoky with just a hint of chocolate. Cafe de Tacuba is appreciated by tourists and locales alike. At the end of our meal, the question Lee and I asked ourselves: what was better the food or the waitresses’ uniforms? Whatever the answer, El Distrito Federal – Dia 1 was un gran exito!