36 HOURS IN MEXICO CITY
It’s big, it’s bold, it’s full of people. See what it’s like to be one in 21 million
Every country has a big city, but not all big cities are the same. And Mexico City is up there as a favourite. From above, the megalopolis – home to 21 million people – looks overwhelming, but on the ground, the cosmopolitan, clean and colourful capital feels somewhat familiar. Imagine a mix of Barcelona, Los Angeles and Melbourne with year-round sun and you’ll get a clearer picture.
Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX), as it’s officially named, embraces its past while existing completely in the present. Life thrives along ample boulevards, in markets and lush parks – idyllic respites from the constant commotion.
Car drivers can be overzealous and roadside construction is rampant, so keep your wits about you. And know that it’s impossible to thoroughly explore this city that’s flush with art, culture, worldclass cuisine and welcoming people.
Take your time and treat the stopover as a reason to return.
After passing through Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez, head to an authorised cab kiosk – Yellow Cab or PortoTaxi will do – to prepay your city fare (about 374 MXP, $A26.30). It will take more than an hour in traffic to reach Paseo de la Reforma, the grand palmfringed avenue anchored by roundabouts of monuments such as Fuente de la Diana Cazadora, an archer of the North Star who graces a fountain that’s illuminated at twilight. Views over it, stretching all the way to Monumento a la Independencia crowned with an angel, Greek goddess of Victory, can be seen from The St Regis’s King Cole Bar (stregismexicocity.com).
Toast with a “Centli” cocktail of mezcal, pineapple shrub, three chilli bitters and foamy egg whites, along with jamon iberico carved tableside, before strolling to hip El Califa (elcalifa.com.mx) for tacos. That is, unless you reserved a table months ahead at top restaurant Pujol (pujol.com.mx). Ranked No.20 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it is helmed by super-chef Enrique Olvera, praised by many for his creative and sophisticated spin on authentic Mexican cuisine. The mole madre, a sauce aged for 1000 days, is a knockout. Other top restaurants include nearby Quintonil, Rosetta and Maximo Bistrot Local, run by Olvera’s protege Eduardo Garcia.
After a cafe Americano and huevos at Cafe La Habana, where Che Guevara and Fidel Castro were said to have planned the revolution, take to Calle de Bolivar via Avenida 16 de Septiembre (for the 1810 Mexican War of Independence) and pop into the American Bookstore for Mexican poetry, history and guide book needs.
Here, in the pedestrian historic centre, you’ll pass plenty of beautiful colonial buildings and facades covered in tiles and Mayan designs. Many now front shops, sterling silver boutiques and museums.
Eat Mexico (eatmexico.com) runs a range of excellent food tours and the Gourmet San Juan Market option ($US85, $A107) is great for those in the mood for street food.
Over a span of four hours, you might try tostada with octopus ceviche, pulque – a fermented maguey cactus juice (like kombucha) – in a traditional pulqueria, dried crickets (and scorpions!), Mexican cheeses with wine, Oaxacan chocolate, habanero sauces, coffee pulled from Veracruz beans and a range of tasty fruits such as the mamey sapote, which tastes like roasted sweet potato.
But the highlight is a visit to the bluecorn tortilla stand whose long-time owner turns out these fava-bean-filled specialties with time-honed skill. So small and mobile is her operation that the “stall” doesn’t even have an address.
London and Mexico City tie for having the most museums in the world; attempt to see no more than two in an afternoon.
Stay in the historic centre and visit the gold-domed Palacio de Bellas Artes, a white-marble performing arts palace currently hosting a Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time exhibit until September 10, 2017. And nearby is Plaza de la Constitucion’s Palacio Nacional, famous for its historical murals by master painter Diego Rivera, and Catedral Metropolitana – the largest colonial cathedral in the Americas prized for its Baroque exterior and gilded Altar of Forgiveness. Alternatively, you could head across town to view the impressive Aztec collection at Museo Nacional de Antropologia before browsing 20thcentury works at Museo de Arte Moderno.
Strolling Condesa, a pretty residential enclave, is lovely of an evening, when the restaurants, pizzerias and bars overflow with a vibrant crowd. You might choose where to eat based on the menu or the mood. For guacamole, pescadillas, tortillas, enchiladas and excellent mezcal, however, consider Alipus Endemico (alipus.com). On the ground level of a corner building, the tiny bar offers outdoor seating and mixes great cocktails with its own brand of tequila – smooth and slightly sweet (you can buy a bottle or two to take home as well).
If you’re looking for a bar crawl with a fun crowd, Eat Mexico runs a Late Night Tacos and Mezcal Tour ($US130).
Consider an early morning coffee at Almanegra Cafe (almanegracafe.mx), whose Roma Norte is the central and larger of the two locations.
Before 10, hop in a cab and head for Coyoacan, a borough 30 minutes drive from Paseo de la Reforma, to Museo Frida Kahlo. The line swells as soon as the doors open (closed Mondays), though you can fast track by ordering tickets online (boletosfridakahlo.org). Also known as Casa Azul for its electric-blue exterior, this house-museum is where Kahlo lived with her husband, Diego Rivera, and contains her early sketches, portraits and home interiors: the sunlit studio of this self-taught painter is a highlight. The shop stocks great souvenirs.
Afterwards, head a few streets over to the house-museum of Kahlo’s close friend Leon Trotsky, an exiled Russian revolutionary. He lived here until assassinated at his desk in August 1940.
If time permits, pop by Mercado de Coyoacan for traditional Mexican crafts and eats.
Otherwise, before the airport, make a pit stop at Cafe El Jarocho and take in the scene over coffee and pan dulche (pastries). A lively local crowd always hangs out on the cafe’s outdoor benches.
AMID THE COMMOTION LIFE THRIVES ALONG AMPLE BOULEVARDS, IN MARKETS AND LUSH PARKS
Late afternoon at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), Mexico City's main opera and theatre house; and the Frida Kahlo Museum (below). PALACE OF FINE ARTS
FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUM