Find­ing kid-friendly ac­tiv­i­ties in Mex­ico City is child’s play.

Mex­ico City’s culture is friendly to fam­i­lies

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY NEVIN MARTELL travel@wash­post.com Martell is a writer based in the District.

It is 248 steep steps to the top of the Pyra­mid of the Sun, but the views are worth the ex­er­tion.

From the pin­na­cle of the third­largest pyra­mid in the world, you can see the un­earthed com­plex of Teoti­hua­can (the City of the Gods), lo­cated 30 miles out­side Mex­ico City. At one point, it cov­ered eight square miles and was home to 100,000 peo­ple, mak­ing it the largest city in the pre-Columbian Amer­i­cas. Gaz­ing down the Av­enue of the Dead, lined with stone plat­forms and mi­nor pyra­mids, the road­way ends at the smaller, no-less im­pres­sive Pyra­mid of the Moon. At the base be­low us we could see my wav­ing wife, who looked as small as a Lego minifig­ure.

My 4-year-old son, Ze­phyr, and I stared at the an­cient ru­ins for sev­eral min­utes, in part out of fas­ci­na­tion — “It’s like In­di­ana Jones,” he re­marked in awe — and in part to catch our breath. Not only was the climb ar­du­ous, but we were more than 7,000 feet above sea level, so oxy­gen was in shorter sup­ply than back home in Sil­ver Spring, Md. Dur­ing the first few days of our trip in late March, the in­tense el­e­va­tion, along with the less-than-pris­tine air qual­ity, had left me winded.

It was my only com­plaint. Mex­ico’s capital has an un­wor­thy rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing un­safe and un­san­i­tary — not nec­es­sar­ily great for fam­i­lies. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. Mex­ico City is the per­fect place to travel with lit­tle ones be­cause it’s brim­ming with great kid-cen­tric ac­tiv­i­ties that adults will love, it has a child-friendly culture and it’s em­i­nently af­ford­able. To the lat­ter point, the mod­est Ho­tel Mi­lan in the funky Roma Norte neigh­bor­hood where we stayed cost as much for a week as one could eas­ily spend for a night at a Wash­ing­ton ho­tel, while it cost only a few dol­lars to take an Uber trip across town.

Pick­ing up unique sou­venirs was equally rea­son­able. We made two trips to the epic Ci­u­dadela arts mar­ket, a sprawl­ing grid of stands packed floor to ceil­ing with ev­ery kind of hand­made trin­ket imag­in­able. We bought a num­ber of ale­bri­jes — fan­tas­ti­cally formed and brightly painted wooden crea­tures that were pop­u­lar­ized in Oax­aca — as well as small clay skulls exquisitely dec­o­rated with a rain­bow of tiny beads, an artis­tic spe­cialty of the coun­try’s Hui­chol peo­ple.

There was no short­age of things to do as a fam­ily. My son and I vis­ited Museo del Juguete An­tiguo Mex­ico, which is not so much an an­tique toy mu­seum as it is a patch­work of a thou­sand dis­parate col­lec­tions pre­sented with­out la­bels or con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion in a dim and dusty build­ing that seemed to stretch on for­ever. For a cou­ple of hours, we hap­pily wan­dered through hap­haz­ard dis­plays of vin­tage luchadores (Mex­i­can wrestlers) fig­ures, boot­leg “Star Wars” mer­chan­dise, beat up Match­box cars, trains of ev­ery gauge and color, out­dated gam­ing sys­tems, cus­tom­ized Le­gos, hand­made steam­punk ac­ces­sories, a cir­cus dio­rama and count­less other bits of ephemera. By the end of it, I had no sense of the his­tory of any­thing I had seen, but it was none­the­less a thrilling visit wor­thy of the time in any par­ent’s itin­er­ary.

All three of us made a pil­grim­age to La Casa Azul (the Blue House), the home of artist Frida Kahlo. There is al­ways a long line to buy tick­ets, so get­ting them in ad­vance is highly rec­om­mended. You can rent equip­ment for an au­dio tour or take a guided one, but we chose to wan­der the grounds, which were as sur­real as they were mag­nif­i­cent. Vi­brant azure walls en­closed a gar­den dot­ted with stat­u­ary and a panoply of green­ery. In­side, there was an ex­hibit of Kahlo’s iconic wardrobe, which was forged to hide and com­pen­sate for her phys­i­cal ail­ments (she suf­fered po­lio as a child and at 18 was in­jured in a bus ac­ci­dent, both of which left her with last­ing in­fir­mi­ties) as much as it was to catch the eye.

Ev­ery day, we made sure to go out of for some frozen treat to beat the heat. Our first stop was at Nev­e­ria Roxy, a but­ter-yel­low cor­ner shop with a fetch­ing green-and-white awning in the Con­desa neigh­bor­hood that has been charm­ing lo­cals and tourists alike for more than 70 years. We zoned in on the nieves, which lit­er­ally means “snows,” but are ac­tu­ally closer to sor­bets. They come in a va­ri­ety of trop­i­cal fla­vors, in­clud­ing tart-and-sweet maracuyá (pas­sion fruit), creamy guanábana (sour­sop) and rich guayaba (guava).

An­other mem­o­rable stop was at Glace He­lado, a charm­ing lit­tle shop spe­cial­iz­ing in less con­ven­tional fla­vors, such as green tea, Parme­san and churro. There were more main­stream of­fer­ings, such as sea-salted caramel, which was ex­cep­tional.

Round­ing out our fa­vorites was Ben­dita Paleta, lo­cated in­side Mer­cado Roma, a mas­sive food hall show­cas­ing a mélange of cuisines and cul­tures. The small stall in the back cor­ner spe­cial­izes in pale­tas, or Mex­i­can ice pops. They are fancier than the kind you might buy from most ven­dors. Ze­phyr chose a tan­ta­liz­ingly tart lemon, while I opted for straw­ber­ries and cream.

We sat out on the street so we could peo­ple-watch as we en­joyed our treats. Oc­ca­sion­ally, we wouldn’t work quickly enough, and their sweet juices would run down our fin­gers, but we didn’t care.

PHOTOS BY NEVIN MARTELL

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: At Teoti­hua­can, a view of the Pyra­mid of the Moon from the steps of the Pyra­mid of the Sun; wares made with Old World tech­niques at Panade­ria Rosetta, a famed break­fast spot in Mex­ico City; one of the odd­i­ties at the Museo del Juguete An­tiguo Mex­ico; the au­thor's son con­tem­plates cool­ing down un­der the foun­tain at the Museo Na­cional de An­tropolo­gia.

For the au­thor’s full list of Mex­ico City rec­om­men­da­tions, visit wash­ing­ton­post.com/travel

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