We spent 8 days in the metropolis that is Mexico’s high-altitude capital Mexico City. It was the first stop on our adventure around Latin America and, with a greater population of 22 million people, we feared it would be an overwhelming introduction. However we were both surprised and impressed by the calmness of the city, and the wealth of activities you can get up to while there. Below are some of the highlights of our Mexico City stay.
Skulls found on a temple at Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor is located to the east of the Cathedral Metropolitana and was one of the main temples of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (present day Mexico City). The temple is believed to be the spot where the Aztecs saw their symbolic eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its mouth (the symbol you can see on the Mexican flag). Here you can see the ruins which continued being discovered up until the present day. In truth the ruins themselves are unimpressive due to the majority of excavation finds being relocated to other museums in Mexico City. The real gem in visiting Templo Mayor however is the on-site museum. The museum provides a great overview of what it was like in Aztec civilization, with the most impressive artifact being the stone of Coyolxauhqui.
The Stone of Coyolxauhqui
We visited the ruins and museum early on a Friday morning and found it to be quiet. When we walked past it on a Sunday we found it to be thronged with people, so take heed and visit on a weekday! Entrance was $70 each (3 euro) and this includes both the ruins and the museum.
Tlaltecuhtli Colossal Monolith
Palacio Nacional is also found in the Zocalo area of Mexico City and as such can be combined with a visit to the Cathedral and Templo Mayor. It is home to the office of the President of Mexico City but the most important reason to visit here is to view the famous murals by Diego Rivera. In the 1920’s over the stairway, Diego painted the ‘History of Mexico City’ mural. It displays Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past, the Conquest and what Diego considered to be the future when he completed the painting in 1930. This mural is fascinating to view, with a considerable amount of detail put into it by Rivera.
History of Mexico City Mural
This isnt the only mural that Rivera did within the Palace wall, he returned in the 1940’s to draw more on the corridor walls. These murals depict subjects ranging from pre-Hispanic cultures to typical Mexican products and achievements.
One of Diego Rivera’s corridor murals
The Palace also has a lovely garden to walk around making it a great place to spend a couple of hours. The added bonus is that it is completely free to enter! You do have to show ID however so bring your driving license or Passport. Also note that if the President is in the building it is closed to the public, so plan your visit wisely.
The gardens of the National Palace
View of Mexico City during daylight
Torre Latinamericana is a skyscraper located in downtown Mexico City, not far from Bellas Artes. The tower is used by all kinds of business’ but it is most important from a tourism point of view due to its mirador, allowing you to see right across Mexico City. We planned our visit to coincide with dusk so that we had the view both during the day and at night. This is not necessary however as when you buy a ticket for the viewpoint it is valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. The viewpoint is outstanding so we highly recommend doing this, a ticket costs $100 each (4 euro).
Mexico City at night
Xochimilco is one of the premier things to do when visiting Mexico City as it gives you the chance to escape the madness of downtown for the more tranquil settings of the Xochimilco canals. We previously posted on visitng the floating gardens of Xochimilco without a tour, so check this out if you haven’t done so already!
Aoife and the Sun Stone
Chapultepec Park or Forest is one of the largest parks in the Americas, measuring just over 1,695 acres. There is alot to do in the park, and we decided to spend one day exploring it. First up, we visited the National Museum of Anthropology. This museum is huge, and if you were to examine every artifact in detail it would probably take you a couple of days to get through it! The Museum has 23 exhibit halls, each with a specialized subject, such as the Aztecs, the Mayans, Teotihuacan, Oaxaca, etc. The main attractions of the museum are the impressive Sun Stone in the Aztec exhibit and the recreation of Pakal’s tomb in the Maya exhibit, amongst others. To get to the museum you can take the metro to Chapultepec or just get an Uber, like we did. When you get there the entrance fee is $70 per person (3 euro), which is an absolute bargain!
Pakal’s Tomb in the Mayan Exhibit
After visiting the museum (give yourself 3-4 hours) walk across to the other side of the park and you will find numerous vendors and a nice lake where you can rent a paddle boat. The botanical garden is also something to consider visiting as it is nice to see the different plant types.
The Botanical Gardens
Chapultepec Castle is also worth visiting when in the park. It is perched ontop of Chapultepec Hill and so there is a relatively steep climb up to the entrance. It costs $70 per person (3 euro) and is worth the cost alone just for the amazing views of the surrounding forest and city. The castle itself is also quite interesting and lavish, as are the gardens that surround it. Chapultepec Castle is famous for being the only castle which was resided in by royalty in the Americas, when Mexican Emperor Maximillian I lived there during the Second Mexican Empire.
Teotihuacan was probably the highlight of our stay in Mexico City and for good reason. The ruins are enormous and impressive and can be viewed on a on a simple day trip from Mexico City.
The Pyramid of the Sun
Coyoacán is one of the 16 districts of Mexico City and is situated to the south (close to Xochimilco). Due to the enormous size of Mexico City you feel like you are in a different city when landing in Coyoacán. The artsy/bohemian vibe of the neighbourhood grabs your attention straight away and the boutique restaurants that line its streets are a welcome change from the many taqueria’s found in the Centro Historico.
Aoife in the gardens of Casa Azul
Coyoacán, of course, is probably best known as being the home to Latin America’s most famous female painter, Frida Kahlo. Personally we were unaware of Frida’s work until about 6 months before our trip, but having watched the movie Frida (starring Selma Hayek), we were looking forward to our first trip to Casa Azul. Casa Azul is the house that Frida grew up in and ended up living in with her equally famous painter husband Diego Rivera. The house has since been turned into a museum and in it you can see some original Frida paintings (although the most famous paintings are located in museums across the world), aswell as her bedroom and living quarters, just as they were when she was living there. The highlight of the house is probably the garden which exudes luxury and is still very well preserved.
In terms of crowds, Museo Frida Kahlo was the most crowed attraction we saw in Mexico City. It is advised to buy your tickets online before visiting as you can skip the queue (if there is one). The price is also quite expensive for what it is $200 (9 euro) each, although if you are a big Frida fan it is worth every penny. Note that you have to pay an extra $30 (1.50 euro) in order to be able to take pictures inside the house (pictures in the garden are free).
Another, lesser known, museum in Coyoacán is the Leon Trotsky Museum. Leon Trotsky, the famous Russian revolutionary, was exiled to Mexico City where he lived with Frida and Diego in Casa Azul for a period of 2 years. After falling out with Rivera, Trotsky ended up moving house to a couple of blocks up the road. It was in this house that Trotsky was killed with an ice pick by Ramon Mercader, following Stalin’s orders.
The museum provides an overview of Trotsky’s life and death and displays the room where he was killed, exactly as it was that night. Admission is $40 per person (2 euro) and contains alot of English translations so is worth the visit if you have an interest in this kind of history.
Overall Coyoacán is more than just museums, and as such it is worth just strolling around the streets, popping into a coffee shop or a restaurant to try out some of the local cuisine. There is also a lovely park, Viveros, where you can sit down and watch the people or the squirrels! To get to Coyoacán you can either get the metro to Coyoacán or Viveros stops, with Museo Frida Kahlo being about a 15-20 minute walk from these stations.
The inside of Arena Mexico
Finally, last but not least, an unforgettable experience in Mexico City is to go watch Lucha Libre at Arena Mexico. Lucha Libre is huge all over Mexico, but Mexico City is known to have the best performers. Shows are on Tuesdays and Fridays, with Fridays being the best day to catch the action. Arena Mexico is located in the Doctores district, which is known to have a bad reputation after hours. As such we organised a tour with Wayak Tours. The price was $580 (25 euro) which was the most expensive tour we paid for, but we did get secure travel with a guide to and from our hostel, a lucha libre mask and 4 shots of tequila each. The atmosphere at the event is electric and you can really see the passion the local people have for the sport. It is really easy to buy beer and/or snacks from the vendors also so you wont go hungry! If you are in Mexico City we highly advise a trip to Arena Mexico, you wont regret it!
Aoife in here Lucha Libre mask
Total Budget for Mexico City
Accommodation: $5,400 (240 euro)
Taxi from Airport to Centro Historico: $900 (40 euro)
Food: $2,973 (130 euro)
Misc (Snacks, Beers, Coffee, etc.): $740 (32 euro)
Sightseeing: $3,128 (138 euro)
Transport (Uber, Metro, Buses): $611 (27 euro)
TOTAL PRICE FOR 9 NIGHTS IN MEXICO CITY: $13,752 (607 euro) for 2 people.