Mexico City, Ciudad de México, México DF, or as the locals simply call it DF (Distrito Federal). Mexico City is a modern-day megalopolis, with over 20 million inhabitants, and seems to scare everyone else away. The city gets a bad rep for being dirty, noisy & hectic, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Okay the noisy & hectic part may be true, but there are PLENTY of things to love about Mexico City. There is no shortage of history, cuisine, entertainment, architecture, & even parks (yes, there are trees here!). Having been here for about 3 months now, I’m certainly not an expert, but I have had a blast exploring this truly great city. Here are 7 of my favorite things to do in DF:
Xochimilco is actually a borough of Mexico City (one of 16), but is best known for its system of canals. These canals are all that’s left over from the huge lake & network of canals that covered much of the Valley of Mexico in the Aztec times before the Spanish arrived.
Nowadays some refer to Xochimilco as the “Venice of Mexico,” because the main attraction is the hundreds of colorful boats, called “Trajineras,” which are propelled along by poles through the canals. It is so much fun, and the best thing to do is rent a boat (not expensive), bring a bunch of food and drinks, rent or bring a speaker for music, and cruise through the canals cutting up with your friends. There are literally hundreds of trajineras out on the canals with you, some with mariachi bands, others serving quesadillas, elotes, & Mexican beer, and others with groups of people just like you – it’s endless entertainment.
Every boat you pass has a different party going on with different music, in their own little, trajinera world, but EVERYONE is having a good time. Tip: For a less crowded, more rural boat ride, depart from the Cuemanco Embarcadero (port). You’ll see lots of farms, cows in green pastures, and maybe even a haunted Island.
Pyramids of Teotihuacan
You don’t have to go to Egypt to see pyramids! A few miles to the northeast of the city lie the archaeological site of Teotihuacan – the ancient Mesoamerican city that was established around 100BC. Built over the course of 150 years, it had a population between 150,000-250,000 during it’s peak, and was the center of a vast kingdom.
The ruins are extremely well preserved, particularly La Avenida de Los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), and is flanked by two HUGE pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun & the Pyramid of the Moon. You can spend hours getting lost here & letting your imagination run wild. Tip: Climb as far up as you can on the Pyramid of the Moon for the best view, and spend a few moments pondering what this ancient kingdom was like in it’s heyday.
If you love old, Spanish architecture, you’ll be right at home in the historic center of Mexico City. Smack dab in the middle of the chaotic hustle & bustle, you’ll find the beautiful Zócalo, or the main plaza. It’s the largest plaza in Latin America, and is surrounded on all 4 sides by architectural eye candy, including the National Palace of Mexico & the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Spreading out in every direction are more streets lined with beautiful, old buildings and hundreds of restaurants, cafes, churches, & museums, including the Palacio de Bellas Artes. You can spend weeks here and still not see it all. Tip: Grab lunch at Sanborns in the Casa de Los Azulejos, a gorgeous restaurant built in an 18th century, blue-tiled palace with reasonable prices, or explore the Templo Mayor, remnants of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city that once was.
If you’re like me, finding a tall building in a big city to get a good look is a must – I mean, how big is it really? The Torre Latinamericana is 188 meters (597 feet) tall and right downtown – providing perhaps the best eagle’s eye view of the sprawling metropolis. Try to schedule your trip up the tower on a weekend, or a nice sunny day after a rain to avoid smog. Tip: The entrance for the mirador (observation deck) costs about the same as a drink at the Miralto bar on the 41st floor and has basically the same view…think about it.
Bullfight at Plaza de Toros México
The largest bullring in the world, the Plaza de Toros México holds 41,000 people and was built in 1946. Brought to the New World by the Spanish conquistadores, the tradition & culture of bullfighting is very much alive in Mexico.
As an animal lover, I was a little skeptical at first. But after attending a bullfight, I have to say that I was impressed and entertained. This is not a senseless slaying, it is a captivating art. The matador & bull share a deep connection. They build off of each other’s energy and at times, seem like they are dancing together.
Despite the deep & rich roots of this tradition, animal rights activists & liberals will probably never approve of it, and that’s okay. But if you are curious, I would encourage you to go see what it’s all about. I was fortunate enough to experience an “indulto,” where the connection & show put on by the bull & bullfighter are so strong that the public chose to spare the bull’s life – I felt like I was in the movie Gladiator or something. I’m a huge sports fan and have been to many sporting events, but it was without a doubt the most spectacular display of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen! Tip: Bring a red wine-filled bota (leather bladder/bag), it’s part of the tradition & they let you bring it in the stadium!
Lucha Libre Wrestling
Lucha libre literally translates as “free wrestling.” You will pull a lung laughing at this Mexican tradition. Let me clear this up, I AM NOT a wrestling fan, at least in the terms of the WCW & WWE that’s big in the United States. You know what I am a fan of? LAUGHING. For 2 hours straight. That’s what you come to the Lucha Libre for – to laugh your brains out.
You’ve never seen so many backflips & hilarious outfits in your life. Nacho Libre-style masks (they all wear them) equals no shame & the confidence to do & say the most ridiculous things in front of thousands of people. Go at least once – it’s worth it. Tip: If there are empty seats in the crowd that are better than yours – go for them. Just act confident. My friend and I walked up and sat in the literally THE BEST seats in the house, right between the ring and the runway, just because we acted like we were supposed to be there.
Stroll Around Chapultepec Park
Mexico City is actually a pretty green city. I thought it would be pure concrete jungle as far as the eye could see, but I was wrong. There are plenty of parks and tree-lined avenues, but the biggest and most famous park is Chapultepec Park.
The highlight of the park is Chapultepec Castle, the only royal castle in North America that was actually a residence. It sits atop Chapultepec Hill in the middle of the park, & used to be a sacred Aztec site. It’s a great place for history buffs & architecture lovers, and took almost 80 years to construct.
Does the castle look familiar? It might, because many scenes from the movie Romeo & Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio were filmed here. Tip: Although the hill is only 220 feet, it brings the castle to an elevation of 7,628 ft (2,325 meters), providing a great view of the park & the Reforma district of the city from the facade.
Verdict: Mexico City has TONS to do
Mexico City is a perfect example of the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Don’t let the smog, traffic, construction, or negative stereotypes about crime turn you off to coming here. Find me a big city that doesn’t have any of those things, and I’ll move there tomorrow (Singapore doesn’t count).
These are just a few of the countless things you can do in Mexico City. I just wanted to keep the list short and sweet. So do yourself a favor, if you come to Mexico – don’t skip it’s capital! You’ll be missing out on a real destination.
Have you been to Mexico City? Do you agree with my suggestions? Disagree? What are some of your favorite things to do in this awesome city? Leave your comments below and thanks!