Monday, November 3, 2008

Stay Over In Mexico City

Mountain climbing season begins in December in Mexico, so lots of avid climbers will shortly be making their way to Pico de Orizaba or Iztaccihuatl and others. But whichever mountain or mountains they're planning climb - most will start by tackling a few smaller, easier peaks to help them acclimatize - most will start their trip in Mexico City. Whether they like it or not - the international airport is here.

And a fair number of them will suddenly feel lost. It's a huge city and they know next to nothing about it. They've just been reading up on the mountains they're visiting! But Mexico City is a fabulous place and well worth hanging around for a few days, or even a week if it's possible. It's a city that is relatively easy to move around with an excellent public transport system, and tourist facilities.

But what is there to see? Lots, of course! There is always something new happening, an old tradition being replayed, and plenty of permanent institutions to visit. Here's my Top Ten that should keep any visitor occupied for a few days at the very least...

1. The Zocalo. It's the worlds largest town square, and is the heart of the Historic Center, surrounded on all sides by colonial architectural masterpieces. The most evident is the huge Metropolitan Cathedral. You can climb onto the roof for just 12 pesos. On the left of the Cathedral (from the Cathedral's perspective!) is the National Palace. Entry is free, and it contains some of Diego Rivera's finest murals. You'll also find the Aztec dancers in the Zocalo, and the opportunity for a spiritual cleansing if you so desire.

2. Bellas Artes. The National Arts Palace, just a ten to fifteen minute walk from the Zocalo, it's a fantastic piece of architecture with more of Mexico's finest murals inside. It's free to enter, but you'll have to pay 10 pesos to take photos. Well worth it. For the best photo of the palace, go into Sears opposite, take the elevator to the Coffee Shop (8 or 9) and wander out onto the balcony.

3. Paseo de la Reforma. More often just called Reforma, it's a huge avenue that runs from Bellas Artes to Chapultepec Park, and makes for a great walk. It's famous for it's street art exhibitions. At the moment there are dozens of decorative, sometimes bizarre, benches.

4. Chapultepec. A park, a lake, and a castle. All in one. Plan on spending a whole afternoon there, at least. The castle sits on a hill and like most of these institutions is a treasure trove of art and history. Want to take a paddle boat around the lake? No problems. There's also a zoo, but I can't really recommend that in good conscience.

5. Turibus. It's a simple enough concept. Every city has one. This turibus goes on a huge loop through the cities best parts, and you can get on and off at will. Bring suntan lotion and a cap if you want to sit on the top deck! It's a long ride.

6. Teotihucan Tour. Most hotels and hostels do this tour. It's a must. You'll visit the Basilica de Guadalupe, a Tequila farm, the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and then the monumental ancient pyramids.

7. Museo de Franz Mayer. One of my favourite museums in the Centro Historico, it's situated near Bellas Artes, and aside from all the art, has excellent temporary exhibitions and a wonderful coffee shop in an outdoor patio. 45 pesos entry.

8. Estadio Azteca and Dolores Olmedo. A ride down the Tren Ligero (see a Metro map for details) will take you past the world famous football stadium. A little further on at La Noria station, you'll find one of Mexico city's best kept secrets - the Museo de dolores Olmedo.

9. Lucha Libre. Check out Ticketmaster to get seats for the best wrestling show in the world. It's meant as a comedy/gymnastic experience, and you'll learn a lot about Mexican culture too. You can't take your camera in though.

10. Xochimilco. An excellent way to end a trip to the city, grab a tour to Xochimilco and ride down the canals in a big gondola, listening to Mariachis, eating tacos and drinking beer.

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