Mexico City is mucho elusive. What goes on there? Salma Hayek sightings? Sombreros? Guacamole? Gangs? It’s not the eternally chic Cabo, nor the rough and tumble Tijuana. No. Mexico City is it’s own unique land.
As a first time visitor on a three-day tour, I was stunned to discover the capital’s countless features; North America’s largest city has a lot to offer––glamorous nightlife, vibrant culture, mouth-dropping architecture––and nothing falls short of spectacular.
Located in the high plateaus of south-central Mexico well over 7,000 feet above sea level, if crowds don’t affect your equilibrium, the altitude might. This is not so much a warning as a self-affirmation. I personally worried very much about being plagued by dizziness…but the culture’s positive energy outweighed any such issues.
At every corner, there’s colorful, animated old streets, lush with live music, laughing children and an abundance of magnificent museums and galleries––it ranks second to Paris in number of museum options. And the food! Let’s put it this way: if you don’t love Mexican food, you are no friend of mine…
We stayed at the Hotel Condesa DF, a quirky hang, with a wind-up vintage car that works like a music box at the entrance. Offbeat and stylish, the hotel is on a triangular block amid wide, tree-filled streets in the Condesa neighborhood––often referred to as Barrio Magico or Magical Neighborhood. It’s a picturesque location, with lovely parks and fountains nearby.
I liked my room, which was clean, if a bit cramped. The killer complimentary breakfast comes with quesadillas, which I accepted with great joy. The hammam and outside grounds were sun-drenched and divine during the day. Evening noise, however, was an issue. The hotel welcomes a very happening nightlife. Good for the single ’n’ mingle set, not great for sleep!
On our first night in Mexico City, we ate at Don Chui, a fun, vacay-friendly Chinese-fusion restaurant fifteen minutes from our hotel. Out of this world. There, we were gastronomically spoiled rotten.
The next day, we refueled in an open-air restaurant at the impressive, 17th-century palace, Azul Historico. Set underneath mighty laurel trees and fringed by balconies, we felt like royalty. We inhales warm fresh bread, sipped mescal served out of dried bowls made from fruit and ate dishes like mole Filete de res servido con salsa de chile chipotle––filet mignon with chipotle sauce. Make sure to try the ensalada de pera con queso Roquefort, the supermodel of all Mexican greens.
Pre-dinner cocktails were at La Terraza at Hotel Habita––a tropical, South Beach-esque haunt with hypnotic views of the castle of Chapultepec and Espana Park. Downstairs, in the lobby restaurant, I ordered the Veracruz-style mahi mahi; otherwise known as the best fish dish I’ve ever had in my life. (Fact!).
The next day, we tried Tori Tori in the Polanco neighborhood, widely considered the best Japanese restaurant in Mexico City. With an exterior made from steels, it looks more like an urban art gallery than a high-end food establishment. A truly special place, for the VIPs and in-crowds. I highly recommend the Gyu Tataki (cold sautéed beef with secret sauce).
The Palacio de Bellas Arts, or Palace of Fine Arts, in the central square, is said to be the most notable cultural center in the area. Even if you have no attention span for museums, this is the one must-see. The exterior of the building is simply awe-inspiring. Inside, massive murals depicting different scenes from Mexico’s history take your breath away.
For history buffs, Templo Mayor is an imperative stop on the itinerary. The temple was nearly destroyed by the Spaniards until a telephone repairman stumbled upon the site in 1978. Since then, its excavation has uncovered numerous findings like jewelry and bones––just last month, it was reported that 50 skulls were discovered at one sacrificial stone.
My favorite is Museo Rufino Tamayo, situated in the peaceful Chapultepec Park, which primarily showcases the private collection––about 300 paintings––of artist Rufino Tamayo. Other paintings, sculptures and installations from artists like Picasso are on display as well. It’s worth having a museum tour guide walk you through each painting, as the art reflects so many details in Tamayo’s fascinating life. By the end, you feel so connected to him personally that you actually feel like you knew him.
In the end, I grew to understand what makes Mexico City so magnificent. It’s the richness of character in everybody and everything! Vibrancy cloaks you; from the second you step off that plane. And when you leave, you take some of that effervescence home in your heart…wrapped carefully in a wool tapestry of history, honor and humanity.