Mexico City

Destination Location

Mexico City
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Overview

The ancient Aztec seat of power perched among the central Mexican plateaus has grown into one of the largest and most influential metropolitan centres in the Americas. The population of Greater Mexico City is more than 20 million people, making it the largest urban area in the western hemisphere. Make it more than 20 million plus one and add yourself to the gritty, sprawling streets of "the city of palaces" and the history that has formed its cultural amalgamation.

The nickname "the city of palaces" resulted from both Spanish and local nobility attempting to outdo each other and build the most extravagant residence. Wealthy families also sponsored the building of churches and other public centres like museums, galleries and parks (many remain today in well-preserved fashion). Later, planned modernization efforts to make Mexico City a rival to great European centres used Paris as a model but endeavoured to maintain local and traditional elements. Mexico City's central square, Zócalo, is said to be the spot where Montezuma first encountered Hernan Cortes and is one of its most popular attractions in addition to the neighbouring Independence Monument and floating gardens.

Current city-planning projects aim to bring back the system of lakes that used to divide central Mexico City when it was known by its original name of Tenochtitlan. The large-scale urban works will help to beautify the city's core and revitalize an important part of its history, as well as provide much-needed fresh water to the Mexico Valley that surrounds Mexico City.

Don't be confused by the fact that Mexico City lies in the region known as the Mexico Valley. The valley is cradled on top of the central Mexican plateaus. The altitude of Mexico City is 2,250m which has the ability to quite literally take tourists' breathes away. Visiting sports teams are often at a disadvantage when facing local Mexican teams that are acclimatized to the altitude. The famed (and feared) Azteca soccer stadium in Mexico City has a reputation for intimidating teams by its size (third largest in the world), altitude and the involvement of 95,000 fans.

The commerce that passes through the financial district of Mexico City fuels much of the country's economy. Tourism gives another large boost to the area – visitors are often drawn by the turbulent history of subsequent cultures stacking their accomplishments on top of the previous ones. This cultural variety has educated Mexico City's palate, resulting in culinary delight. Visitors wanting to handle their own cooking can stock their hotel rooms with food from the Tianguis street markets.

Mexico City is also a large cultural hub, including draws like the Teotihuacan Pyramids (Pyramid of the Sun) and the Shrine of Guadalupe. Options range from boat rides in the Venice-like canals of Xochimilco to catching the high-flying action of the Lucha Libres, Mexico's notorious masked wrestlers. This cultural variety is supported and fostered by the liberal ideas and progressive views that have been championed by the city since the late 1990s.

Airport served by: MEX

Destination basics

Mexico City is so large that boroughs within its boundaries can experience different weather patterns. The lower areas of the city generally receive less moisture than the higher, northern sections. Summer months are wet in Mexico City and the wintertime is mild; temperatures rarely drop below freezing and snow is a myth that only comes to life every several decades. Efforts to make the giant city more environmentally friendly have succeeded in reducing air pollution by up to 90 per cent since the early 1990s in some sectors.

The Distrito Federal of Mexico is one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world. Known colloquially as "D.F.," the Federal District is a good point to start on a journey of discovery of the Mexican Republic.

Mexico City overflows with interesting sites to see, from pre-Columbian to modern and cosmopolitan. Visitors are enchanted by the vibrant culture, unique cuisine, internationally renowned art, mariachis, traditional handicrafts, architecture and the ubiquitous fiesta. Shopping, urban trekking, breathtaking views, interesting museums, theaters and entertainment from dusk to dawn are also an inherent part of the city's activities.

Chapultepec/ Polanco
The Bosque de Chapultepec and surrounding area is located just outside the city center. Several museums are tucked away within this enormous green space, including the National Anthropology Museum, Rufino Tamayo Museum, Museum of Modern Art and Papalote Children's Museum. The National History Museum is housed in the most important and visible attraction in the park, the Castillo de Chapultepec, a sumptuous castle whose rich history reflects the entire history of Mexico itself. Nearby is La Feria, the city's oldest amusement park. Los Pinos, the official residence of the President of Mexico, is nestled inside these woods, along with the National Auditorium, the city's large and modern auditorium which stages world famous performances. Just north of Chapultepec is the elegant commercial and residential neighborhood of Polanco. This district is popular amongst the city's affluent residents; excellent restaurants, designer boutiques and world class hotels are found here. A scenic stroll down the beautiful Paseo de la Reforma leads to the Fuente de la Diana Cazadora and to the landmark Monumento a la Independencia, commonly known as El Ángel (The Angel).

Zona Rosa
The Zona Rosa is an area near the center of the city that is bustling with activity and entertainment. Known for its array of restaurants, bars, cafes and shops, it is an ideal place to relax with a drink or a bite to eat while people-watching. Stop in at the Wax Museum to rub elbows with the biggest stars and VIPs of yesterday and today. Also in the area is the Central de Abastos, one of the largest markets in the city.

Centro Histórico
Down Paseo de la Reforma, across Avenida Juárez is the historic part of the city. The Palace of Fine Arts is found here, along with the Torre Latinoamericana. Continue down Avenida Francisco Madero to reach the Zócalo / Plaza de la Constitución, the city's enormous main square, on which its founding institutions were erected, including the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Palacio Nacional and the ancient Templo Mayor. The diverse origins of Mexican cultures are apparent here, illustrating its inherent mix. The Centro Histórico also offers architectural sightseeing, shopping and a chance to experience city life.

San Ángel
Down the tree-lined Avenida Insurgentes, dotted with shops and entertainment, is the colonial neighborhood of San Ángel. Here, you will find the monument to General Álvaro Obregón, named for the ex-president whose forearm and hand—with a ringed finger—floats poised under glass inside the scenic Jardín de la Bombilla. Among other sites are the Templo del Carmen, Jardín del Arte, Plaza San Jacinto, and the Ex-Convento del Carmen, famous for its collection of mummies on exhibit.

Coyoacán
You could easily dedicate a full day to meander the cobblestone and unpaved streets around the city's most attractive area, Coyoacán. Coyoacán is a traditional colonial district filled with churches, parks, gardens, plazas, museums and book shops. From the 1920s to the 1950s it was a haven for such bohemians and intellectuals as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and Salvador Novo, and has retained that aura up to present day. Because of its past residents and interesting history, this is where you will find such interesting places to visit as the Diego Rivera-Anahuacalli Museum, the Frida Kahlo Museum, and the León Trotsky House & Museum.

Imagine the largest city in the world, and then picture the sheer diversity of choices for entertainment and sightseeing. From the very ancient to ultra-modern, Mexico City offers all that and more.

Museums
Mexico City is home to over 150 museums, the most of any city in the world, so to visit them all would be quite challenging. However, there are various museums in the city that are not to be missed. The Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum is one of the most renowned anthropology museums in the world, and houses extensive collections of artifacts from Mesoamerica, including the famous Aztec Sun Stone. The Museo Arqueológico de Xochimilco (Archaeological Museum of Xochimilco) is a recreation of what life was like in Xochimilco in pre-Hispanic times. The museum houses objects that date as far back as to the Olmec culture, or around 9000 BCE. The Museo Nacional de Historia (National History Museum) is located in the Castillo de Chapultepec and features exhibits about the social and political history of Mexico. The museum also features murals by some of Mexico's most famous artists. The Museo del Templo Mayor is a modern building constructed on the site of the Aztec Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan. Here you can view artifacts from the temple, including the original stone depiction of the goddess Coyolxauhqui. Mexico City has also been home to many famous artists, and there is certainly no shortage of museums dedicated to them. The Frida Kahlo Museum is located in the artist's former home, and in addition to her own works, you can view other personal possessions of hers as well as works by other Mexican painters. Another artist who has several museums dedicated to him is Diego Rivera. The Museo Estudio Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera Studio Museum) is the artist's former studio which has been basically left alone since the day he died, so you can see the studio as it was. The Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) features works from many different painters of the Mexican school of painting.

Theater
Mexico City is home to many theaters and many theater productions of all kinds. Among the best-known theaters for live drama or comedy are the Centro Teatral Manolo Fábregas and the Teatro Insurgentes. Teatro Sergio Magaña in Santa María La Ribera presents mainly comedies featuring television actors and actresses. Teatro Benito Juárez puts on Greek plays as well as other internationally famous works for incredibly affordable prices.

Music
Being one of the world's largest cities, Mexico City often hosts some of the world's biggest names and concerts in music. The Estadio Azteca hosts many of these blockbuster events. The Palacio de Bellas Artes, along with being one of the city's most beautiful landmarks, also plays host to classical concerts, opera, and some theater as well. Among those who perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional, who perform both classical and contemporary works. The Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes puts on classical, chamber music and choir performances throughout the year while the Orquesta Filarmónica de la Ciudad de México frequently hosts guest musicians and composers at the Ollín Yoliztli Cultural Center.

Outdoors
Mexico City is full of parks and other opportunities to spend time outdoors. The 1600 acre Bosque de Chapultepec is a large park just east of the center of the city which is home to numerous attractions, including a lake, where you can hire a boat and paddle around. The Bosque de Chapultepec makes for a fun day out, whether you are taking a bike ride, a walk or just lying in the grass. Another of the city's main parks is the Alameda Central, where visitors will find a number of statues and monuments among the greenery and fountains. The Alameda Central is also a historic site in the city, as it dates back to the 16th Century. One of the oldest attractions in Mexico City are the ancient canals, or chinampas of Xochimilco, which means “land of the flowers” in Nahuatl. These canals are lined with flowers and vendors, while visitors can cruise the 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) of canals in wooden boats decorated with flowers. There are several good outdoor retreats just outside the city as well. The Bosque Nacional del Desierto de los Leones (National Forest of the Lion's Desert is a 200 hectare retreat of greenery where people go to escape the city by bicycling, jogging, and doing other outdoor activities. The Cerro de la Estrella (Hill of the Star) is located next to Lake Texcoco, and is the ancient site of Aztec sun renewal ceremonies. Aside from visiting the hill itself, visitors can go to the museum to learn more about the history of this special place.

Family & Kids
Being that Mexico City is one of the largest in the world, there is no shortage of family and kid friendly activities. For something a little educational that the whole family will find interesting, visit the Papalote Museo del Niño (Children's Kite Museum), with its interactive exhibits and IMAX theater. Another museum the kids will enjoy is Ripley's Ciudad de México, where you will be immersed in a world of stuff that's almost too hard to believe, like shrunken heads and human hair dresses. Mexico City is also home to a number of amusement parks, like Six Flags México and Funny Land. As it gets very hot here during certain times of year, there are also a number of water parks like Parque Acuático El Rollo. Here in the city, you will also find a number of zoos, like the Parque Zoológico de Chapultepec, located in the Bosque de Chapultepec, the Zoológico de Zacango, located just about 30 minutes outside the city, and the Zoológico Los Coyotes.

Historic Attractions
As Mexico City is such an old, historic city, the numbers of historic attractions in and near the city are endless. Probably the most popular attraction is the ancient city of Teotihuacan, with its grand pyramids of the sun and moon, along with 156 square kilometers (60 square miles) of temples, altars and other fascinating objects. The Arbol de la Noche Triste (Tree of the Sad Night) is the tree under which the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is said to have cried during his troops retreat from the city of Tenochtitlan. Another historic sight pertaining to Cortés is the Casa de la Malinche, the house where his Aztec lover and interpreter once lived. The Plaza de la Constitución / El Zócalo was constructed on top of the ceremonial site of Tenochtitlan beginning in the 16th Century, and today serves as the city's primary plaza. Another Spanish building built on top of a sacred Aztec site is the Palacio Nacional, built by Cortés on top of the kind Moctezuma's royal residence. The Palacio contains several murals by Mexico's most famous painter, Diego Rivera. The historic Castillo de Chapultepec, located in the Bosque de Chapultepec was once home to the Emperor Maximilian and Empress Carlotta during the French occupation of Mexico. Since 1939, the castle has been the home of the National History Museum. The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe) is built on the famed spot where an indigenous man named Juan Diego had a vision of the Virgin Mary. After Juan Diego told the bishop, he was skeptical and demanded proof, and Juan Diego had another vision, the image of the virgin appeared in a cape with which Diego was carrying roses. The bishop immediately ordered a church built on the site of these visions. Today, visitors can see the miraculous cape in a case behind the altar. Mexico City also has its fair share of monuments, commemorating the many wars, struggles and heroes throughout the city and country's history. Probably the city's most famous monument is the Monumento a la Independencia, also known as El Ángel (the angel). El Ángel was built to commemorate the centennial of Mexico’s war of independence, and it was erected in 1910, after being commissioned by President Porfirio Díaz in 1902. The monument also includes a mausoleum at its base which holds the remains of 12 heroes of Mexican independence. Also commissioned by Porfirio Díaz is the Monumento a la Revolución, which stands in the Plaza de la República next to the Museo Nacional de la Revolución, and is home to the remains of two Mexican presidents. Another monument to Mexico's heroes is the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Boy Heroes), was built in honor of the six teenage cadets who died defending the Chapultepec Castle from United States forces in 1847, and the niños heroes are honored in various ways all over Mexico City and the entire country.

Food is more than simple sustenance in Mexico; it is a way of life, an essential ingredient in the vibrant culture of this country, through which family, friends and lovers come together. In a city this big, it is not surprising that there are many different areas in which to seek out good restaurants, although some in particular stand out.

Chapultepec/ Polanco
The areas of Chapultepec and Polanco have a wide array of dining options in a pleasant part of town. Visitors to the area can start their day with a spectacular view of the Bosque de Chapultepec. Mi Viejo Pueblito serves up amazing traditional Mexican foods like tacos, and parrilladas. If you're not in the mood for a whole meal, but still want the authentic Mexican atmosphere, María Bonita is a fun bar with a large variety of snacks. If you're more the type to wing it, along the Avenida Mazaryk in Polanco there is an upbeat atmosphere with sidewalk tables and a younger crowd in places like Area Bar and Terrace.

Zona Rosa
For those who prefer a quiet, cosmopolitan atmosphere, the Zona Rosa area is the best choice for a drink and light entertainment. La Marinera serves up traditional Mexican seafood in a lively atmosphere. Focolare offers a great experience combining live music with delicious, traditional specialties in the heart of Zona Rosa. And when you're done eating, stop in at Bar Frida, the Frida Kahlo themed bar that's almost more of a gallery than a watering hole.

Centro Histórico
Head to the Centro Histórico for a taste of the city's heritage and have a bite to eat in the famous Restaurante Bar Café Tacuba on the street of the same name. La Casa de las Sirenas offers a wide variety of cuisine served alongside musical entertainment to make for a fun dining experience. Or if you're in the mood for something a little fancier, Los Girasoles will provide you with haute Mexican cuisine next door to the Mexican Senate, so you may spot some very powerful people dining alongside you. The Casa de los Azulejos, part of the Sanborn's chain of restaurants is also found here.

San Angel
The beautiful, cobblestone streets and romantic plazas of San Angel are home to some of the best restaurants in the city. The restaurant at the San Angel Inn has been serving delicious local cuisine for many years, and the added bonus of wandering musicians makes this an unforgettable dining experience. Brasserie Q offers up amazing French food in an authentic atmosphere. Stop by Tasca Manolo for dishes from all over Spain served up in an ancient mansion. Pardiños serves up fresh seafood from the Mexican state of Veracruz while Mauna Loa specializes in Chinese food with Hawaiian and Polynesian decor and entertainment after 9p.

Coyoacán
Spend the day in the colonial neighborhood of Coyoacán enjoying great food and mingling with writers, intellectuals and artists who flock here, as did the painters Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in their time. Flor y Canto offers up all things traditional, from the haute cuisine to the decor and atmosphere. El Hábito serves up superb food along with an entertaining cabaret show, all in the historic home of a well known Mexican writer. For something a little more exotic, Fun Lom offers diners what some consider to be the very best Peking Duck along with other delectable Chinese dishes.

Mexico City

State: Federal District

Country: Mexico

Mexico City By The Numbers
Population: 8,918,653 (city); 20.4 million (metropolitan)
Elevation: 2,250 meters / 7,380 feet
Average Annual Rainfall: 30.4 centimeters / 12 inches

Average January Temperature: 14.6°C / 58.3°F
Average July Temperature: 18.2°C / 64.8°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts; US-style two-pin plugs are standard

Time Zone: GMT -6

Country Dialing Code: +52

Area Code: 55

Did You Know?
Because Mexico City is built on top of an underground reservoir from which water is constantly drawn, it is sinking at a rate of six to eight inches a year.

Mexico City has the most museums of any city in the world, with over 160 of them.

Orientation
Mexico City is located in the center of the country, in the Valley of Mexico. It is about 108 kilometers (67 miles) northwest of Puebla and about 461 kilometers (286 miles) southeast of Guadalajara.

People have inhabited the Valley of Mexico and areas surrounding it for over 10,000 years. The native peoples in this area from 9500 BCE-7000 BCE lived under the rule of the Olmec culture, which spanned over most of Central and South America. Due to the lack of a natural water outlet, inhabitants migrated to the fertile lakeshores of the Valley of Mexico, especially Lake Texcoco. Not far from the shores of this lake sprang up the legendary city of Teotihuacan, its earliest building dating from the year 200 BCE. The civilization of Teotihuacan thrived here for hundreds of years, achieving a population estimated to be around 100,000 inhabitants and covering over 30 square kilometers. The decline of the Teotihuacan culture came about sometime during the 7th or 8th Century, its exact reason is unknown.

After the fall of Teotihuacan, the city of Tenochtitlan was built on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco by the Nahua Aztec (Mexica) Tribe in the year 1325 CE, when the wandering tribe purportedly had a prophecy fulfilled involving a vision of an eagle perched on a cactus, with a serpent in its claws. If this vision sounds familiar, it is because it is now the image in the center of the Mexican flag. The location of the city forced the Aztecs to build an elaborate system of chinampas (canals), remnants of which exist today in the area south of the city known as Xochimilco. Tenochtitlan and the Aztec people grew to be an extensive empire, covering the majority of what is modern day Mexico, with estimates of the population of the city reaching 200,000, and growing in size, connecting surrounding lakes by a system of bridges, aqueducts and roads. However, all of this was about to change.

On November 8, 1519, the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan. According to legend, the conquistador was at first believed to be the plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl by the King Moctezuma and his court, because of previous prophecies predicting the arrival of the god and many coincidental occurrences. Meetings between the Aztecs and the Spanish were translated with the help of a slave woman known today as La Malinche, who translated from Nahuatl (the Aztec language) and Maya, and Spaniard Geronimo de Aguilar translated from Maya to Spanish. Not much later, the Spaniards, already prepared for battle, took Moctezuma captive, and during this captivity, tensions between the Aztecs and the Spanish began to mount dramatically. When it came time for the Aztecs to celebrate the festival of Tóxcatl, the Spanish attacked the vulnerable Aztecs during the festivities in what came to be known as the “Massacre in the Main Temple,” which sparked a passionate revolt against the Spanish by the Aztec people.

On the first of July, 1520, the Spaniards were forced to flee Tenochtitlan due to the unceasing Aztec revolt against them. This exodus, known as La Noche Triste (“the sad night”), did not go unnoticed by the Aztecs, who chased the Spaniards out of the city and along the lake, where the Spaniards were headed to Tlacopan. The Spaniards purportedly lost about 2/3 of their forces during la noche triste, along with a large amount of gold, jewels and other valuables they had gotten from the city. After a year of back and forth plotting and fighting, in addition to a smallpox epidemic that wiped out about 40 percent of the population of Tenochtitlan, the Aztecs finally surrendered to Cortéz and his army on August 13, 1521.

Once the Spanish had control of the city and all the surrounding areas, they set up the viceroyalty of Nueva España in 1535, with the first Viceroy being Antonio de Mendoza. Under this viceroyalty, the Spanish Empire continued to explore Latin America, founding cities and increasing their territories.

Mexico remained under Spanish control until the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, however it did not officially gain its independence until 1821. In 1824, Mexico City was named the Mexico Federal District. In 1847 a new war arose, this time the Mexican-American war, resulting in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which forced Mexico to give up the territories of Nuevo Mexico and Alta California, which today consist of California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and parts of Utah and Wyoming.

Beginning in 1876 was the period known as the Porfiriato, the period of dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, which brought about a very distinctly French influence in Mexico City. It was during this 30 year period that many of the beautiful landmarks of Mexico City were constructed, including the Ángel de la Independencia, the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Paseo de la Reforma. However, Díaz was forced to resign during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The time after the Mexican Revolution really saw Mexico City's most flourishing time of growth in hundreds of years.

In 1968, Mexico City was granted the honor of hosting the Olympic Games, which was tarnished by the killing of hundreds of students by army and police forces just ten days before the Olympics in what has come to be known as the “Tlatelolco Massacre,” which is just one of the controversies surrounding this only Olympic event ever held in Latin America. Mexico City has also played host to the 1970 FIFA World Cup, as well as the same event in 1986, which came just one year after an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 damaged over 3000 buildings and left 10,000 people dead. However, the hosting of the FIFA World Cup stood as a testament to the city's rapid recovery.

Today, Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world with over eight million inhabitants. Mexico City is also the Federal District of Mexico and the Capital of the United Mexican States. Featuring two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (three including Teotihuacan), Mexico City is today the center of culture and politics in Mexico as it has been throughout its very long, dramatic, and sometimes tragic history. However, today Mexico City is anything but tragic, attracting tourists from all over the world and serving as a main representative for this incredible country.

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