By Christine Chilton
Mexico is not new to me! Over my years working in the travel industry I have been most fortunate to visit many resort areas in this wonderful country – some many times. From the Pacific Coast to the Caribbean Sea, Mexico boasts some of the finest beach destinations in the world. And, beach destinations and resorts certainly give one a good feel for Mexico as a destination.
Mexico City on the other hand swallows you whole. It immerses you in Mexico. This is a city that wraps its arms around you and draws you close to its 22 million inhabitants. Never have I felt so infused into a city’s culture, history and people as I did on my recent visit to this magnificent city. From the moment you arrive you are caught up in the rapid pace – the city sways and moves with an urgency for embracing the future while nurturing the past.
Sitting at an altitude of 2,200 metres above sea level Mexico City is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes and enjoys a temperate climate throughout the year; it rarely gets hot. In November I found a sweater was needed early morning and in the evening. The altitude can take your breath away – literally. You may feel a bit winded after a day of touring.
Mexico City is one of the most important economic hubs in Latin America and one of the most important political, cultural, educational and financial centres in North America. It is fascinating to watch the business people, most of who are dressed immaculately, making deals on their cell phones as they move through the streets from meeting to meeting. What is even more fascinating is to see them stop at the street stalls to purchase a taco or enchilada for an “on the go” breakfast. Shiny shoes are extremely important here – there are a multitude of shoe shiners throughout the city, on every street it seems, servicing customers from all walks of life.
Venturing outside of the main tourist area that houses many of the large international brands of hotels is exhilarating. Every corner you turn is a feast for the eyes. The colours, the smells, the old building that appears to be abandoned from the outside yet houses a true Mexican Cantina within its walls. You quickly learn not to underestimate the possibilities to mingle with the locals in every church, building, street market and restaurant that embraces you on your journey. The key is to immerse oneself – mix with the people of Mexico City, walk the streets, explore what the vendors who seem to be everywhere are selling. You will quickly realize that the family unit is fundamental and important in this culture – families are out and about everywhere. You will also realize that the sharing of affection is not concealed but very evident with couples kissing and embracing in the most public of places – love seems to know no limits in Mexico City.
Taxis, painted red and gold, are inexpensive and although one of the most convenient ways to get around they can become a time consuming mode of transportation as the traffic throughout the city is congested and busy. The Mexico City metro system, which is the second largest metro system in North America, serves 1.4 billion passengers in the metropolitan area. It is inexpensive, crowded but a good alterative for travelling through the city in order to avoid traffic.
Mexico City is a city of museums with more than 160, many of which are free on Sundays. Not to be missed are the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of Anthropology, Museo de Frida Kahlo – intense and fascinating and one of my favourites as it was the home of the famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The Chapultepec Castle offers great views of the city and was the former home of Emperor Maximilian and is the current home of the National Museum of History.
The city also has over 100 art galleries, and 30 concert halls. Visiting museums, attending concerts and immersing oneself in Mexican arts and culture is affordable for everyone. The large museums are restored on the outside and modernized on the insides. The display of artifacts, moments in history and the general layouts are well done and a pleasure to move through. I would recommend a good detailed guidebook if you do not speak Spanish as much of the museums’ signage is only in Spanish. One could spend an entire month just visiting museums in Mexico City and still yearn for more – that is how fascinating they are.
When in Mexico please eat like a Mexican. The cafes, restaurants and cantinas offer typical Mexican dishes like none you have eaten at home. The spices, the flavours and the presentation are wonderful no matter where you eat. I did not have a single mediocre meal during my visit, we did eat locally, with the locals, and this would be my recommendation. You’ll be pleased at the reasonable cost to dine out. You may also be shocked by the heat in many of the side sauces so consider this fair warning!
Is Mexico City safe? A large city is only as safe as the traveller is wise when visiting. As in all large cities you have to be savvy about the areas that you are exploring, you have to be wise and respectful of what you are exploring and you have to exercise caution at all times as a tourist. Personally I did not feel my safety was compromised at any time.
And did I mention the “smiling faces”? They are everywhere in Mexico City. If you give a smile you are sure to get a huge one – right back at you – in return. One of the city’s greatest assets, and there are so many, is its warm and friendly people.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Mexico City in so many ways – the culture, the history, the smells, the flavours… and did I mention the smiling faces?
Would I recommend a visit to Mexico City? Absolutely!