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A week-end in Mexico City

One month after my arrival in Monterrey I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City for few days. I didn’t really expect to travel so rapidly but the “voyage” always leads you to experiences that you didn’t plan.

So let’s go to DF! Understand here Distrito Federal, even if the nomination recently changed and that we have to call it CDMX for Ciudad de México from now. Just to give you an overview of Mexico City, this is one the 20th biggest city in the world with 8,918,653 inhabitants. As point of comparison, the first one is Shanghai with 23 019 148 inhabitants. At the opposite, Sydney counts 4 676 118 people.

The metropolitan is extremely wide and the road network saturated. There’s a subway but which is always crowded during rush-hours and I am not talking about the Parisian crowd. In the Mexican capital, everything is on a larger scale. A lot of people have to take their car and we sometimes need 2 or 3 hours to cross the city from a point to another. This is why usually the inhabitants of the capital live besides their workplace.

The city is divided into the main touristic following “colonias” or areas:

  • El Centro historico: around the central place of the Zocalo with the historic buildings and the Presidential residence.

  • Alameda central: at few meters from the historic center and quieter; it shelters the Palacio Bellas Artes, an amazing mouthpiece of Art Deco.

  • La Roma: known for its big green spaces, its quietness and its cultural activities.

  • La Condesa: residential neighborhood of the middle class, really young and animated at night.

  • Reforma: the business center which had been inspired by the Avenue of Champs Elysées in Paris (roundabout with the Monument of the Independence and the “Angél” on its top).

  • Bosque de Chapultepec: huge green area where we find important museums such as the National Museum of Anthropology.

  • Polanco: one of the richest neighborhood of Mexico City, really modern, and where mainly foreigners live, especially European; the French Embassy is located there, but a lot of others embassies also.

  • Coyoacan: colonial area in the south of the city, known for its Casa Azul which was the house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

  • San Angél: a small and traditional neighborhood with colonial houses really well preserved and maintained, which seems to be out of the time, where we find the upper Mexican class.

I first stayed in the City Express Patio Universidad because the hotel was besides the family house of my Mexican friend with whom I was travelling. But then we moved to “el Angél” in the Reforma for the experience.

But what did I do for 3 days? Museum of Anthropology, Reforma, hanging out with a Mexican and a Swedish friend, making endless walking through the city (a crucial need for a Parisian after the streets of Monterrey without any sidewalks!), discovering the story of Mexico in front of the Monument of the Independence, being part of two Mexican familiar dinners, making cultural mistakes and of course getting sloshed with Tequila in a club: this is how you make your baptism of Mexico City!

It was my first trip in the Mexican capital and it was one year ago. To be honest I didn’t have any particular expectations. I was going there, “virgin” of everything, even not knowing or planning what I will discover.

Mexico City offers you different faces according to the area where you are. I remember that I particularly appreciated the neighborhood of San Angél with its traditional houses, its cobblestone streets and its Bazar del Sabado where artists are used to paint on the Sunday. Everything would have been perfect if I didn’t have heard the improper comments about Mexicans from French tourists in a restaurant. It is pretty common in the world to hear that French are “closed”, not welcoming, not open, complainers and disagreeable. But the sad truth is that I observed it a lot through my different trips. To take a bit the defense of my country I also observed a lot that French actions are misunderstood or misinterpreted. A simple example: a Mexican told me one time that French were indifferent because they didn’t ask that much questions about people; what he was taking as a lack of curiosity is actually a respectful reserve! Indeed, French simply don’t dare to ask personal questions because it is considered as a lack of manners, and a French will always feel uncomfortable when someone will ask him personal questions. But in Mexico, this is the entire contrary!

After our lunch in San Angél, we went with my Mexican and his Swedish friend to the Museum of Anthropology. This is one of the most impressive museums that I had ever seen. You would probably need more than one day to visit it entirely. For sure I will go back there. It explains the origin of man, the different pre-Columbian civilizations (Mayas, Incans, and Aztecs) before the arrival of Spanish in 1519 and the conversion to the Christianity. It’s simply a masterpiece of Mexican history. I definitely recommend it.

From the museum you can reach Reforma, this famous avenue (14.7 km) in the business center of Mexico City. What is quite interesting, it’s the difference of architecture through the city. When we had traditional houses in San Angél, the business center is mainly composed of huge buildings, impressive towers such as the ones that are in the US. Impossible to miss the Estela de la Luz (Pillar of Light), a monument built in 2011 to commemorate the bicentenary of Mexico’s Independence from Spain. The design has the particularity to use quartz and electric lighting which is supposed to represent the combination between Mexico’s past and future. This tower has been criticized a lot for exceeding the estimated cost (by almost 3 times…) and also because it had to be reinforce against earthquakes.

Other famous monuments of Reforma are the Monument to Christopher Columbus, the Angél de la Indepenencia and of course the Mexico Stock Exchange. The Angél de la Independencia is more known by the shortened name “El Angél” (not make confusion with the historical area of San Angél). The victory column was built in 1910 during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz to commemorate the centennial of the beginning of Mexico’s War of Independence. Today it has become a focal point for celebration or protest.

I remember that we sat down in front of this monument and that our Mexican friend started to talk to us about Mexican history: what could be better than visiting Mexico City with a native? I also remembered that at this time we saw different “Quinceañeras” or “15 years old Party”, an old custom where we celebrate the introduction of the young girl to the society. I have a lot of things to say about it, but I reserve a special article for this topic!

At night we had a dinner at La Casa de Toño, a typical Mexican canteen which was recommended by my guide and our Swedish friend, but that didn’t give me a lasting impression. And after resting a bit, direction to the Don Quintin, a club in the Tamaulipas Street in the area of La Condesa! An incredible night, with amazing people, that unfortunately ended pretty badly after I drank too much tequila! Would I confess that my Mexican friend had to carry me in the streets of Mexico City? Anyways, this how I did my baptism of Mexico City!

The day after, I was feeling so bad that I couldn’t go to the pyramids of Teotihuacan outside of the city. It was my punition! Anyways, I went throughout my second trip there! I got a lunch with my Mexican friend and his cousin and I visited the Zocalo, the central place of the capital in the city center, which faces the Cathedral and where we find the Presidential Palace. I also saw by night the wonderful Palacio Postal and the Palacio Bellas Artes, a monument “Art Deco” which was built from 1918 to 1960, and which is dedicated to Fine Arts: ballet, theater, painting, sculpture,…As “el Angél” from Reforma, the initiative was taken by the President Porfirio Diaz.

My trip also gave me the opportunity to have a delicious breakfast at the Coffee place La Habana: the legend says that this is where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara met and planned the Cuban revolution…True or not (but I like thinking that it’s true!) breakfasts are simply huge and excellent (hot cakes, chilaquiles, juices,…). I went quickly to Polanco which is the most modern and richest area of the capital (some people compare it to the Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive). We find a lot of luxury stores and different malls such as the Antara Shopping Center.

Moreover there is a really famous and contemporary building: the Museo Sumaya, designed by the Mexican designer Fernando Romero in 2011. The museum existed since 1994 but a part of the collection had been moved then to the new building, plaza Carso. This is a private museum which is part of the Carlos Slim Foundation (I will talk about it more specifically in new article). The majority of the collection consists in European works from the 15th to the 20th century and Mexican art, religious relics and coins. I didn’t visit it but I will for sure (even if I am not really sensitive to the contemporary architecture of the building)!

I specially recommend to visit the charming neighborhood of Coyoacan, where is located Frida Kahlo’s house. I didn’t have the time to visit it but I went to throughout my second trip and I will for sure talk about it! Besides the house, the area has a particular atmosphere, as if the past was still strongly present here. There’s an air of nostalgia trough these old houses and the central place. This is the first place that I saw when I arrived and my Mexican friend, his cousin and I ran under a torrential rain to the Mercadito to savour delicious quesadillas (tortillas filled with cheese and grilled).

I also recommend to visit the Mercado de la Ciudadela where you can buy different types of Mexican handcrafts at a really good price. The handcraft is unfortunately disappearing (I will dedicate an article to this topic) but you can find good products and gifts ideas there! Just be careful to your bag, wallet, sunglasses, etc…and be patient: the place is a real labyrinth and you may take some time to find the exit!

And if you want to change a bit from the Mexican cooking, the Italian restaurant La Posta en Coyoacan is really good!

Ultimately, Mexico City is really eclectic. Just look at the architecture: modern buildings touch antique houses. Mexico City is full of traffic, pollution and also in a certain measure, insecurity. But Mexico City gives you the feeling of living something surreal. Mexico City literally takes you in its wake, grabs your guts. And the city is so wide that you will always have new things to see and discover.

Now, would you believe me if I tell you that I went to Mexico City with a Mexican that I met 3 weeks before and that this is this same man that I will marry proximately?

I leave you here dear lector. Nos vemos pronto!

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