Hideaway Report graphic designer Kelly Cavener spent six days in Mexico City immersing himself in everything this vibrant metropolis has to offer. He took in art and architecture, museums and mole and came away wanting to return immediately. “There’s just so much to do!” he says. Not surprising for the most populous city in North America.
Overall impressions: Every day of my visit was mesmerizing. Because of its six layers of civilization — Olmec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Aztec and Spanish — and its booming economy, I found it to be a feast of culture. Mexico City is bedecked with skyscrapers in one direction and Mission-style neighborhoods in the other. It has festive parks peppered with street vendors, a fashionable population, robust art museums, plus a balance of inspiring ancient and contemporary architecture.
Favorite moment: Standing atop the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest building at the ancient city of Teotihuacan. I felt transported back a thousand years imagining the throngs of inhabitants, dynamic rulers and elaborate, barbaric ceremonies (see “Day trip” below).
You can’t stop thinking about: The best mole I have ever tasted. Directed by my supremely helpful concierge at Four Seasons Mexico City, I spent one morning shopping at El Bazaar Sábado in the San Angel district then headed for lunch at San Angel Inn situated in a former Carmelite monastery. After a starter of tortilla soup topped with fried pork rinds, crackled chipotle peppers, queso fresco and sliced avocado, I ordered the restaurant’s legendary mole. Poured over roasted chicken and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, the nearly black, glistening sauce was a journey in and of itself — hints of raisin, smoky cumin, bitter chocolate, pungent chipotle and warm cinnamon.
Favorite sightseeing: Chapultepec Park, which at 1,695 acres, is twice the size of New York’s Central Park and one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. It is said to have a strong enough ecosystem to replenish oxygen for the entire valley of Mexico. In the two days I dedicated to strolling through this forest in a city, I enjoyed many museums located within it: the vast ancient collections at the National Museum of Anthropology, the eclectic works at the Museum of Modern Art and the bold curiosities at the Museum Tamayo. I especially enjoyed sitting lakeside in the shade, eating a freshly made tlayuda (a crispy tortilla spread with frijoles, sliced prickly pear, tomatoes, fresh cheese and spicy salsa), while I watched people kayak on the lake.
What to drink where: Indulge in a potent cocktail at Blanca Colima in the Roma Norte neighborhood. This stylish restaurant-bar offers a high-end menu and extensive list of cocktails. And while the live music can be a barrier to conversation, the rich, contemporary fare is quite satisfying.
Neighborhood to explore: I spent a refreshing morning exploring the zócalo, officially called the Plaza de la Constitución, which has been the main plaza in Mexico City since the time of the Aztecs. Allow yourself a few hours to stroll around the quarter-mile-wide center as well as see the sites along its borders: the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace (containing several magnificent Diego Rivera murals) and the Templo Mayor Museum. As I explored the cathedral, I was lucky enough to hear the grand pipe organ accompanying morning Mass.
Day trip: Teotihuacan, the most architecturally significant series of pyramids in North America, is 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, so the shuttle from downtown to the site takes about 45 minutes, if timed to avoid the city’s infamous rush-hour traffic (otherwise it can take twice as long).
Giant pyramids border the Avenue of the Dead, a 2-mile-long, 300-foot-wide mall. Scale the 248 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest of the pyramids and notice how it and the Pyramid of the Moon (at the north end) were designed to perfectly mimic the silhouette of the Sierra Madre Occidental and Oriental mountain ranges just beyond. Breathtaking!
Because Teotihuacan is the most visited archeological site in Mexico (an average of 4 million people a year), I recommend choosing the bicycle option when booking to avoid confinement on a packed tour bus. On a bike, you are guided through beautiful surrounding areas before and after the foot tour of the massive pyramid complex and will see additional local sites and galleries.
After our tour of the pyramids, we joyfully cycled back on cobbled paths past brightly painted homes, an obsidian gallery, piles of prickly pear cactus and flocks of native birds. Stopping in the Atetelco neighborhood, we sampled pulque (a tart alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the maguey agave plant) and warm corn tortillas filled with squash blossoms and cheese.
Surprising fact or tidbit: I love that in 2016, in an effort to turn “gray to green,” Mexico City planted beautiful vertical gardens on 1,000 pillars of busy motorways through a privately funded effort called Via Verde.
Souvenir: Beautifully woven scarves from the indoor El Bazaar Sábado, at Plaza de San Jacinto, where the city’s best handmade jewelry, art, textiles, woodwork and ceramics are sold.
What to pack: A light, waterproof jacket will protect you from the summer rain showers each afternoon.
Insider tip: Soon after you arrive at your hotel, set an appointment with the concierge to review your itinerary; he or she will have insight into possible scheduling conflicts, methods to shorten wait times as well as the leverage to get last-minute restaurant reservations. Also, tour the pyramids on a Monday since most museums are closed that day.