Located at an altitude of 7,000 feet, Mexico City is a place of extremes. With a metro population of 21 million, it has some of the world’s highest and lowest standards of living. The city’s foundations were laid by the Aztecs in 1325, and today the Museo del Templo Mayor displays the magnificent ruins. The Zócalo in the historic downtown is one of the largest civic squares in the world, surrounded by colonial churches and Aztec pyramids. A slew of excellent museums could fill a traveler’s itinerary for days. Highlights include the Museo Nacional de Antropología and Museo Frida Kahlo. The city’s notorious air pollution has abated, but whether it is aggravating or barely noticeable will depend on the day. Although the city makes for a thoroughly rewarding travel experience, visitors should exercise caution, avoid taxis — Uber provides a safe alternative — and engage the services of a reputable guide.
Art and History Museums
When in Mexico City, I always visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología (Avenida Paseo de la Reforma y Calzada Gandhi), home to startling treasures from the Olmec, Aztec and Mayan civilizations, among others. The Aztec Sun Stone is the most famous object, but be sure to see the colossal stone Olmec heads, the sophisticated ceramics in the “Culturas del Norte” room and the Toltec macaw sculpture, which looks as though it were carved by Picasso. The history museum set in the 18th-century Chapultepec Castle at the highest point of the 1,700-acre Chapultepec Park is worth a stop. On the outskirts of town, I love the Museo Dolores Olmedo (Avenida México 5843), which houses a collection of works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in a 16th-century hacienda.
A Gondola Tour of Xochimilco
The neighborhood of Xochimilco retains a large network of canals that can be explored in a traditional trajinera, a type of large, colorful gondola. This network of artificially made islands bordered by well-stocked nurseries was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Homemade food, drinks and artisanal handicrafts can be purchased from vendors on passing barges, and floating mariachi bands offer to play for a small sum.
Latin America's Largest Urban Park
The Bosque de Chapultepec, in the heart of Mexico City, is the largest urban park in Latin America and almost double the size of New York’s Central Park. Meaning “hill of the grasshopper,” this vast 1,695-acre green expanse is a pleasant place in which to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. The park encompasses nine museums, two amusement parks, a cemetery, lakeside restaurants, a zoo famous for its successful breeding program for pandas and two artificial lakes, where rowboats and paddleboats can be rented by the hour.
The Cultural Heart of Mexico City
The most important cultural center in Mexico is the Palacio de Bellas Artes, located next to Alameda Central park. The grand early-20th-century building is well-known for its murals by Diego Rivera, as well as for exhibitions and theatrical performances, including those by Ballet Folklórico de México. In 1950, the theater saw Maria Callas debut in the title role of Bellini’s opera “Norma.” It has also housed numerous exhibitions of works by Frida Kahlo.