Vast Mexico City is a metropolis of epic proportions, a densely populated valley of broad, shady boulevards, vast and crowded markets, skyscraper-studded business districts, and quiet Spanish Colonial neighborhoods. Though this maze can seem intimidating to the uninitiated, this is one of the world’s great cities, a cultural milieu of world-class museums, artistic traditions, and tasty street cuisine that must be experienced to be believed. Step right into the busy streets and begin your exploration.
While some travelers will be able to walk right into busy Mexico City’s dynamic daily life without introduction, others may find it easier to begin with a guided tour. Either way, begin in the museum- and monument-packed city center, where there’s always something interesting on. Other destinations within this urban sprawl could be day trips on their own: the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan, the massive and mysterious City of the Gods that awed even the Aztecs; the Hanging Gardens of Xochimilco, accessible only by boat; and Chapultepec Park, with a week’s worth of attractions on its own. Mexico City also makes a convenient, comfortable base for excursions around central Mexico.
Day 1: Getting to Know El Centro
Though the city sprawls, most destinations are clustered in the old Aztec city center, once known as Tenochtitlán. Today, what was once a pyramid-topped island in Lake Texcoco is the federal capital of Mexico, centered on one of the world’s largest squares, now called the Zócalo. Today, this plaza is landlocked, but the ancient urbanization still surrounded by some of the country’s finest buildings. The Templo Mayor (Great Temple), once the Aztec’s most important religious center, remains somewhat intact. Most indigenous buildings were replaced by marvels of Spanish architecture centuries ago, however, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace. An excellent metro system links the Zócalo to other historical sites, including Chapultepec Park and the Frida Kahlo Museum, though those pressed for time could book a tour.
Day 2: Around Mexico City
If you hit the city’s
highlights yesterday, perhaps with a guide who explained a bit about
local culture and getting around town, you could return to the
fascinating city center or Chapultepec Park for more in-depth
exploration. But there’s much more to see in the far corners of this
urban jungle. Don’t miss the ancient city of Teotihuacán, 40 kilometers
(25 miles) north of the city, where solemn rows of sacred step pyramids
were built long before the Aztecs arrived, around 300 AD, by
little-understood, but remarkably advanced culture. Or, head to the
southern border of the city’s sprawl, where the Hanging Gardens of
Xochimilico line the islands and canals through the last remnants Lake
Texcoco, which once covered most of modern Mexico City. Either way,
spend the evening experiencing one of Mexico City’s most famous
spectacles, Ballet Folklorico at the marvelous Palace of Fine Arts.
Day 3: Day Trips from Mexico City
Mexico City offers attractions enough – world-class museums, bohemian
neighborhoods, sporting events, and some of the best nightlife in the
hemisphere - to keep a visitor busy for months, you may find yourself
wanting a few hours (or days) of relief from the honking horns and
inescapable crush of sidewalk vendors. Happily, Mexico City is
convenient to several fabulous destinations. Quiet Cuernavaca, a posh
little resort town in the mountains above the big city, has been a
favorite escape for generations of upper-crust Mexicans. Or head further
out into wild Mexico, to beautiful, isolated Taxco, most famous for its
handcrafted silver jewelry, but also home to a gorgeous church and
wonderful hiking trails.