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Mexico City

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Welcome to Mexico City

Mexico City

Sprawling across a valley encircled by ice-capped volcanoes and mountains, atop an ancient Aztec civilisation, Mexico City is North America's highest city, and one of the worlds most densely populated. With a long and fascinating history that runs from ancient native civilisations through to the invasion of the Conquistadors and subsequent colonial rule, Mexico City has a vast number of fascinating sights and attractions.

In the city centre, constructed out of the stones of the ancient palaces and temples, is the vast open space of the Zocalo - Mexico's city square - said to be the second largest in the world after Moscow's Red Square. At La Merced you'll discover the city's largest and most vibrant market, with a vast array of bizarre and exciting stalls, while the huge expanse of the Bosque de Chapultepec park houses the National Museum of Anthropology, with a fascinating collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts. At Teotihuac visitors will discover one of the most impressive and mysterious archaeological sites in Mexico, constructed by an ancient, and long forgotten culture.

The sprawling capital is a place to both love and hate, with everything you'd anticipate in a large city. It has world-class museums and galleries, a remarkable architectural legacy and elegant buildings, palaces and cathedrals, green open spaces and colonial suburbs, historical ruins, attractive squares, modern skyscrapers and great economic, cultural and political importance. It also has poverty, overcrowding and slums, incredible pollution, traffic congestion, crime, unemployment, and a constant cacophony of people and noise. It is exhilarating, frenetic and fascinating, an unabated reserve of vibrancy and life.

Despite its problems and somewhat bewildering energy Mexico City is a magnet for Mexicans and tourists alike: a modern, cosmopolitan and ever growing city that is attractive in so many ways. Despite its renown for the appalling, throat-rasping levels of pollution, Mexico City's skies often remain remarkably clear, and it does make for incredible sunsets.

Information & Facts


The climate of Mexico varies according to altitude. The low-lying coastal areas are typically tropical, hot and humid, but the weather in Mexico City, which is sited at an altitude of 2,300 metres above sea level, is far more moderate. Mexico City has pleasant summers and mild winters, with an annual average temperature of 64°F (18°C). Seasonal variations in temperature are small, but May is the warmest month of the year, and January the coldest, when night frosts are possible. Mexico City has a high average annual rainfall, most falling in summer, the wettest month being July, and the driest month February.

Eating Out

By far one of the world's most popular, fun and colourful cuisines, fiery Mexican fare is loved by many the world over and is one of the most distinctive styles of food. With plenty of spice and flavours it packs a real punch! What westerners know as 'Mexican food' includes dishes such as Nachos, Burritos, Enchiladasand fajitas, tortillasand tacos,but there is plenty more on offer when dining out in Mexico City. Food varies greatly by region in Mexico and this is largely due to the difference in Spanish influence on the indigenous inhabitants. The north of Mexico is known for its beef, goat and ostrich dishes, the Yucatan for its penchant for unique and natural sweetness, the Oaxacan for its savoury tamales, and the west for its dishes like goat birria(goat in a spicy tomato-based sauce). For an authentic Mexican dining experience, look no further than one of the old converted Haciendas such as Hacienda de los Morales or Antigua Hacienda de Tlalpan on the outskirts of Mexico City, which are actual ranches that have been converted into restaurants. With charming décor, historic architecture and mouth-watering cuisine, these kinds of restaurants attract travellers from far and wide. Street food is perhaps the most ubiquitous type of food in Mexico City where fast food outlets and puestas(street side food vendors) pepper the streets selling all the usual favourites like tacos, burritosand tortasfor a very nice price. However, the central market, LaMerced and the Mercado San Juan Arcos de Belem,are the best places to go to indulge on really good, really cheap Mexican fare. Being in the capital city there are, of course, hundreds of restaurants to choose from where everything from Indian and French to Japanese and Irish cuisine can be enjoyed. Foodies should head for the districts of Polanco, Condesa, Centro, Zona Rosa and Sante Fe to gorge themselves at some of the country's finest restaurants on regional cuisines or just a good old taco. Tipping in restaurants is the norm with 10% of the bill being the standard for most restaurants which is, of course, at your discretion. Lunches are generally long and lazy and much cheaper than dinners. Travellers should note that most restaurants offer a comida corrida(set menu) and this is a great way of getting a good hearty meal at a reasonable price.

Getting Around

The efficient and very cheap public transport system makes Mexico City surprisingly easy to get around; it consists of the metro, buses, trolley buses and minibuses (peseros or colectivos). The metro is the best method of travel, being fast and easy to use (6am to midnight), but buses are also very extensive and reliable, although more complicated for non-Spanish speakers to use. Peseros are smaller, more comfortable and faster than buses, but slightly more expensive, and can be stopped anywhere along their set routes. All forms of public transport are heavily crowded during peak hours and are best avoided at this time. Visitors should also be aware that crime levels are high on all buses and the metro, particularly when crowded; visitors should avoid travel on public transport at night. Different types of taxis are available, but unfortunately there have been increasing incidences involving violent crime on taxi passengers, most involve unauthorised cab drivers or the very cheap, metered VW Beetle taxis; visitors should not hail taxis on the streets. Most hotels have official taxi drivers assigned to them or hotels and restaurants can call radio taxis, both of which are more expensive but far more reliable and safe to use. When taking taxis visitors are advised not to travel with large amounts of cash, credit cards, or visible valuables. Driving in the city is a nightmare and cars should be left in the hotel's secure parking for the duration of stay; renting is expensive and lone drivers are prone to criminal assaults at night.

Spanish is the official language in Mexico. Some English is spoken in tourist regions.

Mexican currency is the New Peso (MXN) divided into 100 centavos. Credit cards are widely accepted, particularly Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Travellers cheques are generally accepted, but cannot be cashed on Sundays. ATMs are available in most cities and towns and are the most convenient way to get money, but for safety reasons they should only be used during business hours. Although most businesses will accept foreign currency it is best to use pesos. Foreign currency can be exchanged at one of many casas de cambio(exchange houses), which have longer hours and offer a quicker service than the banks.


Nightlife options in Mexico City are vast and varied, ranging from piano bars, music lounges and traditional Mexican bars to salsa and jazz clubs or trendy nightclubs. San Angel, Polanco, Condesa and La Zona Rosa are popular nightlife areas in the city, and there are many late night venues that are open till the early hours. There is a weekend entertainment guide in The News, available at local newsagents. Popular bars in Mexico City include both Roma and Rexo in the Condesa district, as well as Cosmo Bar and the Hotel Habita's rooftop bar in Polanco. Shelty is a busy English pub on Avenida Campos Eliseos, and the Black Horse pub in Condesa is also good. Barracuda on Nuevo Leon has great jazz music, while Bar Jorongo and Café Tenampa are renowned Mariachi venues. Some of the best nightclubs in Mexico City include Avant-Garde, Living Room and Mama Rumba, all located in the Roma district. If you're keen to see some authentic Polynesian dancing, head to Mauna Loa on Avenida San Jeronimo. Many of the top hotels in Mexico City offer live entertainment at their in-house discos and lobby bars. It is safest not to walk around alone at night in the city and only official, pre-ordered taxi cabs should be used.


Shopping in Mexico City is a fun and vibrant experience offering authentic local crafts as well as all the major brands and stores one might expect in any major city. The best Mexican souvenirs tend to be Talavera tiles and ceramics, embroidered garments, sterling silver jewellery and accessories, and hand-woven rugs and blankets.

One of the most popular shopping areas in Mexico City is the Centro Historico, home to most of the city's original stores, while La Zona Rosa is also well established and the popular shopping centre Reforma 222 can be found there. Avenida Insurgentes and Avenida Jaurez also offer a wealth of shopping opportunities. Most recently, the La Condesa and Polanco areas have developed as strong retail centres. Centro Santa Fe, in the western part of the city, is the largest shopping centre in Latin America, while the upscale Perisur shopping mall to the south is also a good stop.

There are many markets in the city offering Mexican handicrafts, including the San Juan Market of Mexican Curiosities and the Mercado la Ciudadela in Centro Historico, as well as the Bazar Sabado (Saturday Bazaar) in San Angel. Fonart outlets throughout the city also sell local crafts such as hand-painted crockery and blown glass.

Most shops in Mexico City are open from 9am to 8pm, with smaller shops taking a break between 2pm and 4pm. The 15% VAT charged on goods can be reclaimed at the airport on purchases exceeding 1200 pesos (£48). Traveller must present a completed reimbursement request form, banking information, passport, immigration form (visa, tourist card), plane ticket, purchase receipts and goods purchased.


The culturally colourful and historically fascinating city of Mexico City has plenty to see and do for visitors of all walks of life, making it well worth exploring en route to the resorts, or even a great place for a lively weekend away. Mexico City is also the city with the most museums in the world - sure to appeal to history buffs and art lovers the world over.

With ancient ruins just a stone's throw from the city, tourists will want to visit the Templo Mayor, the principal temple of the Aztecs and part of Tenochtitlán, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Teotihuacan, the site of Mexico's largest ancient city which dates back to around 300 to 600 BC. For a more colonial flavour, visit the beautiful nearby town of Guanajuato, discovered by the Spanish in 1558 for its silver deposits.

Downtown Mexico is a great place to soak up the architecture and atmosphere of the stately buildings, but a visit to Zócalo is also a must, where locals and visitors gather in this square surrounded by historic buildings, while the Plaza Garibaldi-Mariachi is surrounded by cafés and restaurants and a favourite place for tourists. Stroll along the cobbled streets of San Angel where ancient mansions and colonial houses make for amazing photographic opportunities.

Art lovers will enjoy the Palacio de Bellas Artes which features the works of Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, as well as 6,000 other works of art, while one of Mexico City's most popular attractions is undoubtedly the Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City's largest park, covering an enormous area containing lakes, the zoo and several museums, including the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

Bosque de Chapultepec is Mexico City's largest park, covering an enormous area containing lakes, the zoo and several museums, including the Museo Nacional de Antropología. The park attracts thousands of people, especially on weekends when families come to picnic, relax in the woods and visit the museums. The huge National Museum of Anthropology is one of the finest of its kind in the world, housing a fascinating collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts, from the first people in the Americas, to the Teotihuacana Empire, the Aztecs and the Mayans. Highlights include the famous Aztec Sun Stone or Calendar Stone found beneath the Zocalo (main square) in 1790. There are also exhibits illustrating the modern way of life in today's indigenous communities.

In the middle of the city's historic centre is the enormous paved Plaza de la Constitucion, or Zocalo, the second largest city square in the world, and Mexico City's centre of government and religion. The Presidential Palace dominates one side of the square, a magnificent colonial building that was built on the site of the former Aztec Palace, with remarkable interior murals narrating the story of Mexico's history. Dominating an adjacent side of the square is the great Metropolitan Cathedral, displaying a wealth of architectural styles and occupying the site of the once sacred grounds of the Aztec. The ornate interior contains its chief treasure, the King's Chapel and gilded altar. The Cathedral is one of the buildings subsiding into the soft ground on which the city is built and builders are continuously at work to prevent its uneven descent. The square itself is filled with activity, with vendors and buskers, informal traditional Aztec dance performances, family groups, workers on lunch break and passing tourists. It is also the place for demonstrations, government rallies and protest marches, as well as festivals and public holiday events. Every evening the presidential guards, in a show of great ceremony, lower the national flag from the central flagpole. And encircling the square is the continuous buzz of the ubiquitous green Volkswagen taxis.

Guanajuato is considered to be one of Mexico's colonial gems, founded around the rich silver deposits discovered by the Spanish in 1558. It is a city of history, where the cry of rebellion against the Spanish was raised and the struggle for Independence began, a history of wealthy silver barons and oppressed Indian miners. The city has an unusual layout, crammed into a narrow valley, with houses and streets forced into irregular positions due to the naturally hilly topography. Brightly painted higgledy-piggledy houses perch on the slopes, reached by narrow crooked alleyways of cobbled stone; hidden plazas, steep irregular stairways, underground tunnels and thoroughfares lend the city much of its charming character.

Along with its picturesque setting and unusual beauty, Guanajuato has many historical buildings and magnificent architecture, including several churches and museums, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The most narrow, and most visited, alley is the Callejón del Beso (Alley of the Kiss) where the balconies of the leaning houses on either side almost touch each other, a feature in the local romantic legend about furtive lovers exchanging kisses. Cultural events are an important part of the city, which hosts several festivals during the year. Every weekend the famous strolling musicians, or callejoneadas, in traditional dress, lead processions through the narrow winding alleyways, strumming, singing and telling stories to the crowds that follow.

Situated at one end of the Alameda Central that was once an ancient market place and is now a large park, is the splendid white marble structure of the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts). A concert hall and an arts centre, it houses some of Mexico's finest murals and the Art Deco interior is worth seeing alone. The Palacio has two museums: the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Museo de la Arquitectura. The art museum's collection includes over 6,000 paintings, sculptures and engravings from ranging from 1650 to 1954 with masterpieces by prominent Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. One of the highlights of the Palacio is the theatre's stained glass stage curtain, which is lit before performances and for public viewing. The Ballet Folklorico performs here every Wednesday and Sunday.

Formerly a separate village, San Angel is one of the more charming of Mexico's suburbs, an exclusive neighbourhood with ancient mansions and colonial houses along cobbled streets. It is famed for its Saturday craft market in the pretty Plaza San Jacinto, which brings colour, crowds and a festive atmosphere to the area, and has excellent art and handicrafts for sale. It is crammed with little restaurants and cafes, offering the city's best dining experiences, albeit expensive. There are several museums of interest, including the Studio Museum of Mexico and its exhibits on famous Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Templo Mayor (Great Temple) was the principal temple of the Aztecs, believed to mark the centre of the universe. It was part of the sacred complex of the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, and today it has been excavated to show the multiple layers of construction, viewed from a raised walkway with explanatory material available. The temple was first built in 1375, and enlarged several times, each rebuilding accompanied by a frenzied bloody sacrifice of captured warriors to rededicate the sacred area. At the centre is a platform on which stands a sacrificial stone in front of the shrine to the tribal god, Huizilopochtli. Within the site is the excellent Museo del Templo Mayor, a museum displaying artefacts from the original site and providing an overview of Aztec civilisation. The most important display is the first artefact to be discovered on the site, the great wheel-like stone carving of the Aztec goddess of the moon, Coyilxauhqui.

Situated 31 miles (50km) from Mexico City, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Teotihuacan is the site of Mexico's largest ancient city, constructed by a long forgotten culture, and dating from around 300-600 BC. It is believed that after thriving for about 2,000 years, a great fire caused the city to be abandoned and the Aztecs arrived in the region to find a forsaken city. Recognising signs of its previous magnificence they named it what it is today, Teotihuacan, 'place of the gods'.

The central thoroughfare of Teotihuacan is the Avenue of the Dead, a 1.3-mile (2km) stretch lined with the palaces of the elite and connecting the three main site areas, the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon and the Citadel. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world, a huge red painted structure built over a cave, found to contain religious artefacts relating to sun worship. From the top of the stairs the views over the ruins are fantastic. The more graceful Pyramid of the Moon is situated at one end of the Avenue with an altar in the plaza believed to have been used for religious dancing. The Citadel at the other end of the Avenue is a large square complex that was the residence of the city's ruler. Within the walls is its main feature, the Templo de Quetzalcoatl, are some striking serpent carvings. The Tepantitla Palace holds Teotihuacan's most famous fresco, the faded 'Paradise of Tlaloc'. There is a museum housing excellent displays of the city's artefacts, models and explanatory diagrams of the site.

The Zona Rosa (Pink Zone) is the city's major dining, nightlife and shopping district. It is a compact area, a dense knot of streets crammed with bars, shops, boutiques, restaurants and hotels. The streets are all named for famous cities such as Londres and Hamburgo and the best activity here is to people watch from a chic sidewalk café, as the endless stream of tourists and a mixture of the city's purposeful middle classes pass by. It is where the symbol of Mexico City stands, a gilded statue of Winged Victory, the Independence Monument.

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