Before I spent a month in Mexico my knowledge of the country was very limited. Like many college students before me I spent some nights getting drunk in Tijuana. I remember watching a lot of westerns that seemed to fill my mind with the idea that every corner in Mexico was occupied by a dusty cantina with mean hombres just waiting for a fight. I had also seen lucha libre Mexican wrestling on TV a few times. Besides that, Cancun had long been a party destination for Americans. Both my high school and my college mascots were the Aztecs but I only had a vague notion of where they were from. Mexican food has heavily featured in my diet since I moved to Southern California when I was ten years old. When I spent a year in Southeast Asia one of the things I missed was Mexican food. I came away from my month in Mexico impressed by the history, culture and beauty of the country.
I started off my time in Mexico in the capital, Mexico City. I spent 8 days as a tourist in the city. I visited superb museums. I saw the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Templo Mayor. I went to my first live lucha libre Mexican wrestling match. I saw the National Palace in the Zocalo. I went to the zoo and was surprised that a free zoo could be so big and filled with so many different animals. I also found out that Mexico City was built on top of a lake and that because of this it is sinking! I went clubbing in the trendy Condesa neighborhood. I saw Mexican Hairless Dogs for the first time. I also experienced my first shots of Mezcal. I visited one of the most sacred places in Catholicism, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mexico City is a fascinating place with a lot to see and do. I could have easily spent 2-3 weeks exploring it. The city is hectic and crowded and I was glad that my next destination was Oaxaca.
If you only had one day to spend in Mexico City then a great place to spend it would be in the Zocalo, or main plaza. The Zocalo is at the heart of Mexico City. It would be easy to spend an entire day with just the sights on offer here, but I would allow at least a half day at the minimum.
View of National Palace & the Zocalo from above
The three main sights to take in here are the National Palace, Metropolitan Cathedral and the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. Depending on your pace and inclination each of these sites can be visited in one half hour to 2.5 hours for the detail-oriented visit. I personally spent a half-hour at the Cathedral, one hour at the Palace and about 2 hours at the Aztec ruins. Continue reading →
As I’m traveling I often come across things that surprise me. My usual response to these instances can usually be summed up as “huh, I did not know that.” So in honor of these times when I actually do some learnin’, I present the first series here on WHDIGH, “I Did Not Know That“.
While I was in Mexico City basically almost everything that I experienced could fall under “I did not know that.” I was clueless as to most of what Mexico City was about or had to offer. In fact, I almost skipped the capital of the country until a price for a flight came along that was too good to pass up.
As I began researching the city before my departure I became increasingly excited about going. The amount of museums alone could occupy your time for weeks! As an American all I had heard about Mexico City previously was the amount of pollution and the massive population. So, all in all, I guess I wasn’t that hard to surprise.
I did not know that almost the entirety of the city was built on top of a lake. Mexico City started out as an island and was expanded by the Aztecs and all of the following rulers until nearly all of the lake was drained! There only remains a sliver of the lake that once filled up most of the valley.
The Aztec city of Tenochtitlan before further expansion and draining of the lake
the center of Tenochtitlan likely looked something like this
While I was in Mexico City I stayed in 2 different places. My first night in Mexico City I had the minor misfortune of staying in a disgusting room in a cheap hotel near the historic center. The following 8 nights I stayed at the Amigo Suites Hostel. During the 8 nights I stayed in a 3 bed dorm room and also a 4 bed dorm room, both with ensuite bathroom. The rooms were simple and somewhat small, but were adequate considering the other features of the hostel.
The rooms were always clean, as was the entire hostel. I found the rooms to be slightly cramped, but not ridiculously so. I think if I could only change one thing about the rooms it would be the mattresses. The mattresses were of average quality for a hostel and slightly thin for a good night’s rest. The showers always had plenty of hot water and good water pressure. The bathrooms were clean and everything functioned properly for the duration of my stay.
The hostel also featured a spacious rooftop terrace/bar which also doubled as the dining area. Off of the dining area were two computers with free internet usage. Along with the computers the hostel provided free, reliable, and strong WIFI Internet access with the password posted on the wall of each floor. Interestingly, the hostel also contained a vending machine stocked with snacks, water, condoms and cold beer. I’d never seen beer in a vending machine before, but I suspect this may not be the last time. The price for the room included a good quality breakfast from 8am-10am and also a sufficient dinner from 6:30ish to 8pm. If I had a choice I would have rather had a reduced room price instead of the included dinners. The food for the dinners was always fair, if not completely desirable.
Walking through Teotihuacan is an impressive experience, but one can only imagine what it was like over a thousand years ago. The sheer magnitude of the pyramids is awesome, but the use of mathematics and astronomy in the planning is also quite fascinating. Many people associate the pyramids with the Aztecs, but they were actually built before the arrival of the Aztecs and abandoned by their creators. How could you leave something so magnificent? Then again, every empire eventually crumbles.
Thanks to a suggestion from The Globetrotter Girls website, on Tuesday I made the 45 minute long Metro and Light Rail journey from the Centro Historico to the southern area of Mexico City. The purpose of this journey was to see art from Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The artwork presented did not disappoint. I was especially impressed by Frida Kahlo’s pieces. I was honestly unfamiliar with her art and was duly impressed. What further impressed me was the garden of the museum. The gardens made for a pleasant stroll between the exhibit buildings. Accompanying me on these strolls were what must have been dozens and dozens of peacocks throughout the grounds. In addition to the peacocks there were also about 10 Mexican Hairless Dogs. I’d never seen dogs quite like these before.