Although I am usually more wowed by the breath-taking scenery that Mexico has to offer, in all of the bustle and traffic, there are some, not so hidden, city gems that have really stuck in my memory as amazing places to visit. And seeing as direct flights from the UK usually land in the Benito Juárez International Airport here, why not take a look around…
Museo Nacional de Antropología
Their collection of artefacts spanning the development of different civilisations, be that Aztec, Mayan or Olmec just to name a few, is divided across 23 permanent exhibit halls. If you wanted to look at every piece and read each plaque it would take days to get around. I would recommend having a fairly sweeping walk through the indoor exhibits, taking note of the information plaque for the overall region, and heading to the gardens, where you can find some recreations of relics tucked away amongst the plants. Also, if you have a Mexican university credential, entry is free! Whilst here, I would recommend also visiting the Bosque de Chapultapec right opposite, for a retreat to nature. There are plenty of attractions such as a castle, botanical garden and zoo, however we chose to take peddle boats on the lake.
Slightly further out of the city is Xochimilco. This network of intersecting rivers has become a Venice of its kind, as the waters are filled with the most colourful, if slightly haphazard, barges. In a small group it’s not inexpensive to rent a boat privately, and each boat is priced the same – the seller should wear a government identity card. Don’t worry about bringing any food or drink with you, as once you’re on your way you’ll soon be greeted by waiters who will leap on to your boat to offer refreshments, and soon enough bound back over with a tablecloth, quesadillas, drinks and sides, all freshly prepared on a neighbouring boat. You’ll then be passed by a number of mariachi boats, which will offer to play to your liking, although you would have to pay them for this, along with boats selling clothes and gifts. There will be a number of boats selling flower headbands, and it is customary for men to by them for women, although I think that my friends actually bought them for us because they wanted to try them themselves. You can chose tours of different lengths to visit different parts of the channel network, but we just chose a route that was roughly 2 hours there and back, and during this had the opportunity to stop off at a small petting farm and a replica of the island of the dead dolls, although we politely declined the very kind offer to visit (its legend can be found here http://www.isladelasmunecas.com/). Some visitors will choose to make a party of the occasion and bring their own music, however we found it more immersive to just sit back and take in the unique bubbles of activity that passed us by. I returned to Xochimilco for an evening tour, which lead us to a floating stage for a performance of ‘La Llorona’ (the wailing woman) as part of the Day of the Dead Celebrations. The atmosphere was markedly different in this night-time low-lit tour, and the ending of the show was breath taking as the wailing woman all dressed in white appeared to float over the murky water and then suddenly disappeared on to her back as the lights went out. However, the showmanship was slightly overshadowed by the realisation that our boat was taking on water. Luckily, we had a woman onboard who gallantly downed the rest of her michelada (typical Mexican drink) and started bailing the water whilst still watching the performance – a hero to us all.
North-east of the city, you can transport yourself to another time and visit a vast expanse of what remains of this ancient Mesoamerican city. There are often a number of options to get there and back such as bus transfers and coach tours, however you can often arrange with your hotel or hostel host to order you a taxi for a fixed, and really not expensive, price for the return journey and your driver will just wait in the car for however long you would like. It is the most impressive archaeological site I have ever visited, and its walkable route connects the temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Sun and Moon Pyramids. I would recommend going early in the morning or late afternoon as the site has almost no shade and can become gruelling in the heat. Whatever the weather, any visit is worth it for the views.