With over 1700 colonias, or neighborhoods, the sprawling Mexico City – the most populous city in North America – can feel overwhelming to a first-time traveler. With what might be called a laissez-faire driving culture and an incredibly busy public transport system, Mexico City is a difficult place to approach without plans already in place. But beyond the chaos, this colorful, effervescent city – with a dynamic contemporary art scene and a dash of boho cool – has much to offer travelers willing to seek out their own adventures. Mexico City rewards the brave: and rewards are in abundance here. From funky-cum-elegant districts like Condesa and Roma to the leafy boulevards of Polanco, where the city’s most discerning diners feast on the offerings of restaurants like Astrid & Gastón and the Franco-Mexican Ivoire, Mexico City is far more than its seedy reputation.
We here at Never Fly Coach Again have narrowed down the options: offering travelers willing to track down those hidden gems a glimpse into the best that Mexico City has to offer.
Have a History Lunch in Coyoacán
Coyoacán is one of the best places in Mexico City to experience authentic Mexican culture as it must have been in the days of Frida Kahlo. Indeed, Kahlo, her longtime lover and partner Diego Rivera, and their political hero Leon Trotsky himself all frequented the restaurant La Guadalupana which is no more a tourist attraction than it was in the 1920’s. Nearby, the unprepossessing El Venadito serves up the city’s best carnitas tacos, while the city’s oldest restaurant, Hosteria de Santo Domingo, manages to withstand the regular onslaught of tourists, maintaining its old-school feel. Try the speciality dish: chiles en nogada, a savory-sweet dish that melds the heat of chili peppers with walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Get Your Taste Buds Used to Mezcal
Everyone’s heard of tequila – that Mexican drink that’s become synonymous with frat parties and reeling nights out. But fewer people have heard of mezcal, the smoky liquer made from the distillation of the maguey plant, a variety of agave. Mexico City is one of the best places in the world to sample this distinctive liquor. Try the rooftop bar at Condesa df, known for the pulchritude of its clientele, or for nearby Mama Rumba well as for its hip-shaking Cuban groove. One of the best places to go for a Mezcal tasting is La Clandestina, whose menu offers over 40 varieties of the beverage – waiters are on hand to help you make sense of the veritable index on off. And, for more information, head along to the Museo del Tequila y el Mescal – it’s open until midnight, so you can supplement your theoretical learning with some practical, hands-on assessment at the museum’s restaurant.
Head Out to Ixtapan de la Sal
The Hamptons of Mexico City, the colonial-era town of Ixtapan de la Sal is a popular getaway for Mexico City locals in search of a great escape for a day or two. Famous for its thermal baths, Ixtapan de la Sal is an ideal spa town. Bathe in one of its two rivers, or take a dunk in the carbonated “Green Lake”, in reality a volcanic spring. Or choose a more luxurious option: several of the city’s hotels offer thermal spas, saunas, and other offerings befitting a refreshing getaway. Of these, the most famous – and grandiose – is the Hotel Ixtapan Spa and Golf Resort, which dates back to the 1940’s, and which offers massage, mud wraps, and reflexology in addition to its thermal baths.
Shop Until You Drop at the Bazar del Sábado
Interested in bringing home a souvenir – or ten? The Bazar del Sábado may not be the best place to find some high-end luxury fashion, but it’s the perfect place o haggle down the price of local handicrafts, such as jewelry or baskets, and talk to local artists. From box shrines – devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe – to embroided blankets, the pieces on offer here represent the range of colors and textures Mexico City is known for. Be sure to check out the flower market next door.
Go On a Pilgrimage
Whether or not you are religious, you can’t visit Mexico City without visiting La Villa de Guadalupe, the holiest Catholic site in all of Latin America. Located at the site where Juan Diego – the world’s first indigenous American saint – witnessed an apparation of the Virgin Mary )(the titular Lady of Guadalupe), the site today is a melting pot of Catholic tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. From the gorgeous frescos of the complex’s older churches to the sheer size and grandeur of the new, “La Villa,” as the locals call it, reveals Mexico’s Catholic traditions at their best.