Wednesday, 27 January 2010

My favourite places in Mexico City

I was born and raised in Mexico City, but that doesn't mean it has become foreign to me. For the last 35 years Mexico City has been my most visited city. Not only most of my immediate family lives there and many of the federal conservation agencies I work with have their main offices there. Thus I've become a frequent traveller that exploits many of the places that Mexico City dwellers never go to because they "lack the time."

Beside the Colonia Condesa, which has become a restaurant paradaise if you are a visitor, and parking hell if you are a resident, Mexico City has many other things to offer. Nothing else can be expected from a metropolitan area with more than 25 million inhabitants. My favourites are the Zócalo-Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace) corridor, Xochimilco's produce market, and downtown Coyoacán.

Zócalo-Bellas Artes was cleared of street vendors and is slowly becoming a pedestrian-only area. The area is full of museums, restaurants, second hand book shops, and series of specialty stores. Not long ago comparative shopping was done moving from one store to the next within a block, and coming back to the best deal. At the corner of Madero and Bolivar is the Museo del estanquillo (, sorry no English language page), where Carlos Monsivaís, one of the sharpest and wittiest living critics of life in Mexico City, displays his private collections. The museum is free, and collections change throughout the year. The view from the rooftop, although not spectacular, lets you appreciate the architectural richness of the area.

Xochimilco, Mexico's floating gardens, is, as many other areas within Mexico City, an old Nahuatl (Aztec) town that is now surrounded by the megalopolis. The chinampas, artificial hand made islets, are used for growing produce and world famous flowers. A trip through the channels in a trajinera is a must for couples and international visitors. Not far from the channels is Xochimilco's produce market, filled with flowers, vegetables and many other delectable foods grown and raised in the area, many of these are offered in small restaurants within the market. Dolores Olmedo, a former patron of the Mexican arts lived in Xochimilco, her mansion is now a musuem where her private art collection, including the furniture, can be seen.

Coyoacán, another old Nahuatl town that Cortez made his hometown, is located in between Zócalo and Xochimilco. Downtown Coyoacán is "the place" for a weekend stroll of the families from the upper echelon of the middle class. Cortez palace is now the local government's main office. The local craft sellers, that used up most of one of the plazas have been moved to their very own market. Coyoacán offers not only crafts, the vary famous "La Siberia" nieves (natural fruit sherberts and ice creams) and a walk along an old Mexican town, but also many coffee shops and cyber-cafes, local museums and restaurants of all kinds. My favourite is Los Danzantes ( where traditional Mexican food is given a new look and flavour. Chapulines (roasted crickets) are an excellent plate to start your meal. Neither my friends nor I have had to return or complain about a dish.The restaurant has probably the best collection of Mexican wines, many of them worth trying. Any of the servers can help you choose the right one for your meal or your curiosity. Wines come from either Querétaro, Parras, Zacatecas, or Ensenada. Each of these areas provides basic flavour, a combination of the soil and the grape variety.

Visiting Mexico City is only a glimpse of the richness of a country characterized by its cultural and biological richness, and its stark contrast between social classes. Nonetheless, a visit will only make you wish for more time there.

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