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Report 1067: Five Days in Mexico City
By janie&geoff from Canada, Summer 2006
Trip Description: Mixing business with pleasure, we found Mexico City and surrounding areas to be full of wonderful history, art and good food.
Destinations: Countries - North America; Regions/Cities - Mexico
Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Art Trip; Day Tours; Independent Travel; 2 People
Page 1 of 7: Arriving in Mexico City
My husband went to Mexico City in June on business and travel slut that I am, I tagged along for the free hotel room. This was my second trip there. Two years ago when we first went, with Mexico City’s reputation for pollution, crime and overpopulation, I did not expect much. Instead I discovered that there is a lot to see and the city to be an intriguing mix of cultures and full of history. I loved the experience!
For example, Mexico City itself is built on the site of the old Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, destroyed by the Spaniards back in the 1500’s. The Museo Nacional del Antropologia is absolutely world class, with artifacts dating back through 3,000 years of Mesoamerican history: Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec, Mexica, Mayan and much more. There are the murals of Diego Rivera and paintings by Frida Kahlo in several museums, and only an hour or two away from the city are the ruins of Tula and Teotihuacán with Aztec pyramids. The post-Aztec architecture in the city includes flamboyant 16th century Spanish colonial cathedrals and mansions. There are very good restaurants with prices that we felt were very reasonable for the quality. Wherever we travel, we try to sample the local cuisine although we did stop short of trying the Mexican delicacy of fried manguey (grub worms).
First of all, be warned that this trip report will contain a lot about historical sites and not a lot about restaurants or shopping. For me the perfect day is spent touring ancient ruins or a museum and tired friends will tell you that they OD on history and culture about three days before I’m ready to give up and go shopping instead. On this trip I was determined to get to the oldest and most historic places possible, plus to see works by Mexican artists.
ARRIVING IN MEXICO CITY
Mexicana Airlines is great! OK, most airlines are great when you usually fly United or Air Canada. We took a direct flight from Vancouver to Mexico City on a spanking new Airbus 319 which was immaculately clean. Being an international flight, there was food! It wasn’t great food however compared to the slop you get these days on flights, I was almost giddy when I could actually identify that it was chicken in the tray. A movie and a few Sudoku puzzles later, we landed in Mexico City.
Named after one of the heroes of Mexican independence, Benito Juarez International Airport is at an altitude of 7300 feet (so your ears don’t pop as badly when you land) and is one of the busiest in Central America. The customs officers are the friendliest I’ve ever encountered and make it clear that business travelers are welcome. Geoff went in on a business traveler visa and I went in on a tourist visa, using forms we filled in on the airplane, and were whisked through with a very cheerful “Welcome to Mexico.” The airport has recently been renovated and is filled with very nice gift stores, news stands, eateries and duty free stores selling more varieties of tequila than you ever knew existed, more on tequila later.
At this point, you need to know about one of the most important safety precautions when getting around in Mexico City. The majority of crimes against tourists are to do with taxis. All the guide books tell you never to hail a taxi on the street, and there is no point in tempting fate. Kidnappings, petty theft, being driven around in circles are what you are risking. Kidnapping is usually reserved for wealthy locals but why take the risk? With more than 100,000 taxicabs in the city, it’s hard for the authorities to keep track.
So at the airport, as soon as you exit customs and go out to the arrivals area, there are a couple of official airport taxi kiosks, where you buy a ticket according to the destination zone – there is a big map there so that you can figure it out. Then you wheel your luggage across shiny marble floors to Gate 10 and hand over your ticket to the attendant, who is wearing ID, and who will give your ticket to a yellow-and-white airport taxi driver.
As soon as you exit the airport, you are in the city. At one time the airport was on the outskirts of the city, as airports usually are, but Mexico City has grown so much it has spread out to surround the airport. So right away, you see low rise apartment buildings, sidewalk markets, schools, stores, and you are in the middle of city traffic. Mexico City is kind of like Washington DC in that it is its own District, the Distrito Federal, rather than being in a state. Sometimes the city is simply called “D.F.” by the locals.
Our hotel, the Hotel Calinda Geneve, is in the Zona Rosa. The hotel was recommended to us by the sister of a colleague who lived there and that’s where we’ve stayed every single time. It’s got a faded elegance, built in 1906, the oldest hotel in Mexico City. Double room for $70 – 90 per night and the convenience of a Sanborn’s in the lobby. Sanborn is a drugstore that sells everything including books, their own line of chocolates, bottled water (very handy) and there seems to be one on every block. There is wireless Internet, around $15 per day.
The Zona Rosa used to be a very classy area and frequented by socialites, writers and artists, hence the original reason for the name; they all lived in a rosy little world. The term however, has come to mean a red light district in other Mexican cities. The Zona Rosa is a bit shabby now compared to the newer Polanco and Condesa districts, but it’s still one of the most popular tourist areas with lots of restaurants, shops, hotels. The Mercado Insurgentes, full of pottery, jewelry, traditional embroidered clothing and lots more, is just down the street from the hotel.
The “touristic” areas such as Polanco, Condesa and Zona Rosa are heavily patrolled by the tourist police (who all speak English) as well as plain clothes security (wearing earpieces) and therefore quite safe for wandering about in the evenings. Just take the normal precautions and avoid dark alleys or flashing money about. My husband’s business partner chose to stay in the Zona Rosa at our hotel because he brought his two college-age daughters with him (they are from Yucatan), and felt that this was a safe area for them. “Yes,” chimed in one of his daughters. “And because this is the gay area of Mexico City he thinks we are definitely safe from the men here.”
We checked into the hotel, confirmed that our favorite taxi driver was on duty the next day, and went to our room looking forward to our holiday, which would consist of Geoff doing some business and a couple of days on our own to wander around. But we were hungry, so decided to find a place for a light supper. The hotel is near the intersection of Londres and Geneve Streets, so we found a restaurant with patio dining and live music right there on the corner, serving traditional Mexican food. A platter of tortilla chips and two types of salsas came with the table setting, and soon we were munching our way through fajitas and burritos. Geoff loves a good beer and Coronas are a staple, so he was happy. I was really happy to discover that a “limonada” there is made with the local small limes, like a key lime, rather than with lemons, because I love the fragrance of lime. This was my standard drink while in Mexico City.
This was also the start of the soccer World Cup, and every restaurant, hotel lobby and bar had a television mounted up somewhere. In the same way that it’s implicit in the Canadian constitution that citizens must have free access to playoff hockey, in soccer-crazy Mexico, it’s just a given that one’s World Cup viewing won’t be interrupted by anything so trivial as going out for a meal or the presidential elections.
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