Mexico City

Mexico City is the capital of the Mexico. Also known as the DF (“Distrito Federal”, or Federal District), Mexico City has a long history and a good number of interesting activities for tourists.

Mexico City Demographics

Located at an altitude of 7,350 feet in the Valley of Mexico, Mexico City has a population of just under 9 million and a mild climate that averages between 70 and 80 degrees. Greater Mexico City is home to almost 22 million people, which makes it the world's largest Spanish speaking city.

Mexico City History

Founded in 1325 by the Mexicas people and named Tenochtitlan, it expanded rapidly over the next two centuries, becoming the dominant metropolis in the area. Tenochtitlan reached to both the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico by the time the Spaniards arrived in the early 16th century.

Although the Aztecs and the Spaniards peacefully co-existed initially, Hernan Cortes began a power struggle that culminated on June 30, 1520. Known as “La Noche Triste”, Cortes laid siege to Tenochtitlan, subjecting the residents to a three-month period without sufficient food or water. Much of the population died, both from thirst and starvation, as well as from the smallpox disease that the Spaniards had introduced. When the city surrendered in August that year, Cortes annihilated it.

Monument commemorating the encounter between Moctezuma and Cortes

© Fabioj - Monument at the place of the encounter between Moctezuma and Hernan Cortes, Mexico City

Reconstruction of the city was accomplished by what was essentially slave labor, using the locals in hazardous conditions from which many died. Although the city's basic layout was retained during reconstruction, Catholic churches replaced the Aztec temples and Tenochtitlan was renamed Mexico City since that was easier to pronounce.

Fourteen years later, when the first Spanish viceroy arrived, Mexico City had become a powerful city-state and the capital of New Spain. A palace on one side of the Zocalo, or the town square, housed the vice-king, the archbishop's domicile was on another side of the square, and the city council resided opposite the archbishop.

Spaniards who moved to the new city lived close to the town square with its orderly, well-planned streets. Natives lived outside that area in haphazardly constructed homes. Although the Spaniards endeavored to maintain separation from the natives, it was not always possible and strict segregation laws were not enforced.

Zocalo, Mexico City

© Mindaugas Danys - Zocalo, Mexico City

During the 16th century, the number of churches grew, as did trade with both the Pacific and Atlantic worlds. The accumulation of wealth gave rise to titles of nobility, although the titles were more about the honor of the family name rather than the power it wielded. The increase in wealth led to increasingly opulent residences, a trend which continued into the 18th century, giving rise to the nickname, “The City of Palaces”. Many of these residences are still standing and can be toured.

Ironically, Mexico City has historically had a large concentration of extremely poor people, even with foundations designated for their benefit. Nacional Monte de Piedad, a pawn shop established in 1977, allowed indigent people to obtain small amounts of credit, but at high interest rates. The Crown, the Church, and private donors established many programs to aid the poor, but poverty has always been a a fact of life for many in Mexico City.

In the 19th century, the Battle for Mexico City began. From September 8 to September 15, 1847, several battles culminated with the fall of Mexico City when the U.S. Army's 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Divisions were deployed to capture Mexico City and storm Chapultepec Castle. This resulted in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo being signed in the far Northern part of the city.

Porfirio Diaz

© Jorge Elías - Porfirio Díaz

Subsequently, Mexico City grew under the rule of Porfirio Díaz and transformed itself both architecturally and technologically. By the turn of the 20th century, modern schools, factories, and hospitals were erected and most areas benefited from a public works program that provided gas, electricity, and sewage to the residents.

A constitutional convention drafted the 1917 constitution in Santiago and February 5, 1917 saw its approval; this is the constitution currently in force. It established the foundations for mandatory, secular education for the general populace; it established land reforms and labor reforms.

The power of the Catholic Church was severely restricted, but enforcement of the church reforms eventually led to an uprising known as the Cristero War. Reforms made in 1992 guaranteed property rights for private citizens and restored the rights of the Catholic Church.

Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

© cezzie901 - Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City Attractions

This city with its foundation in ancient times has become a popular destination for tourists, beguiling them with a vast array of attractions and entertainment possibilities. Free admission attractions are denoted with an asterisk; some of the more popular attractions are:

  • Museo Templo Mayor
  • Teotihuacan
  • Plaza de la Constitucion, or Zocalo*
  • Bosque de Chapultepec*, the main park in the City
  • Catedral Metropolitana*
  • Palacio de Bellas Artes*
  • Museo Nacional de Antropologia
  • Palacio Nacional*, which is home to the executive branch of the government
  • El Angel de la Independencia*
  • Museo Frida Kahlo
  • Xochimilco

Xochimilco is in the southern part of the City and is a substantial trek but visitors report that the town is worth the trip. Largely agricultural, this town boasts picturesque canals, trajineras, which are open-air boats, a wildlife preserve, floating gardens, and mariachi bands. Street vendors supply refreshments and visitors will find souvenir stores and restaurants. Costs are nominal and worth the investment.

 

Boats in Xochimilco

© Alejandro - Boats in Xochimilco

 

Mexico City Travel

Flights to Mexico City are available at all major airports. Airlines that have a major presence at Mexico City's airport, travel code MEX, include Aeroméxico, Aeroméxico Connect, Aeromar, Interjet, VivaAerobus, Volaris, AeroUnion, MasAir and Magnicharters; inbound flights may land at TLC, or Licenciado Adolfo Lopez Mateos Internacional, which is located in Toluca.

Fares are available at all price ranges and will depend on the distance to be traveled as well as the class of travel. Promotional and holiday fares are usually available and can offer substantial discounts for those who want to maximize their vacation budget.

Public transportation in Mexico City is inexpensive and well planned, involving the use of its metro, free taxis, colectivos, and first- and second-class buses. Rental cars are available, but visitors will need additional auto insurance if using them and usually, it is safer to use public transportation. Becoming lost in a strange city can have less than desirable results.

Bus in Mexico City

© Design For Health - Bus in Mexico City

Posted cautions about public transportation should be heeded, but it is much safer than it once was. Sitio and turismo taxis, or those registered to a specific hotel or locale, are safe and cost-effective, and probably the best way to travel within the city. They are usually luxury vehicles with special plates and except for airport destinations, fares can usually be negotiated with the driver, who usually speaks English.

Buses with pink placards are designated for women only and are for their safety. The subway also designates the first three cars for women only; this is limited to peak operating hours.

Colectivo minibuses and sedans are gray and green and travel designated thoroughfares. Often, as the vehicle approaches a stop, the driver will indicate the number of passengers he is able to take; this is done by holding his hand out the window and the number of fingers displayed is the number of passengers he can accommodate.

Trolleybuses in Mexico City

© Omar Bárcena - Trolleybuses in Mexico City

Double-decker, red tourist buses run on separate routes in the Northern and Southern parts of the city. Rates are nominal and day passes are available that enable on-off privileges. Tourist buses operate on a full circuit of tourist attractions and the full circuit takes about three hours.

As with travel to any foreign country, a modicum of prudence can ensure a pleasant and uneventful journey. Respect and consideration for the locals and their city can make all the difference in many situations.

Mexico City Hotels

Visitors to Mexico City have their choice of close to 500 hotels in all price ranges.

Major chains such as Hilton, Hyatt, Sheraton, Courtyard, and Hampton Inn have a presence there, but many quaint local hotels can also provide excellent accommodation and include more local ambiance. For the best descriptions and rates, check the dates online either through travel websites such as Trip Advisor or Expedia, or go directly to the hotel's website. Often, better rates can be obtained through the hotel's website than when using one of the travel sites.

Hostels may be appealing to youth, backpackers, or budget travelers and accommodations include a dormitory or private room. Additional information can be obtained at mexicocityhostel.com.

Hotels in Mexico City

© Santix Ruiz de Ch - Hotels in Mexico City

Mexico City TripAdvisor

Travelers who prefer the less well-known sights and accommodations will be interested in the St. Regis Hotel in Mexico City. Rated 4.6 out of 5 stars by those who are verified guests, the St. Regis is situated on the main thoroughfare, has programs specifically for children including childcare, boasts an indoor pool, and offers substantial discounts periodically.

Adventurous diners will want to try Poctzin's pozole, which is a Mexican stew dating from the pre-Columbian era. La Coyoacana serves barbacoa de olla, a spicy, marinated beef that is cooked underground in banana leaves. Served with warm, fresh corn tortillas, it's truly a taste of food for the gods. Diners here will enjoy the outdoor terrace and bar, and weekends bring live music to the mix.

Pozole

© Annie McManus Thorne - Pozole

Those wanting a substantial meal must take chef Enrique Olvera's culinary tour with his recreation of traditional cuisine. Eight courses will satisfy the hungriest of appetites, both for food and adventure.

History buffs must see the Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico. This former conquistador's palace showcases the life of a noble family during the colonization of New Spain. Also exhibited are artifacts from the Aztecs to the 20th century, focusing on all the varied cultures that have contributed to making Mexico City what it is today.

Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico

© Diego Delso - Museo de la Ciudad de Mexico

Shoppers must visit the Mercado de San Juan with its variety of vendors and merchandise. Whether it's food, pets, flowers, or clothes, the San Juan Market has it, and the aromas, colors, and flavors will entice all of the senses.

Hot-air balloon rides elevate passengers over pre-Columbian Teotihuacan and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, revealing impressive pyramids and ruins. Balloonists can then visit the ruins on foot; the lead archaeologist will usually offer substantially reduced rates.

Sunday morning strolls through Coyoacan reveal colorful colonial homes with cobblestone streets, markets, cafes, and shops. Lunches are long and leisurely and will consume the majority of the afternoon. Locals frequent La Coyoacana Restaurant or enjoy street tacos from El Chupacabras, located under the highway near Metro Coyoacan.

Coyoacan Plaza

© Christian Córdova - Coyoacan Plaza

Facts About Mexico City

  • Soumaya Art Museum is the richest museum in the world, housing a collection of art valued at $700 million. It was established in 2011 by Carlos Slim, who owns the Mexican division of Hershey's.
  • The majority of homes in Mexico City lack central heat. Even in the summer, temperatures drop below 50 degrees. The good news is that the metro sells hand-woven mittens.
  • True pulque can only be obtained in Mexico City. Made from the maguey plant, the drink was considered sacred by the Aztecs. Although it can be exported, it loses potency during transport, so the best place to sip pulque is Mexico City or one of its suburbs.
  • Mexico City has more museums than any other city in the world. More than 140 museums provide glimpses into the past, the future, and unusual collections.