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Trip Report Five Days in Mexico City June 2012 Trip Report

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In June 2012 I took my 20 something daughter to Mexico City to visit family. I wanted my daughter to spend time with my mother’s cousin and her family and to show her places that I remembered from my childhood visits. We stayed with our family in the northern part of the city, so I cannot report on hotels or many restaurants, but we did see a lot in the 5 days we were there.

The weather this time of year is warm with late afternoon rain showers, but we were lucky and always made it back home before the rain started. We never felt in danger, although as with any large city, exercise caution. There were many armed police in the Zocalo. The city streets are very crowded, so although a taxi may be more comfortable than the Metro, you can waste a lot of time traveling around the city in a car.

Since I did not want to impose on family, I hired a private guide for one and one-half days. I checked out numerous companies and individuals mentioned in this forum and decided to hire Andres Morgan, www.mexicoculturaltour.com. He is a certified tour guide, has a degree in anthropology, speaks numerous languages, including English, French and Russian, and his prices are very reasonable. He drove us in a nice, air-conditioned car and he was a very carefully driver, which I appreciated in this very congested city. Andres was prompt, flexible, and was a fountain of knowledge about all facets of the places we visited.

Our first day was a Monday, so we planned to visit Teotihuacan since many museums are closed on Mondays. Andres picked us up and drove us 45 minutes to the ancient site of pyramids. Andres gave us a mini-lecture on the history and sociology of the Mesoamerican tribes that built the pyramids, and explained how they differed from the Aztecs. We climbed to the first landing of the Temple of the Moon to survey the city as a whole and then walked down the Calzado de Los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead) to the Sun Temple which I decided was too much to climb. The street was given this name by the Spanish because they thought the pyramids lining the streets were burial places. In reality, temples of worship were housed on the top level of the pyramids.

Andres then took us to a group of shops adjacent to the ruins where we were given a short tour that explained the many uses of the agave plant and included a tasting session of various drinks made from agave, including tequila. After lunch (not included in Andres’ fee), we went to the Ciudadela section of Teotihuacan. This section has the visitor center and the holiest area of the ruins, with amazing carvings and statues in the pyramid walls.

After Teotihuacan, we visited the Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in the northern part of Mexico City. The original Cathedral has been augmented by a large modern church that has a moving sidewalk below the framed cloth on which, according to Catholic faith, the image of the virgin miraculously appeared. There are also some smaller churches to visit and an interesting sculpture of many different types of clocks.

On Tuesday, Andres picked us up in the morning and drove us into the Zocalo, the historic center of Mexico City. First, we visited the Catedral Metropolitana. It was built over the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, as was most of colonial Mexico City. Ruins of the old temples were found when the city was constructing its underground metro system. Next, we visited the Palacio Nacional. This residence contains many murals by Diego Rivera that depict the history of Mexico City from the time of the mesoamericans through the first half of the 20th century. Andres gave us a detailed explanation of the many scenes and persons in the murals.

We then walked down the pedestrian street Francisco Madera. The streets are organized by the type of merchandise sold. Madera contains gold and jewelry shops. Another street contained menswear. Still others are dedicated to sports and other types of merchandise. At the end of the street we reached the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the national concert house, where we viewed the interior murals by famous Mexican artists.

After the Bellas Artes, we said good-bye to Andres and had lunch at Sanborns in the Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles), a beautiful old palace. I have fond memories of eating here as a child and wanted to visit it again. Sanborns is a restaurant chain with good, reliable food, but nothing special. After lunch, we went back towards the cathedral and toured the ruins of the Templo Mayor. The pyramid temple was augmented by each new ruler to demonstrate his power and riches and to accommodate the growing population. In all, the temple was expanded seven times. We were able to view the different walls of the pyramid and a wall made from human skulls left from human sacrifice. I got the audio guide, but did not really use it as we were able to understand the Spanish signs.

On Wednesday my cousin and his family served as our guides and hosts for a full day of sightseeing. First on the itinerary was breakfast at El Cardenal in the Zocalo. I knew this was a highly rated restaurant and the food and service did not disappoint. We continued on to the Museo Dolores Olmedo. Dolores Olmedo was a friend of Diego Rivera's who became trustee of his estate and donated her house and it's contents to be turned into a museum. It's a beautiful property with many peacocks and the famous hairless Mexican dogs that almost became extinct. I was, however, disappointed by the quality of the art on display.

After the museum, we continued on to Xochimilco. Here, we took a boat ride through the canals for about two hours. Much has changed since my last visit. The boat facades used to be decorated entirely in flowers, and now they are paper mache. Some of the “floating gardens” havehomes built on them. We were actually glad to be there on a Wednesday since it was not crowed, although there was a boat full of teenagers drinking and playing loud music (like anywhere in the world!). My cousin purchased drinks and food and we were serenaded by marimba players and then by a mariachi band. I also purchased flower bouquets for us women. If you go, your visit will be much enhanced by paying for the music. There were also, of course, many vendors in their own boats who pulled up alongside or jumped on board, selling jewelry, textiles, food, etc.

After our canal cruise, we had lunch (late for us at 3:30pm but normal for the family) at Antigua Hacienda de Tlalpan, a beautiful hacienda converted into a restaurant where we tried ants eggs as an appetizer. They were delicious because they tasted like butter and garlic (like escargot, all you taste is the butter and garlic!). After lunch, we went for a short walk around the Coyoacan Plaza and tried their famous ice cream before heading home.

Thursday was our first day on our own. We walked three blocks to the Metro station to go back to Coyoacan. The trains were so full, we decided since we were close to the end of the line to take a train going in the opposite direction and then ride from the terminus to Coyoacan - a wise decision since we were able to get seats for the 40 minute ride. The Metro is very cheap and convenient, but often very crowded, and vendors come into the cars playing music and hawking their goods. But you get a real feel for working class Mexico by riding the Metro.

Once we arrived at the Coyoacan Metro station, we walked about 20 minutes to Trotsky's house. My daughter and I had both read The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (which I recommend), a story about an American/Mexican young man who lived with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and served as a secretary to Leon Trotsky, so we already had some background about Trotsky and the house. The sign at the entrance says “Free English Tours – Just Ask,” so we did and were shown around by a young man who gave us the history of Trotsky and his time at the house. Because Trotsky was in danger of being assassinated, he fortified the property - enlarging the walls surrounding the hacienda, adding parapets, walling off windows, and making doorways smaller. Ultimately, those efforts were not successful. There are still bullet holes in the walls and his desk as it was the day he was assassinated.

After Trotsky's house, we walked to la Casa Azul, Frida Khalo's house. This was the house of her parents and also where she lived with her husband, Diego Rivera. Trotsky also stayed here before moving to his last house, leaving the Casa Azul after Rivera discovered he and Frida were having an affair (at least according to The Lacuna!). This is a beautiful home with interesting original artifacts, including paints used by Frida and the bed in which she recuperated from her bus accident.

After the Casa Azul, we walked to the Plaza Hidalgo (the center of Coyoacan) and on the way went into the market on Ignacio Allende filled with food, toys and piñatas. Plaza Hidalgo is a lovely traditional Mexican plaza with a church, gardens, fountain and many locals enjoying a walk. After lunch at Sanborns (yes, again, how boring, but I was craving a hamburger) we took a short cab ride to the Museo de las Intervenciones. This museum had been recommended by Andres and we were glad we went. The museum is housed in a former convent that was converted into a military barracks during the wars with the United States and France. In addition to educating visitors about the various wars of foreign intervention, the museum also allowed insight into the convent and its inhabitants. It is a beautiful building and excellent museum. There is a Metro station only two blocks away.

On our last day in Mexico City we took the Metro to the famous Museo Nacional de Antropologia. The Museo is very large and laid out chronologically beginning with the first ancestors of man in Africa to the precolonial civilizations in Mexico. Because of Ande’s excellent information on our tours with him, we were able to appreciate and understand the meaning of many of the artifacts without our own guide. This was the first time we really noticed other tourists. During the rest of the trip, we didn't see other tourists.

After lunch at the museo's cafeteria, we walked through Chapultepec Park to the Castillo de Chapultepec. The castle is situated at the top of a hill so we took a little train to the top. We wandered through the beautiful rooms and gardens that showed how Emperor Maximilian lived during his short reign. From the top floor of the castle, we saw beautiful views of the park and Mexico City, with the mountains that surround the valley serving as a backdrop. A beautiful way to end our short visit.

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