Mexico City Feature

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Mexican Culture by Night

The capital's nightlife often has the music, the pulse, and the flavor of Mexican traditions from other places and other times. You can watch Aztec dancers adorned in feather headdresses stomp to percussion composed 500 years ago; listen to the fiddles, accordions, and falsetto of mariachi musicians; or take a candle-lit boat ride through floating gardens.

Catch Some Mariachi Music

The traditional last stop for nocturnal Mexicans is Plaza Garibaldi in Colonia Centro, east of Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas, between República de Honduras and República de Perú. Here exuberant, and often inebriated, mariachis gather to unwind after evening performances–by performing even more. There are roving mariachis, as well as norteño (country-style) musicians and white-clad jarocho (traditional music from Veracruz) bands peddling songs in the outdoor plaza, where you can also buy beer and shots of tequila. Beware: the alcohol sold in the outdoor square is rotgut. You'll usually find unadulterated drinks inside the cantinas or clubs surrounding the plaza, where well-to-do Mexicans park themselves and belt out their favorite songs.

The square was spruced up in the early 1990s and underwent another makeover in time for Mexico's bicentennial. New streetlamps and added security make things less sketchy than they once were. There's also a new building that houses a Mexican restaurant and galleries with displays on the history of tequila and that of mariachi. That said, it's best to either arrange your trip to Plaza Garibaldi through a tour agency or to plan on taking one of the safe sitio taxis to and fro. It can still be a rough place at night, and leaving it for the surrounding areas can be dangerous. Although it's pretty safe to return to Centro hotels via Eje 1 Lazaro Central Cardenás, avoid other streets.

Attend a Floating Garden Party

There's probably nothing anywhere in the world like a weekend night at Xochimilco, the floating gardens that were the breadbasket of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán and where you can rent a flower-bedecked trajinera, with a pilot to push it along (cost is about $16 for three hours). If you go on a warm weekend evening just before sundown, you'll witness a magical transformation. At dusk canoes pull up with candles, corn, tacos, beer, and tequila shots, and other boats bearing entire mariachi bands pole over to perform while festive locals hail you loudly from their own floating parties. It has been said before by well-traveled individuals that this could be the most magnificent and romantic place on the planet, and you will be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

The easiest way to get here is by sitio taxi; it's a 35-minute, 90-peso ride. To get here by subway (relatively safe but potentially disorienting for non-Spanish speakers), take the No. 2 Metro (blue) line south to its end, in Tasqueña (sometimes written on signs as "Taxqueña"), and follow the signs across the pedestrian bridge to the tren ligero, or light-rail. Ride it to its end, at Xochimilco (all this will take less than an hour from the Zócalo). Once in the neighborhood, simply follow the signs saying "Barcos"; almost any eastward side street here will lead to a jetty.

See a Folkloric Show

At La Hacienda de Los Morales you can watch traditional folk and Aztec dances Sunday through Friday nights, and on Sunday afternoons you can sit down to a meal with live mariachi music. The show plus dinner and two drinks costs $35. Vazquez de Mella 525, Col. Del Bosque, Mexico City, 11510. 55/5207-8055.

The world-renowned Ballet Folklórico de México is a visual feast of Mexican regional folk dances in whirling colors. Lavish and professional, it's one of the country's most popular shows. Performances are on Wednesday at 8:30 pm and Sunday at 9:30 am and 7:00 pm at the magnificent Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Anthropology Museum; performances were formerly held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, but have moved here due to restoration work at the palace). You can purchase tickets by calling Ticketmaster for prices and reservations. Hotels and travel agencies can also secure tickets. Museo Nacional de Antropología, Paseo de la Reforma at Calle Gandhi, Section 1, Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City, 06000. 55/5529–9320 box office; 55/5325–9000 Ticketmaster. www.balletamalia.com.

Sample Pulque

Salon Tenampa is the last pulqueria on what was once a square of pulquerias in a city of pulquerias. Que lastima. Pulque is the agave-heart mulch, which is turned into tequila, and capitalinos were once mad for it. The rich, nutritious beverage is something of an acquired taste, and its effects can best be compared to that of a mescaline smoothie. The mix goes bad in 24 hours, so pulque is extremely hard to get outside the capital and the state of Tequila. The salon is open Sunday through Thursday until at least 3 am and even later on Friday and Saturday. As it's in Plaza Garabaldi, a square that can be dangerous at night and whose surrounding streets are dangerous at all times, take a sitio taxi here and back. Plaza Garibaldi 12, Col. Centro, Mexico City, 06010. 55/5526-6176.

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