Unloved Mexico City?
Mexico City may not be on most people’s bucket list. For a capital city of 24 million, it seems to garner little attention from even the most avid of traveller, however it is a truly fascinating place well worthy of a short visit, or as part of a multi-city itinerary.
British airways fly direct from London Heathrow to Mexico City in around 12 hours, and if that seems too much to bear, find out how to fly business for less than the price of economy. Club World seats might make the flight more palatable!
Once there, the historical centre rivals any in Europe with a few unusual twists which you won’t find anywhere else, not to mention you have the UNESCO world heritage site of Teotihuacan practically on your doorstep.
So here’s a few fascinating facts that might encourage you to hop onto Skyscanner and bag yourself a bargain.
Firstly, the city was built on a swamp and so, like Venice, it is sinking. It is hard to understand why this city even exists. After all most major cities are located on a river or coastline to facilitate trade. Mexico City has no river, no coast, and a swamp filled with annoying insects, disease and non fertile land, is hardly an attractive location prospect.
This results in an unusual side-effect. Extreme listing can be seen in many a building including major tourist attractions. The cathedral lists dramatically to the right, another building looks like a bored teenager in danger of falling over so laid back are they and a tiny church not far off Zocala is one of the most crooked buildings I’ve ever seen.
Given the city’s propensity to earthquakes, it is a wonder anything remains in the historical centre.
The city is hit pretty frequently by earthquakes. While enjoying lunch in a beautiful, yellow, colonial building overlooking the cathedral, a terrifying siren interrupts the clatter of silverware on crockery and the low murmur of conversation. I assume it is a riot, but Babette, one of our hosts, calmly informs us it is an earthquake warning.
I don’t believe her given there is no sign of people throwing themselves under tables or doorways. Clearly they are praying fervently, resigned to whatever the consequences as not one person in the bustling restaurant rises from their table (what better endorsement for a restaurant’s food than that?!).
As I try to fathom whether Babette is really mean enough to joke about earthquakes (she isn’t) there is a faint trembling below, plants and lights start swaying gently, and I struggle to decide whether I have a hangover, jet lag, or labyrinthitis as an episode of dizziness overcomes me.
It turns out to be 5.5 on the Richter scale so not insignificant in earthquake terms, but the epicentre was thankfully 160 miles south of us in Guerrero. After the lanterns calm, conversations resume, held breaths are exhaled and we continue with our lunch.
Later, I am cheerily advised that you have 90 seconds from warning to impact, hence why no one moved from the rooftop because it would take longer to descend. Jesus Christ, they clearly have not heard about man’s desire to live, and superhuman feats, I swear I would be down them in 15 seconds if I really thought I was in danger.
It turns out there is more to tequila than salt, lemon and a shot glass. In Mexico City, tequila is to savour with almost a thousand different brands, multiple colours and myriad flavours. Joven is a golden tequila whilst one concoction I try tastes of coffee and is silky smooth as it slides down your throat. Like a stronger version of Kahlua, it is yummy!!
There are five principal kinds of tequila – Gold, Silver, Aged, Extra-aged and Ultra-Aged and you will find plentiful opportunity to become familiar with them in Mexico.
My previous experiences of tequila have all ended with humongous hangovers, be it downing fiery tequila in Turks and Caicos (yes Alan, I suddenly have pictures of your bum flashing through my mind!) to slammers in a Loughborough student bar or a raucous night in Mexico in my early twenties involving a beach bar, and copious amounts of the clear stuff.
It seems those antics are so NOT the way to drink tequila. Here it is revered, drunk more like a neat whiskey than a spring breaker’s inaugural hangover inducer.
The Dead Are Everywhere
Mexico celebrates the dead in spectacular fashion. Virtually every street is home to a skeleton dressed in flowing robes, hovering above a makeshift altar strewn with items cherished by the deceased. You will see altars housing assortments of apples, tobacco, coca cola and other paraphernalia. Some combinations are surprising funny, but each draws your attention and has you thinking of lost loved ones.
Shops around the city sell miniature versions for you to take home, and we encountered a gigantic one on Zocala.
On a similiar note, skulls are everywhere and are another symbol used to commemorate the dead. They come in every conceivable size and colour. Hand painted in myriad designs, even the morbid averse will find themselves drawn to them. In true celebration of life, they are painted all conceivable shade of psychedelic colour and manage to turn something sad and gross into a happy, friendly symbolisation of a city.
You can take home your very own skull souvenir, be it a fridge magnet, trinket box or dust collector. I have no idea why or where they will go but I’m returning with four bigger ones (two dust collectors, two trinket boxes), and two fridge magnets, and a new-found fascination for skulls.
Mexico City lies in a valley surrounded by 4,000m plus peaks. The city itself is 2,240 metres above sea level, and you may experience dizziness, excessive thirst, interrupted sleep and breathlessness during your visit.
In addition, weather patterns are unpredictable. Sunny and 20C one day, followed by gray and 5C the next. Come prepared for all weathers and if you are visiting in the UK Summer, you may wish to bring an umbrella, as it is wet season!
If you are drinking alcohol, you may find your tolerance level reduced, and your hangovers heightened. Whilst I’m not renowned for my staying power, I don’t usually get a hangover after two beers!
In a city of 24 million it’s inevitable there will be traffic jams, but despite roads of up to six lanes being common in the city centre, you will spend an eternity stuck in traffic. Surprisingly however, the drivers are relatively courteous, wear seat belts and generally are safety aware.
Ten minute journeys morph into hour-long crawls, and if you arrive at night you will get your first glimpse of the log jams as the plane comes into land. However long you estimate a journey to be, double it and you may be nearer to reality.
Due to the topography, the population and traffic, an unwelcome effect is smog. even on beautiful warm days, a shimmer of grey hovers above the city ruining your best attempts to capture beautiful sunny mementoes.
Why You Should Go
We spent three days in this city, much of which was at Corona Capital 2015, a music festival at the Formula One track showcasing upcoming and established bands from around the globe.
Even with the little time we spent exploring the city, there was much to intrigue visitors. From the eirie obsession with death, to the subsiding buildings, this city works its magic on you from the minute you step into Zocala square and imagine yourself an extra in the latest Bond movie.
Admittedly it’s not really a weekend destination, but the city is a gateway to other cities in the nation, and it would be easy to combine your stay with a trip to the Yucatan, Guadalaraja or Oaxaca.
What do you think?
Have you been to Mexico City? What did you think? We love to hear from you so please share your thoughts below.
We visited as guests of the British Embassy in Mexico and a special thanks go to our hosts Adriana, Pauline and Babette for being great company, and making us feel not like honorary guests, but more like family. They introduced us to their friends, and although we only spent three days in the city, I felt completely at home surrounded by the warmest people. That said, as always my views are my own and unedited.