I've seen too much of the western world and wanted to experience another culture, so I was really excited to go to Mexico City and learn all about the Mayans and Aztecs. Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, lies buried underneath modern-day Mexico City and you can still find remains, like the ruins of Tenochtitlán's main temple complex: the Templo Mayor. Admission to the on-site museum is included in the site's admission fee and you can learn all about Tenochtitlán, the Aztec empire and the Templo Mayor, which is actually seven pyramids in one. The temple was first built on the exact spot where, according to legend, the Aztec people witnessed an eagle sitting on a cactus with a snake in its beak - the sign of the promised land and now the emblem on the Mexican flag. Work on the temple began soon after the Aztecs founded the city, but - as was common back then - every emperor sought to expand the temple, using the existing temple as base. Templo Mayor grew into 7 layers this way, until Cortés and his Spanish army invaded Tenochtitlán and brought about the fall of the Aztec empire.
The general area around Templo Mayor, the Centro Histórico, is the oldest part of Mexico City. Just around the corner of the Templo Mayor, at the center of this neighborhood, is Zócalo, the largest plaza in Latin America, with La Catedral and the Palacio Nacional on the north and east end of the square.
Although they are all over Mexico City, this area is probably the most dense in terms of tourists and tourist attractions. Between Zócalo and our hotel, a short 1.5 km (1 mi) walk west, we'd pass:
- Avenida Francisco I. Madero, a crowded pedestrian-only street lined with shops
- Casa de los Azulejos (The House of Tiles), a peculiar house covered in white and blue tiles
- Torre Latinoamericana, once the tallest building in Latin America
- Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a cultural center with a stunning exterior
- Alameda Central Park, the oldest park of the city and frequently the center of public events
- Hemiciclo A Benito Juárez, a monument for former Mexican president Benito Juárez
Not bad for a 20 minute walk!
A few minutes to the west of our hotel - the lovely Hilton Mexico City Reforma right next to Alameda Central - is the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's equivalent of the Champs-Élysées. It runs south to Chapultepec Castle and it houses some of Mexico City's tallest buildings - like the Torre Mayor - and a lot of shops, restaurants and hotels. And there's no shortage of monuments along the street, with El Ángel de la Independencia probably being the most important landmark. South of the Paseo the la Reforma is the Zona Rosa, Mexico City's primary shopping and nightlife district.
For the most part, Mexico City is a big city just like any other, even though it sits at an altitude of 2 240 m (7 350 ft), making it one of the highest major cities in the world. Due to the altitude, you may find yourself short on breath. Mexico City was also know for its air pollution, so that doesn't really help, but that has drastically improved in the last few decades.
But while there is no shortage of things to do and see in Mexico City, I had to venture away from the city center, to Teotihuacán or Xochimilco, to get what I really came for: life as it was in times long lost.
You couldn't tell nowadays, but back when the Aztecs arrived, the city was a swamp.
Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is all that is left of the lake that Mexico City was founded on, and you can ride the many Aztec irrigation canals in this Mexican Venice in one of the many
trajineras (gondola-like boats.)
Xochimilco is easy to reach by metro/train, but you'll be on it for a good while. As in all major cities, you'll want to keep your belongings in sight, but by and large, public transportation is safe. But that is true for most of Mexico City. While it may not have the best reputation, I never felt unsafe there. Then again, there was a massive show of force with thousands of soldiers and policemen patrolling Mexico City. This probably had something to do with the escape of El Chapo a week earlier.
Back in the center of the city, there was only one more thing that I really wanted to experience: Lucha Libre, Mexico's masked wrestling. It was a blast!