Ignacio Maza, EVP of the Signature Travel Network, recently returned from Mexico City where he visited the markets, the top hotels and attractions within and just outside the destination. Here is his report.
In recent years, Mexico City has become one of the must-see’ destinations in the Americas. This enormous, sophisticated and, at times, maddening metropolis has a great deal to offer savvy travelers looking for new horizons. For anyone interested in history, fine dining, shopping and the arts, Mexico City exceeds expectations. Having said this, the city can be overwhelming. With a population of over 20 million, Mexico City is one of the largest metropolitan areas and one of the 10 largest cities in the world. The city, located on a high flat valley, about 7,300 feet above sea level, was originally built by the Aztecs roughly 700 years ago, on an island surrounded by the then Lake Texcoco.
The Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes arrived in 1519 and turned the city into the capital of a vast empire that at its height stretched all the way out to what is today Washington State.
Sightseeing: To understand Mexico City, start at the Zocalo, or Constitution Square, in the heart of the downtown district.
Take time to visit the National Palace, home of Mexico’s Presidential offices, and do not miss the stunning murals by Diego Rivera, one of Mexico’s premier 20th-century artists. Other major sites downtown are the enormous Metropolitan Cathedral, started in the 1500s, and the Templo Mayor, a massive Aztec temple discovered in the 1970s. The downtown district is experiencing a renaissance and there are many great new shops, restaurants and hotels, including the hip Downtown, a Design Hotel built within a historic building. Another notable site is the Palacio de Chapultepec, located within the city’s largest park.
There are over 100 museums in Mexico City. The best of all is the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, which is the finest of its kind in the world and also home to ancient archaeological treasures from Mexico’s varied and brilliant pre-Columbian cultures. Another notable museum is the ultramodern Museo Soumaya that was inaugurated in 2011. It houses over 60,000 works of art.
Fans of Frida Kahlo should head straight to Coyoacan to visit her museum, also known as the Blue House, which is near the studio of artist Diego Rivera, her husband. The other highlight is the Museo de Dolores Olmedo, which has an outstanding collection of Rivera’s masterpieces. Architecture enthusiasts should visit the home of Luis Barragan, Mexico’s most celebrated 20th-century architect; they must, however, make advance reservations.
Beyond Mexico City: Although there is a wealth of interesting options in the vicinity, my top recommendation is to visit Teotihuacan, the Western Hemisphere’s greatest archaeological site, built over 2,000 years ago. Teotihuacan is enormous and spans over 100 square miles. Climb up the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and wander around the courtyards and temples. Tip: Teotihuacan gets very crowded, especially on Sundays, so plan to arrive right before opening time for the best experience. For clients who have the time, I highly recommend day trips to Cuernavaca and Taxco.
Dining: Mexico City has one of the world’s most vibrant and sophisticated dining scenes. At the top of the list are Pujol and Quintonil, considered among the world’s 50 best restaurants. Both feature ‘New Mexican’ cuisine, and are very popular, so advance reservations are a must. One of the best seafood restaurants is the Taberna del Leon. For travelers seeking traditional Mexican menus, try Azul Historico (Downtown), Hosteria de Santo Domingo, or Chapulin, at the InterContinental Hotel. The best Margaritas and Mariachis can be found at Villa Maria restaurant.
Markets: Food enthusiasts must visit the San Juan Market, which is open all seven days. For antiques and art lovers, there is the Bazar del Sabado, while those looking for Mexican crafts should head to the Mercado de Artesanal La Ciudadela.
Where to stay: For luxury clients who expect the very best, I recommend the St Regis Mexico City and Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection Hotel. St Regis is located on Paseo de la Reforma and offers spacious rooms, a rooftop spa and pool, and a great restaurant with indoor/outdoor dining. Las Alcobas is an intimate, residential hotel, located in the heart of the Polanco district, and offers 35 rooms and suites. Tip: Plan to visit Mexico City over a weekend, when the traffic is lighter and hotel rates are 30 percent lower.
Local Resource: Navigating Mexico is easier and more rewarding with Journey Mexico, the Signature partner Destination Specialist. Zachary Rabinor and his team have the contacts, the know-how and the expertise on the ground to make any stay in Mexico City unforgettable, while saving your clients time and hassles. Journey Mexico can arrange for all kinds of unique experiences, including balloon rides over the pyramids of Teotihuacan, private dinners at the Frida Kahlo Museum, special cooking classes, visits to private homes and art collections, and more.