Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City’s Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Wander the Colorful Streets of Coyoacán
With its cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, and vibrant culture, the neighborhood of Coyoacán is one of Mexico City's most charming and colorful districts. Located just south of the city center, it offers an escape from the crowds and a glimpse into Mexico's history and identity.
A stroll through Coyoacán reveals a neighborhood brimming with life. Street vendors hawk everything from fresh produce to handicrafts as locals go about their daily routines. The air is filled with the aromas of simmering mole sauces and roasting corn drifting from small family-run restaurants and food stalls. Murals and graffiti art decorate walls and alleyways, reflecting Coyoacán's reputation as an artistic hub and counter-cultural enclave.
Wandering through the neighborhood's tree-lined plazas transports you back through time. The Plaza Hidalgo is anchored by a 16th-century church and surrounded by arched colonnades sheltering cafés and shops. Performers, musicians, and craftspeople gather in the plaza's shade, continuing centuries-old traditions. Nearby Plaza del Centenario offers a lively scene surrounded by charming cantinas serving up cold cervezas to locals relaxing after a day's work.
Coyoacán's neighborhoods conceal leafy courtyards, colorfully painted exteriors, and details hinting at the area's history. The former residence of artist Frida Kahlo has been converted into a museum showcasing her art and personal artifacts. The home of Leon Trotsky, who lived in exile here until his assassination, is also now a museum recounting his time in Mexico. Many other historic homes and haciendas can be found around Coyoacán, their distinct architecture offering glimpses into Mexico's past.
Wandering aimlessly is part of the delight of exploring Coyoacán. Duck into its many shops selling handmade textiles, pottery, and crafts. Stop to watch street performers dancing to mariachi music emanating from a nearby cantina. Pop into a tiny family-run restaurant for an authentic, reasonably priced meal. Discover hidden gardens, pocket parks, and small churches down side streets. Savor a cold agua fresca while people-watching from a sunny café terrace.
What else is in this post?
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Wander the Colorful Streets of Coyoacán
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Escape the Crowds in Polanco's Chic Cafés
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Admire Nature at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Marvel at the Templo Mayor Ruins
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Browse the Stalls at Mercado de la Merced
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Sip Mezcal in a Cave Bar
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - See a Lucha Libre Wrestling Match
- Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Shop for Arts and Crafts in San Ángel
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Escape the Crowds in Polanco's Chic Cafés
Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City's busy districts, the upscale neighborhood of Polanco offers a refined escape for those seeking a more relaxed pace. Known for its chic boutiques, luxe hotels, and contemporary art galleries, Polanco also boasts charming cafés ideal for whiling away an afternoon.
Settle in with a café con leche on the shady patio of Café Toscana and soak up the sophisticated vibe. Tucked down a quiet side street, this tiny Italian-style café oozes charm with checkerboard floors, red leather booths, and walls decorated with vintage Vespas. Sip your coffee slowly while nibbling on buttery croissants or watching locals chat over glasses of velvety red wine. Despite its diminutive size, Café Toscana never feels crowded, allowing you to relax in your own little world.
For a sweet and savory treat, make your way to Quarari Bakery. This delightful patisserie and café is always bustling, but expansive indoor and outdoor seating prevents it from ever feeling cramped. Display cases brim with rows of French pastries, tarts, cakes, and cookies waiting to be devoured. Try the chocolate hazelnut tart or pistachio macaron paired perfectly with a foamy cappuccino. The extensive breakfast and lunch menu also features fresh salads, quiches, sandwiches, and daily specials. Quarari's efficient service ensures you'll have a sublime experience despite its popularity.
Seeking superb coffee and a plant-filled oasis? Look no further than Cielito Querido Café. Soaring ceilings, walls of windows, and abundant foliage give this airy café a serene ambiance. Locally-roasted coffee can be sipped at communal tables surrounded by tropical plants and cacti. The Australian-inspired menu highlights ingredients like pepita seeds, coconut, and macadamia nuts. Opt for avo toast topped with lime, dukkah, and microgreens or a vibrant açaí bowl. Don't miss the flaky, butter-laden cinnamon scrolls still warm from the oven. Cielito Querido's soothing atmosphere and top-notch coffee provide a delightful change of pace.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Admire Nature at the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
Just 16 miles south of Mexico City's historic center lies the enchanting canals and floating gardens of Xochimilco. This UNESCO World Heritage site provides an idyllic natural escape from the urban chaos of Mexico's sprawling capital. Gliding through Xochimilco's canals on a colorful wooden trajinera boat offers a one-of-a-kind experience that has delighted travelers for centuries.
Xochimilco's origins trace back to the pre-Hispanic era when the Aztecs built chinampas, artificial islands constructed from mud, vegetation, and reeds. These fertile, movable islands allowed for advanced agriculture and provided sustenance for the Aztec Empire. After the Spanish conquered the region in 1521, they recognized the importance of the chinampas and expanded their use for growing flowers, vegetables and grains. Today, many of these man-made islands have been turned into gardens open for visitors to explore.
Wandering through the canals on a trajinera boat tour remains the quintessential Xochimilco activity. Trajineras are essentially floating party boats, with lively local guides steering the vessels through the waterways. Passengers relax on colorful benches, take in views of the passing greenery, and listen to live Mexican folk music performed right on the boat. Vendors float up in canoes to sell snacks, drinks and souvenirs. The vibrant energy onboard makes for an unforgettable cultural experience unique to Xochimilco.
While gliding through the waterways, keep an eye out for the many varieties of trees, shrubs, vines and flowers growing on the floating islands. Marvel at enormous ahuejote trees rising from the chinampas, draping their long roots into the canals. In spring, fields of daffodils and marigolds add dots of color. Nurseries cultivate and sell ornamental plants and flowers that find their way into homes and businesses across Mexico City.
When hunger strikes, the trajineras dock at floating restaurants called embarcaderos. These rustic eateries dish up local favorites like barbacoa, tortas, quesadillas, and of course, Mexican beers and margaritas. After eating, you can explore the embarcaderos' lively markets selling handmade souvenirs. For many, sipping drinks among the convivial chaos of an embarcadero while mariachi music plays sums up the festive atmosphere of Xochimilco.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Marvel at the Templo Mayor Ruins
In the heart of bustling Mexico City lie the fascinating ruins of the Templo Mayor, offering an enlightening glimpse into the mighty Aztec civilization that once dominated the region. As the symbolic political and religious center of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the temple complex provides invaluable insights into Mesoamerican beliefs, rituals, and power structures. Marveling at these well-preserved ruins allows you to vividly imagine what life was like centuries before colonization transformed Mexico's cultural landscape.
The Templo Mayor was the crowning jewel of Tenochtitlan, built to honor the Aztec patron gods Tlaloc (god of water and agriculture) and Huitzilopochtli (god of sun and war). This imposing dual pyramid complex towered above the city's canals and causeways, displaying the enormous wealth and might of the Aztec Empire. After the Spanish razed Tenochtitlan in 1521, they built Mexico City directly on top of the ruins. The Templo Mayor was only rediscovered in 1978 after electrical work accidentally uncovered a stone monolith.
Today, active excavations continue to unearth more structures and artifacts from the ruins below the modern city streets. As you wander through the Templo Mayor Museum and climb the ruins, you'll gain fascinating insights into how Aztec priests once lived and practiced elaborate rituals atop the pyramid's temples. Many original walls, floors and ceremonial objects remain remarkably intact, almost transporting you back through the centuries.
Intricately carved sacrificial altars and sculptures depict the Aztecs' complex iconography and mythology. An enormous circular stone dating to 1469, embellished with cosmic symbols and deities, shares clues about Aztec cosmology and calendar systems. Sophisticated hydraulic systems, drainage canals and water tanks reveal how the Aztecs managed water resources to support their massive city. Displays of lavish jewelry, sculptures and ceramics highlight outstanding Aztec artistry and craftsmanship.
Perhaps most chilling are the skulls and skeletons excavated from the site, somber reminders of the human sacrifices carried out here to appease the gods. Standing atop the lofty Templo Mayor ruins lets you visualize these ceremonies occurring below as crowds of Aztec citizens looked on in awe from the city streets. Learning about this long-vanished civilization that once dominated the Valley of Mexico is a humbling and enlightening experience.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Browse the Stalls at Mercado de la Merced
No trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to the sprawling Mercado de la Merced, the largest traditional market in Latin America. Spread across several city blocks, this bustling labyrinth of stalls and vendors offers an assault on the senses as well as an authentic look into Mexican commerce and culture. Prepare to dive into the organized chaos of aisle after aisle laden with mounds of produce, hanging slabs of meat, enormous wheels of pungent cheese, burlap sacks overflowing with chilies and spices, and fragrant blooms spilling from every corner.
While La Merced can seem overwhelming at first, wandering slowly through its corridors offers an unparalleled opportunity to experience Mexico's incredible bounty of ingredients and handcrafted goods. Chat with a "chilaca" selling dozens of chili varieties about their unique flavor profiles as she deftly wraps selections into paper cones. Stop to ogle perfect pyramids of ripe, unblemished fruits and vegetables rarely seen north of the border. Sample tangy crumbly cotija cheese offered up for tasting by a shopkeeper eager to make a sale. The sheer diversity and volume of edibles piled high in each stall can seem astonishing.
Beyond the endless displays of produce and proteins, La Merced abounds with vendors proffering all manner of handicrafts, textiles, accessories, religious items, herbal remedies, beauty products and household goods. Stumbling upon treasures like hand-tooled leather bags, silver jewelry with intricate filigree, wool textiles dyed using ancient techniques, or richly scented soaps made from local flowers feels like unearthing buried pirate loot. Bargain hard but fairly with good-humored merchants who consider haggling an integral part of the shopping experience.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Sip Mezcal in a Cave Bar
After a day spent wandering Coyoacán's colorful streets or browsing Polanco's chic cafés, what better way to unwind than sipping smoky mezcal in an underground cave bar? Mexico City's cantinas and mezcalerias offer the perfect laid-back nightlife for sampling locally distilled spirits and connecting with new friends. Ducking into hole-in-the-wall bars housed in converted caverns provides an adventurous change of pace from upscale hotel lounges. Embracing the convivial, gritty vitality of these nocturnal hideaways lets you experience Mexico's drinking culture like a local.
Just outside Coyoacán, look for the hand-painted sign pointing down a graffiti-covered alleyway to La Botica Mezcalería. Descend the stairs underground to a cozy cave illuminated by strings of twinkling lights. Candles flicker on rustic wooden tables accompanied by the muted sounds of jazz and hushed conversations. Let your eyes adjust to the dim lighting as you inhale the aromas of roasted agave wafting from behind the bar. Then start exploring La Botica's extensive list of artisanal mezcals distilled using ancestral methods that honor the spirit's diverse terroirs and traditions. Chat up the knowledgeable bar staff to discover new varietals and get schooled on proper tasting technique. The smoky, complex flavors of small-batch mezcals can be a revelation for the uninitiated. Complement your flights of mezcal with traditional bar snacks like buttery esquites corn mixed with epazote and slow-roasted salsa-slathered grasshoppers for the more adventurous. After a few rounds in the cavelike cocoon of La Botica, you'll feel connected to centuries of Mexican spirits-making.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - See a Lucha Libre Wrestling Match
Mixing high-flying acrobatics with melodrama and comedy, Lucha Libre wrestling matches offer outrageously entertaining spectacles unique to Mexico. Attending a lucha libre event allows you to revel in an beloved pastime combining athleticism, theatricality, and cultural pride.
As the crowd fills Mexico City's Arena Mexico, a feverish energy takes hold. Vendors hawk masks, colorful capes, and souvenirs celebrating legendary luchadores like El Santo, Blue Demon, and Mil Máscaras. Devoted fans display their allegiance donning elaborate outfits mimicking their favorite wrestler's signature look. Your anticipation builds as the lights dim and dramatic music signals the wrestlers' imminent arrival.
Deafening cheers erupt as the luchadores parade down the aisles, pumping fists and playing to the crowd. Clad in flashy Lycra outfits and signature masks preserving their mysterious personas, wrestlers exhibit athletic physiques honed through years of specialized training. Ring names nod to their characters' personalities - Rudo (villain), Técnico (hero), Exótico (flamboyant). Once in the ring, the referee checks masks and gear before signaling the start of combat.
What unfolds next is a raucous dance punctuated with feats of strength and acrobatics. Técnicos perform elaborate acrobatic moves like aerial flips, flying headscissors, and suicide dives from the ring posts onto opponents. Rudos rely on brute force and rule-breaking villainy like eye gouging, hair pulling, and slamming foes with chairs. Exóticos add sexualized taunts and dazzling high-flying aerial attacks. Choreographed battles build drama and tease possible victories.
Matches incorporate hilarious comedic bits playing off rivals’ personas. A Rudo known for his dance moves gets lured into a dance-off as the crowd roars approval. Cornered Exóticos beg for mercy, batting eyelashes and blowing kisses. Heroes mount last-minute comebacks after near defeats. Every lucha libre show guarantees thrills, laughs, and lighter moments bonding the crowd.
Throughout the nonstop action, passionate fans loudly cheer, jeer, sing, and whistle. They take pride in recognizing lucha libre's roots stretching back to Aztec rituals, evolving into a uniquely Mexican pop culture phenomenon. Attending a match allows you to experience this calling card of Mexican identity celebrated for generations.
Beyond the Main Squares: Uncovering Mexico City's Hidden Gems for Savvy Travelers - Shop for Arts and Crafts in San Ángel
Nestled on Mexico City's south side, the charming neighborhood of San Ángel offers a treasure trove of arts, crafts and handmade goods. Wandering its labyrinth of shops and stalls invites serendipitous discoveries of locally crafted wares. As both an artists’ enclave and preservation zone, San Ángel provides ample opportunities to connect with Mexico’s rich cultural heritage through creative expression. Shopping here feels less commercial and more like a quest to uncover artistic gems while directly supporting local artisans.
The best way to experience San Ángel’s creative bounty is simply to meander without agenda, allowing time and inspiration to guide you. Duck into nondescript storefronts and cavernous mercados to unearth up-and-coming artists as well as established maestros. Chat with proprietors bursting with pride over their shops’ specialties, from whimsical papier-mâché creatures to classic Talavera pottery updated with modern designs. Marvel at the creativity poured into transforming humble materials like scrap metal, clay, wool and leather into objects both decorative and functional. Prices stay fair, reflecting the accessible, community-driven nature of San Ángel’s arts scene.
Wandering down Alvaro Obregon Avenue, San Ángel’s bustling main drag, don’t miss Saturday Bazaar Sábado. Every weekend, this vibrant street market brings together over 100 vendors selling an eclectic mix from handwoven textiles and original art prints to artisanal soaps and flavored liqueurs. Strike up conversations with stall owners to get insights into regional styles and traditions behind their wares. Sample local delicacies like amaranth alegría candy as you browse the booths. With its festive atmosphere and bounty of crafts, Bazaar Sábado makes you feel part of Mexico’s thriving folk art community.
Nearby El Bazaar Sabado San Jacinto also brims with stalls proffering quality crafts with authentic roots. Unusual finds here include wood carvings, tin mirrors, and figurines inspired by lucha libre wrestling. Prices stay fair but don’t be afraid to bargain - haggling is expected. Wrap up your market explorations with a fresh-squeezed juice before heading to museums and galleries displaying fine art by acclaimed painters like Juan Soriano and Dr. Atl who once called San Ángel home.