48 hours in Mexico City

Its history is a mad mix of Trotsky and Aztec - all the more reason to visit.


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Because the world's biggest city is also one of the wildest, yet simultaneously a place of immense grace and civility. Because summer in the capital is fresher than you would imagine, thanks to the 8,000ft altitude. And mostly because it's so darn cheap to get there.

FINAL APPROACH

It might be a long flight, but to compensate, the airport is located close to the city centre. You could get to the heart of the capital for about 10 pence on the Metro, or splash out on a taxi - which will take 10 minutes. The standard conveyance is a Volkswagen Beetle.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Since the Aztec era, the centre of the capital, and of Mexico, has been the huge Plaza de la Constitucion, known by everyone as the Zocalo. During the day, a Mexican flag the size of a tennis-court flies over the square. Just west is the old commercial centre, an area where you can happily spend most of your time. The Zona Rosa ("pink zone") is a couple of miles south west - not especially pleasant miles to walk.

CHECK IN

Prices in Mexico are entertainingly low. At the Hotel Habana (Republica de Cuba, 00 52 5 518 1589), a double room costs £10. Even the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico (Calle 16 de Septiembre 82, 00 52 5 510 4040), a paean to Art Nouveau in one of the most stylish locations, costs 1,000 pesos (£70) for a double room, including tax.

BEAM DOWN

British Airways (0345 222111) will get you there four days each week non-stop from Heathrow. Don't buy direct: through discount agents such as Journey Latin America (0181-747 3108) you can travel on this flight for a fare of £468. Cheaper flights will be available from the start of September. Indirect routes - such as Air France via Paris, Iberia via Madrid, KLM via Amsterdam or Continental via Houston or Newark - are slower but possibly cheaper, and allow connections from airports outside the London area.

TAKE A RIDE

Take care out there. After six visits, I am still not confident, when I step on to a bus, that it will go where it is supposed to. Apart from the fast and efficient underground railway, even for the average citizen the public transport "system" is complex and anarchic. And this is what the Foreign Office says about taxis: "Only use taxis from authorised ranks (sitios). Passengers using other taxis in Mexico City face a much greater risk of attack and robbery."

TAKE A HIKE

You could spend all day perambulating around the Zocalo (main square), possibly the greatest public square in the world. Even if you are not staying there (see Beam Down), start gently with a wander around the atrium of the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de Mexico in the south-west corner. Occupying the north side of the square, the Catedral Metropolitana is a bewildering mix of architectural styles and building work: a repair programme called the Correcion Geometrica is trying to straighten out seismic distortions.

Adjacent, the Templo Mayor was the centre of the Aztec world, and the walk around its ruins gives a strong sense of the pre-Colombian life. The Palacio Nacional, another monumental edifice, takes up the eastern face of the Zocalo.

New arrivals can brush up on Mexican history with Diego Rivera's dramatic mural on the development of the nation.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Vendors of grilled and copiously salted corn cobs will find you before you find them. If you prefer to wind back a century or two, the Bar Opera, at number 10, Calle 5 de Mayo, is a sturdy Baroque gem with a good line in lunch. The freedom fighter Pancho Villa was the most celebrated uninvited guest.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Another superlative: the finest museum in all of Latin America is the Anthropology Museum in the Bosque [forest] de Chapultepec. The extraordinary achievements of the pre-Colombian peoples of Mexico are on show, from the art of the Mayans to the science of the Aztecs.

WINDOW SHOPPING

To witness the demographic conclusion of Mexico's history, go back to the centre, wander into the poorer south-east quarter and explore the frantic commerce around the Mercado de la Merced, for which the term "bustling street market" seems woefully inadequate. Everything (including life) is cheap in Mexico, but before you decide to withdraw another 1,000 pesos from your cash machine, be warned by the FO that "incidents of short- term opportunistic kidnapping have increased in Mexico City. Victims holding credit or debit cards are required to withdraw funds at a cash point to obtain their release. Travellers should dress down and avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches. Particular care should be taken when withdrawing money from a cash point."

AN APERITIF

The 43rd floor of the Torre Latino Americana presides over the city. In return for paying three times the going rate for a beer (ie London prices), you can enjoy smogset over Mexico City. The sun declines through the pollution, bestowing a dull orange glow upon the capital shortly before it disappears behind the mountains ringing the city. As artificial lighting takes over, you can speculate about the stresses of being an air-traffic controller at Mexico City airport, where a phenomenal amount of traffic battles over the single runway.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

That's icing, not ice-axe. Leon Trotsky's house, hard to find in the south of the city at Calle Viena 45. The heavily defended villa remains as it was when the Russian revolutionary was assassinated in 1940. I was shown around by a Leon-lookalike, who even wore the same round glasses. A fascinating, off-the-tourist-trail trip.

A WALK IN THE PARK

The city has a fine pair of lungs: matching Chapultepec, location for the Anthropological Museum, the Alameda is a celebration of life each Sunday afternoon. At the adjacent Museo Mural Diego Rivera, the artist's heroic Dream of Sunday Afternoon at the Alameda depicts important figures from Cortes to Rivera himself.

BRACING BRUNCH

There are branches of Sanborn's, a quasi-American restaurant chain, all over Mexico. But the branch at Avenida Madera 4 is the best in the nation, occupying the extravagant, tile-clad Casa de los Azulejos.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

You need walk only a short distance north from the Zocalo along Calle Monte de Piedad to leave the crowds behind and find peace and sanctity at the Santo Domingo church, a masterpiece of colonial architecture.

DEMURE DINNER

The name of the most intriguing restaurant I found is also its address: Bolivar 12, handily also on the map. Stylish and fun, it serves excellent food and 130 varieties of tequila; in my experience, one brand is more than enough. In the immediate vicinity there are numerous other options.

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas