Travelers often view Mexico City
as a launching pad from which to take off on their way to other parts of the
country. But the city is more than just a hub for reaching Gaudalajara, Acapulco
and Merida. It is also a hub for Mexico's arts, finance, history and politics.
Why not stay a few days in the 386-square-mile capital that is always spring-like
and in bloom. You might spend one day each in the Chapultepec Park area,
the Historic Center and the southern section.
|Garden at Chapultepec Castle
credit: Paul Noble
A cross between Central Park and
the Bois de Boulogne, 1600-acre Chapultepec Park contains five museums, two
lakes and a zoo. One of those museums, the National Museum of Anthropology,
has three miles of exhibits on two floors. It boasts an overwhelming Mayan temple
reconstructed in its entirety, other ruins and 26 displays of extraordinary
Another must-see situated on the
same acreage is the National Museum of History at Chapultepec Castle,
a spectacular and beautifully preserved memorial commemorating 200 years of
history. The building formerly housed several Mexican leaders, including the
controversial Maxmillian during his brief reign. Highlights include beautiful
murals, a gold leaf carriage, stained-glass windows, antiques and a garden designed
with a perfect sense of symmetry. Even the tearoom and the restrooms are unusual.
Scattered throughout the city are
1,500 historic buildings, many of which were turned into museums. You will find
a number of unique ones appealing to special interests. The Diego Rivera
Mural Museum was built to showcase his famous "Dream of a Sunday Afternoon
in Alameda Park," which was rescued from a hotel demolished in an earthquake.
Some of the interesting attractions
are located in outlying areas. Thirty-one miles away in a northeasterly direction
is the famous site of Teotihaucan, once a sprawling ancient city with
a 215-foot high pyramid. Thirty-eight miles to the southeast is Xochimilco,
the celebrated "floating gardens," filled with colorful trajineras (Mexican-style
gondolas) which take tourists through the canals as they are entertained by
mariachi and marimba bands.
Shopping is excellent ranging from
mercados offering Mexican artifacts to American-style malls. In the Polonco
neighborhood, a modern area of upscale shops, you can find such brands Armani,
Versace, Hermes, Gucci, Tiffany and so forth.
It is effortless to get around. Private cabs cost about $15 an hour and will wait for you while you sightsee. However, you should ask your hotel to call for a taxi, which brings to mind a misconception that the city is extremely dangerous. Not so, unless you are going to walk the streets alone at night wearing a Rolex. If you are cautious, you will find that it is no less safe than in any other metropolis.
Two final notes: It is easy to reach Mexico City on Aeromexico, the country's premier carrier. A friend who travels there frequently reminded me to pack extra padding for my shoes especially for the back of the feet. That advice made a big difference and I'd be a heel not to share it with you.
Temple of the Sun at the Pyramids of Teotihaucan credit: Paul Noble
Located in the heart of town, near
the Chapultepec region, Camino Real is a resort-style hotel and the flagship
of the popular Mexican chain. It has four restaurants, four bars and 717 rooms
including some that are designated Camino Real Club with concierge-style amenities.
There are 35 suites, including the presidential suite with bulletproof windows
where over 150 heads of state have stayed. Luxurious bathrooms have marble and
crystal. Half of the guestrooms face the courtyard pool, the rest the gardens.
Located on the premises are also a state-of-the-art business center with 29
meeting rooms, a full fitness center, 3 swimming pools and 4 rooftop tennis
courts. The look is modern with the bold architecture, striking colors and authentic
decor. The hotel is so posh that Le Cirque chose it as the site to open its
third restaurant in November 2001.
“Our clients always feel as if they
are staying in Mexico," said Adrian Schjetnan, vice-president, marketing & development
for Camino Real Hotels. You will feel almost as important as the most prominent
guests as you walk around this spacious spot admiring 400 pieces of original
art worth $15 million.
Camino Real, Mariano Escobedo,
700, 11590. Tel (800) 7- CAMINO. Rates begin at $250. www.caminoreal.com
Some of the places to dine are also
the places to see. La Hacienda de los Morales has been around for 400
years, although it's only been a restaurant for the last 30, during which time
it has become an institution. This 17th-century hacienda with dramatic welcoming
torches outside contains several dining and banquet rooms along with a tequila
bar. Walnut soup and squash flower crepes are the signature dishes. Coats and
ties are required.
La Hacienda de los Morales, Vazquez
de Mella 525. Tel. 5096.3054 al 56. Expensive. www.haciendadelosmorales.com
If you are going to the Pyramids
of Teotihaucan, don't miss Restaurant La Gruta. Housed inside a large
cave, which was discovered in 1906, the restaurant is almost as unforgettable
as the pyramids. Not only will you savor the food, but you will enjoy the cool
natural temperature after walking around in the heat to view the Pyramid
of the Sun.
Restaurant La Gruta, Zona Arqueologica
Teotihuacan, Edo. Tel. (015-95) 60104, 60127. Moderate.
Centro Castellano looks like
an attractive Spanish home. The curved ceiling was built with red bricks brought
from Catalonia. Delicious lamb and mutton are cooked a brick oven. If you prefer
seafood, try the shrimp ajillo or paella in a clay dish. The wine list is impressive
Centro Castellano, Camino Real
Hotel, Mariano Escobedo, 700, 11590 Tel. 5/203-2121. Moderate.