Before the Day of the Dead festivities, we spent a couple of days exploring Mexico City to take in all the sights.
In the morning we headed to the Mercado (market). The place is full of little stalls, all tightly packed in together. There are plenty of things on sale from handmade jewellery to bunches of flowers. It felt quite claustrophobic and most of the stalls seemed to be selling tat but, like with most things in Mexico, everything was very cheap. Gemma managed to pick up some handmade Day of the Dead style earrings for just 22p!
We then made our way to Del Gran Hotel De La Ciudad De Mexico. This is the hotel that James Bond disappears into after the Day of the Dead parade in the opening scene. The hotel is beautiful. From the lobby, you can see past all the floors up to the stunning Tiffany glass roof which shimmers in different shades of green, blue and yellow.
In the afternoon, we got the Metro to Tasquena and then the Tren Ligero to Xochimilco. Xochimilco is known as the floating gardens. There is a system of canals with garden centres on the banks. There are brightly coloured boats which are punted along and on the canals there are other boats selling food and drinks and some with Mariachi bands which will play alongside you for a small fee.
After being pressurised to get on every boat we passed, we opted to hire one from a young lad who was the only person who could speak English. We went out for about an hour (which cost us £15.00!) with a stop off at a lovely little garden centre. There were lots of other boats out and about. We had so much fun accidentally crashing into the other boats and listening to the Mariachi bands.
First stop of the day was the Palacio Nacional to view the Diego Murals painted by Mexico’s most famous artist – Diego Rivera. The murals go up the main staircase from the main inner courtyard and along half of the first floor and show the history of Mexico from ancient times, the Spanish conquistadors and through to the present day. The murals are very impressive and detailed. Entrance is free as long as you have identification but they only let approximately 150 people in at a time so get there early, it opens at 10am and visitors start queueing from about 9:30am.
Next door to the Palacio Nacional is the Museo Nacional De Las Culturas. This is also free to enter but apart from the Day of the Dead decorations in the central courtyard and a small shrine, it was mainly reproductions of old statutes and artefacts from museums around the world.
Following another traditional Mexican breakfast, we made our way to the Palacio De Bellas Artes. This is a beautiful building with lovely Art Deco details and a domed roof, which from the outside fades from orange to yellow in colour. Entrance is free to the public to view the foyer but if you want to view the main theatre, you can arrange a tour at the reception.
We then crossed the park to the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. The main attraction is a mural Diego Rivera did for a hotel called “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda” and has almost every famous Mexican character. The mural is beautifully painted and there is plenty of information about the characters in English. In addition to the mural, there are loads of sketches and paintings from Diego’s trip to America around the time of the Great Depression. It only costs about £1.20 each for entry and 0.20p for a photo pass. Definitely worth a visit!
We then hopped on the Metro West, out of the central area to Chapultepec Park to see the Museo Nacional De Anthropologia. It is a vast museum with lots of artefacts from all the ancient Mexican civilisations. It is more than a bit overwhelming in scale. The museum is set around a large outdoor courtyard with a huge totem pole water feature and a pond filled with Koi carp. Around the courtyard are rooms around the sides for the different time periods in Mexico and the civilisations of those times. Each of the rooms is full of artefacts and some have outside areas with replica temples and statutes. Some of the artefacts were amazing. Our favourite was the huge stone Aztec calendar which looks a lot like the Aztec gold in Pirates of the Caribbean.
We stayed at a lovely apartment through AirBnB which was about a 5 minute walk to the Zocalo and the perfect location for exploring Mexico City. https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/1022380.
Food & Drink:
Cafe De Tacuba – a traditional Mexican restaurant. We went for late breakfast. Lovely, milky and very hot coffee is poured in front of you. The eggs with refried beans and the green enchiladas are very good. The restaurant is beautifully tiled with stained glass windows and the service is great. http://www.cafedetacuba.com.mx/en/
Gran Hotel De La Ciudad De Mexico – the restaurant is on the top floor of the hotel which overlooks the Zocalo. It is open air so bring a coat/jumper. The food is ok but the service is slow. We would recommend going up for a Margarita and take in the view of the Zocalo. https://granhoteldelaciudaddemexico.com.mx/es/la-terraza-restaurante/
Cafe El Popular – another traditional Mexican restaurant. We had a kind of Mexican cheese on toast but with refried beans between the toast and cheese. It was delicious. The service is great and the coffee was lovely.
Lalo! – lovely Italian with Neapolitan wood fired pizzas and quirky paintings on the walls. Pizza was delicious and service was great. http://eat-lalo.com.
A little bit of Spanish goes a long way – the majority of people in Mexico City do not speak English so a small amount of Spanish is essential, even if it’s just hello and thank you. Most people will be able to understand English but not speak it. If all else fails, use Google translate!
Monday sight seeing is a no go – all the major attractions in Mexico City, mainly around the Zocalo, are shut on Mondays. The floating gardens at Xochimilco are open though as are most restaurants and shops.
Go anti-clockwise – The Museo Nacional De Anthropologia is vast. Make sure you go anti-clockwise round the courtyard into each of the exhibits starting from the right as you enter. If not, you will start at the most recent civilisation and end on the Evolution of Man!