Mexico City as worthy a visit as any beach
Although Mexico City is the largest urban centre in the world, with crazy traffic, pollution and safety issues, that shouldn't keep the average Canadian traveller away. Not according to Calgary couple Anni and Brad Adams, who a year ago, accepted administrative positions there with an international school.
Today they are fledgling chilangos (Mexico City natives), who have fit right in to the Distrito Federal, the sprawling national government that encompasses the city.
Forget wrapping your head around the district's size and population of 21 million. Instead, the couple suggests embracing its chaos and culture.
"Mexico City is a crazy, colourful, noisy city with charming people and an incredible history that rivals Europe's," says Anni, adding it's one of the most vibrant places in the world.
But what about personal safety? According to Brad, they are cautious when they are out in crowds but overall, they feel safe and travel in and around the city extensively. In the last few years, crime levels have fallen drastically. The Mexican government even hired former New York mayor Rudolf Giuliani as a consultant to address the real and perceived dangers.
Start your trip with a walk through the zocalo, the third-largest main square in the world, and the heart of this historic city. In this plaza alone, you can gain a good understanding of Mexico's history from the Templo Mayor (the ruins of the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan) to the Metropolitan Cathedral (built on the site razed by Hernan Cortés) and then to the National Palace (where the murals of Diego Rivera graphically and boldly illustrate Mexican history).
Historical heavyweights aside, the district is an opportunity to experience some of the country's unique cultural diversions such as the Lucha Libre, where masked wrestlers perform precisely choreographed stunts. Every Tuesday and Friday, the Lucha Libre -- think Jack Black in Nacho Libre for the basic idea -- takes over Arena Mexico. (Arena Mexico: 189 Calle Dr. Lavista, Col. Doctores; cmll.com)
"The absurdity and high-flying antics inside and outside are part of the fun," says Brad. The cat calls, flashing lights, Latin rock anthems and superhero-like masks and outfits make a good, cheap evening of entertainment. Tickets start at $5 Cdn; $20 will get you a ringside seat. (youtube.com/watch?v=STsqiI_w7gw)
If kitschy isn't part of your sporting vernacular, there is also bullfighting at Plaza Mexico, the world's largest bullring (November to March), soccer at Estadio Azteca (book ahead of time for major games) or top-notch pro-boxing in Salon 21.
But in Mexico "naco" (slang for tacky or trashy) is supremely cool. According to travel magazines, the outlandish atmosphere of the wrestling arena has been embraced by rich and poor alike.
The kitsch craze has even spilled over into fashionable neighbourhoods, such as Condesa and Roma. Both are centrally located in the between trendy Polanco (home to sweeping masions and guarded embassies) and the historic centre, just south of the Zona Rosa.
Here lounges, boutiques and pricey apartments have been inspired by outrageous themes. For a taste of this campy charm, go to Jesus Malverde bar whose decor includes lucha libre masks, Virgin of Guadalupe prints, and even a lip-synching deer head.
If you're looking for something more traditional, Anni suggests the Villa Maria restaurant in Polanco known for its giant margaritas and Mariachi music. The menu includes Aztec soup, enchiladas, tamales, seafood and stuffed peppers; most entrees are reasonably priced between $11 to $20 Cdn per person per dish. Remember that locals usually eat lunch, their main meal, between two and four in the afternoon. (Villa Maria: Homero No. 704; villamaria.com.mx/)
Because the couple lives on the western edge of the city, they have often stayed downtown for a night during the weekend. Their favourite midrange hotel in the historic centre is Hotel Canada, which has rooms with decent-sized bathrooms and king-sized beds. (Hotel Canada: Calle 5 de Mayo, No. 47, Centro Historico; 55.5518.2106; hotelcanada.com/mx; $65 for a double room.)
Another choice would be the Best Western hotel, facing the zocalo and has a good afternoon buffet. (Best Western: Ave Madero 73 Col Centro; 52.55.5521.8600; majestic.com.mx; doubles start at $135.)
For the tens of thousands of Canadians who visit Mexico's coastal resorts each year, a worthwhile addition would be a few days or a week in Mexico City. To echo Anni and Brad Adams:"Vive la Ciudad de Mexico!"