Travel

Mexico City’s Ravishing Renaissance

by Ivan  Quintanilla
Contributor
Sunday Nov 11, 2012
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When I mentioned to friends I was visiting Mexico City, I was told to not drink the water, to not get kidnapped, and to be careful with the pollution. I was told these things repeatedly by almost everyone... almost everyone who had never visited Mexico City.

Well, I am happy to report that I did not get sick once on my trip, I was not the victim of any crime, and my lungs do not struggle any more during physical exercise than they did prior to my visit.

Big and gritty and complex and glamorous, Mexico City defies categorization. El Distrito Federal or DF, as the city is commonly called, is far more nuanced than many of the country’s famous resort towns, where the tourism bubble stays easily intact.

Here, you are in it; it’s real life in a real, big city. This is where people work, live, eat... and, yes, party. Spending a few days among DF’s 20 million people, you’ll discover a vibrant culture, delicious food, a hoppin’ gay scene, and a colorful whirlwind of unexpected surprises.

Mexico City has come a long way, baby. The sky is clearing up more each year thanks to green initiatives that have included vertical gardens, emissions regulations, and the EcoBici bike-sharing program. Police presence is up, violent crimes are down and culture is everywhere.

Beyond the 150 museums, the city’s monuments and public art projects make every step out the door an artistically fulfilling experience: high-perched sculptures sprout from busy intersections; artist designed benches dot Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s grand boulevard; and vibrant murals brighten commuting through the city’s crowded metro.


WHAT TO DO:

The Zócalo, the buzzing grand plaza in the Centro Historico, has been the core of Mexico City life since before Mexico City existed. Here lie the Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor, dating back to 1325. This heart of a civilization lay hidden under paved streets until 1978, when electricians working underground discovered a massive pre-Hispanic stone. Now, you can stroll through what remains of the ancient temples, while exploring the roots of modern Mexico City in the adjoining museum.

Outside, modern-day Aztec warriors dance in full plumage, adding to the whirlwind of vendors, tourists and locals crisscrossing the busy plaza.

From recovered ancient stone to reflective avant-garde metal, continue your artistic journey toward the art collection of Forbes "World’s Richest Man," Carlos Slim. When your private collection includes works by Rodin, Picasso, and Dalí, it deserves to be displayed within a shimmering curved masterpiece designed by Mexican architect (and Mr. Slim’s son-in-law) Fernando Romero. Located in the upscale Polanco neighborhood and free to the public, the silver pentagon tiles of the Museo Soumaya’s exterior are as much of a draw, if not more, than the collection itself.

Across town, the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) presents something new with every visit. Flooded with natural light from skylights and windows, the museum features rotating temporary exhibits covering the visual, sound, film and performance arts. Additionally, MUAC reinterprets its own permanent collection every year by inviting a guest curator to organize the works with a fresh focus.


WHERE TO STAY:

When was the last time someone promised to satisfy your every wish? The W Mexico City will be your swanky genie-in-a-bottle. Whether you want a mariachi band performing in your bathtub or VIP tickets to a private club, the W concierge will make it happen through their "Whatever/Whenever" service (legally permitting, of course). Located in the Polanco area, steps from luxury shopping, galleries and Bosque Chapultepec, the largest city park in Latin America, the W Mexico is the place to indulge.

With the AWAY Spa and Fitness Center, Whiskey Bar, Solea restaurant at your fingertips-and spacious rooms that feature a hammock in your shower (should you be exhausted from your hygiene regimen)-you may have to force yourself to venture beyond the hotel’s colorfully accented lobby.

A hop, skip and a stumble from the bars of Zona Rosa-DF’s main gay neighborhood-the Valentina Hotel is a bright, modern and inexpensive option to lay your head. Part of the Room Mate Hotels chain, the hotel offers bikes for rent, free Wi-Fi and a complimentary breakfast buffet, served till the gaily-civilized hour of noon.


WHERE TO EAT:

From street grub to molecular gastronomy, Mexico City restaurants are as diverse as its people. To sample the staple dish of DF, visit any of the El Califa locations, serving every delicious taco variety till 4am. When roaming Centro Historico, sample seasonal specialties and flavored margaritas in the enclosed courtyard of Azul Historico. And at least one night treat yourself to a multi-course tasting menu of ancient and modern Mexican dishes reimagined by the genius Chef Enrique Olvera at Pujol.


WHERE TO PLAY:

Though the biggest concentration of gay nightlife is still in Zona Rosa, gay bars have sprouted in almost every neighborhood. When in Zona Rosa, you can’t stroll down Amberes Street without hearing the alternating English and Spanish music booming from the roof terrace at Lipstick. This indoor/outdoor club welcomes a mixed youngish clientele of men, women, tourists and locals. If you’re hungry for a little more beef, head to Nicho Bears & Bar for the bigger boys or to Tom’s Leather Bar with its rotating roster of naked go-go dancers and groping room. In the Centro Historico, a mostly local crowd packs into Marrakech Salon for a feel-free-to-dance-on-the-bar, attitude-free night out.

For the thumping club experience, Living continues to be the biggest and most popular gay nightclub in Mexico City, while Karmabeat hosts sweaty, shirt-off, circuit parties on special occasions and holiday weekends. If you’re craving a little boom-boom-boom before going back to your room, the gay bathhouse So.Do.Me. is a popular destination to "hang out" in whatever capacity you choose, either by lounging with old friends at the bar or with new acquaintances in a more intimate setting.


GETTING THERE & LEARNING MORE:

Aeromexico, Mexico’s global airline, offers direct flights to Mexico City from 17 gateways in the United States, including New York, Chicago, Miami and San Francisco.

For more great reasons to visit Mexico City, visit MexicoCityExperience.com

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Cuban born, Miami raised, Dallas and London educated and New York seasoned, Ivan Quintanilla is a travel writer and professional actor living in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. Read about his latest destinations at TravelingIQ.com





This article is part of our "Winter 2013" series. Want to read more? Here's the full list»

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