From temples to markets to fine dining, we packed a lot into 48 hours in Mexico City. Touching down to news of the shockwave from the US election, we wondered if we’d notice the locals on edge. But we were quickly swept into exploring the whirlwind of busy streets and soon had limited headspace for pondering geopolitics as we marvelled at ancient ruins and filled our bellies with delicious food.
We kicked things off the next day exploring Templo Mayor, one of the main temples of the Aztecs and built during the 14th and 15th centuries. I had many misconceptions about Mexico corrected during our two weeks exploring part of this fascinating country, but I think one of the main ones was that the Aztecs and other peoples whose names are familiar to us were in power relatively recently. It seems a bit silly typing it now, given I knew that they had been largely wiped out by colonisation, but still I was surprised!
Templo Mayor consists of five temple complexes dating from distinct periods but built largely on top of each other. You traverse walkways over and through the ruins, and I was impressed how much has been excavated and preserved, especially considering the Spanish attempted to destroy the site in order to construct their cathedral in the 16th century. The site and its museum were a great introduction to the history between the existing peoples of Mexico and those who came to conquer.
After exploring for a couple of hours, we were in need of a sugar boost, so headed to Dulceria de Celaya, an artisanal bakery that produces all of its delicious sweet treats. Established in 1874, the interior hasn’t changed in over 100 years – the huge registers and measuring scales are a total blast from the past. I highly recommend the meringue but if you’re more adventurous than me, maybe a candy skull would take your fancy?
Our next stop was Mercado de Artesanas Ciudadela, a huge crafts and food market with over 350 stalls. The colourful merchandise caught my eye at every turn, from bags to tiles to paintings to glasswork. It was almost overwhelming! I’m always wary of buying souvenirs at the beginning of a trip, but if I’d been in the mood to purchase I would have been hard-pressed to decide on just a few items. Instead I satisfied my stomach with a local Victoria beer and tasty Sopa Azteca, a soup with avocado and tortilla (a great combo!).
We continued to explore Mexico’s streets, and given it was a lot chillier than Cuba a stop for hot chocolate and churros was a must. El Moro has been open since 1935 and has a fairly simple menu of sweet treats – difficult choices include cinnamon or chocolate for your churro sauce, and how many types of cream and syrup you’d like added to your hot chocolate! You can get takeaway or sit in the bustling restaurant – we enjoyed the chance to rest our by-now weary legs.
Our final treat for the day was extremely special, a meal for our reunited gang of Kiwis who’d flown from New Zealand and London to meet in Mexico as a joint celebration for our 30th birthdays. Lucy, our foodie extraordinaire, had booked us a table at Pujol, routinely cited as the best restaurant in the city and currently ranked 20th in the world. It was an outstanding meal, with unusual and delicious flavour combinations taking inspiration from the city. We also sampled their famous mole, which is cooked continuously and when we visited was deemed 1120 days old. Mole can be meat or vegetarian based – at Pujol it is the latter. It’s a blend of chocolate with dried chiles, nuts, tomato, and garlic and in our group was highly divisive… most didn’t like it but I personally enjoyed the earthy blend and sampled a few more on the trip!
The next day our tour started. Given we had nine of us, with two more to join part-way through, and a short time to cover a lot of ground, we treated ourselves to a private tour with Mextrotter. Our incredible guide Cesar and driver Adan took such great care of us, and Cesar always had a fascinating or hilarious historical anecdote at his fingertips. We headed to Teotihuacan, a huge ruined city dating from around 100 AD. Here was the ancient culture I had been picturing!
Given its age and the fact that it is believed to have been largely destroyed around 550 AD, little is known about the people who built Teotihuacan although it is thought that they were the rulers of a much larger empire. The incredible site covers 83 square kilometers in all, meaning we only got to explore a small piece. However the views from the Pyramids of the Moon and Sun were amazing – well worth the very steep steps required to gain the top!
Although there were plenty of visitors, the magnitude of Teotihuacan means they were swallowed up and it was easy to find a moment of quiet. Staring down the Avenue of the Dead, I imagined the bustle that might have taken place along the wide road when 125,000 people are thought to have made the area their home. I loved the bright colours and bird decorations on the restored buildings around the Pyramid of the Moon, which could have been homes or more likely religious buildings given their proximity to the pyramid.
Looking at the Temple of the Moon from the top of the Temple of the Sun
We made our way back into the city via the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This is one of the most important religious sites in Mexico as it is where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego. Believers tell the story of multiple appartions by the Lady to the saint, culminating in the manifestation of her image on his cloak, which today is on display in the Basilica. Believer or not, the views out over the city from the Capilla de Cerrito above the main Basilica are beautiful. You may even see a pilgrim climbing the many steps to the Capilla on their knees.
After the long day and the food extravaganza of the night before, we wanted something simple for dinner and Cesar knew just the place. The super-fresh, super-tasty tostadas and tacos that were the specialty of Salon Corona were utterly perfect. I nearly lost my mind over the delicious octopus tostada – I ended up having two!
And then it was time for bed – we had an early start in the morning as the colourful houses of Cholula and Puebla awaited!
Have you visited Mexico City? Did you cram your visit into a similar timeframe, or take it slow?