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Megalopolises of the World: Spotlight on Mexico City

9 May

Benito Juarez

There are few places in the Americas that rival the deep cultural richness and history of Mexico. In fact, some may argue that it’s one of  the most important in terms of an intricately woven education in cultural Anthropology. It is thus, against such a backdrop, that a city, one of the largest and most densely populated the world over thrives day in day out. That megalopolis is Mexico City.

 Before the Conquistadors set foot on what the Spaniards would later christen the center of its new capital, ancient civilizations across chiefdoms called it home. Through the following centuries and a tumultuous history set against the backdrop of a thriving regal capital, a megalopolis would be birthed. Religion, being a focal point for Catholic Spain would take center stage, giving rise to some of the most impressive feats in the world of architecture (see the Metropolitan Cathedral in Zocalo and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tepeyac, in the north of the city) as well revolutions that would give rise to some of the most brilliant minds of our time.

Mexico City has a reputation; indeed perhaps several. For some of its neighbors to the north, it’s likely not a place that conjures up desirable feelings. Its tortured past coupled with a fair dose of media sensationalism has largely shaped these less than desirable feelings. Put it this way, it’s not a place a lot of people have on their list of having been-tos as opposed to more popular tourist beach town draws on the Yucatán or on the Pacific. This mentality is rapidly changing, however, as Mexico City continues to charm the hearts of its visitors and word of mouth testimonials proliferate the traveling masses.It is indeed a majestic city; a capital that rivals some of the best in the world and it’s a place that begs to be explored.

Most international flight arrivals here touch down at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International airport (named after the popular historic figurehead; the very first indigenous President of Mexico who hailed from Oaxaca), T1. As of this writing, Aeromexico and Delta flights arrive at terminal 2 (T2). The journey into the heart of town is fairly straightforward though you’ll need to battle it out with the multiple taxi vendors vying for your business once you’re in the Arrivals Hall. The fare typically ranges widely from 200-400 pesos. Making  the fare purchase with the cab operator before proceeding to the taxi stand to board your ride into town is necessary. To note: Uber is in operation in Mexico City as well and makes for a relatively inexpensive ride into and around town.

Diego RiveraThis city is huge and thus there are many facets to its characteristics. The various neighborhoods that make up the central area also take on its own distinctive flare. There’s Reforma, which has long been the epitome of the planned city with it’s big, wide boulevards (see Paseo de La Reforma), luxury hotels, and ample retail therapy; then there are the neighborhoods of Roma (Norte y Sud — North and South, a favorite) and, also, the ultralux barrio of Polanco, a neighborhood that could almost be plucked out of chic Los Angeles, to name but a few. One our first visit, we settled on no frills accommodation at the Four Points by Sheraton in Roma Norte. It is a perfectly situated hotel in the middle of this very charming neighborhood–with easy access to many restaurants, nightlife and other points of interest. AirBnB accommodations (a choice we made on a return trip) are plentiful as well.

Getting around town is fairly easy and straightforward. We did a lot of exploring on foot which was just fine but taxis can be hailed or, for the more adventurous (and thrifty) the subway is a mostly decent alternative. A one way trip–as of this writing–is a mere 5 pesos (roughly 40 cents). It’s a dependable network, for the most part, and is well patrolled by police officers, so one does have a feeling of safety as a straphanger.  Still, as usual, exercising caution is highly advisable at all times in these sorts of situations.

Metropolitan CathedralMexico City is an explorer’s delight. Being a place that’s steeped in rich history, the city itself is a museum of sorts (and I would argue a place that’s rightfully earned it’s spot as a potential World Heritage Site). Fortunately, varied collections of artifacts, and other prominent works are on display at the numerous museums that dote the area, like the National Museum of Anthropology.  Other historical points of interest like the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace featuring famous frescoes by native Diego Rivera, Chapultepec Castle on Chapultepec Hill, and the architectural delight, Palacio de Bellas Artes where you can catch performances ought not to be missed.

Further afield, the charming town of Coyoacan where prolific artists and activists Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera once lived is a great place to explore. Don’t miss La Casa Azul (the blue house) their immaculately preserved home (and now a museum), the town square with its leafy central garden (Jardin Centenario) and fountain, featuring the drinking Coyotes (origin of the town’s name), and historic, Parish of San Juan Bautista, one of the oldest parish churches in Mexico City.  It is also a place to sit a while and grab a bite.

Other possible day trips from Mexico City include the charming town of Puebla (roughly 2 hrs outside the city) where you can sample all manner of Mole and other delicacies while taking in the sights of city like Puebla Cathedral. 

It’s a multifaceted, culturally rich city that offers visitors a truly remarkable experience. It remains endlessly fascinating to me and I always look forward to visiting again. I highly recommend it. 

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