A Travellerspoint blog

The Yin and Yang of Mexico City

sunny 28 °C

The more we travel around Mexico City, the more we realize it would take years to understand it. How to describe a city that changes from one block to the next and offers glimpses into lives of both tremendous wealth and and tremendous struggle - all within a few kilometres of one another? We haven't seen the wealthiest neighbourhoods, nor have we seen the poorest. We are seeing only what the tourists see and within those narrow boundaries we are challenged, stimulated, horrified, impressed and delighted every minute of the day. So many questions, so few answers.

A feast for the eyes, a democratic gift to all citizens - these pedestrian walkways that run between four lanes of traffic are literally life-saving. Why have more cities not adopted this practice of making urban life more livable?


Our neighbourhood is filled with dramatic entryways. I love this gorgeous doorway, but how in the world does it accommodate a new sofa or fridge?


Not every building in our area is Art Nouveau or Art Deco. There are a good number of more modern apartment buildings - most of them with balconies crammed with plants. We were told that most newer buildings were built to replace the original buildings that had been destroyed in the catastrophic 1985 earthquake.


We walked past this site - cordoned off and ready to demolish. Amazing that it has stood empty for so long, but the damage was so widespread that it has taken this many years to recover, and they're not done yet.


Like all great cities, Mexico City is all about the neighbourhoods. Each one is unique and offers a distinctive architecture, history and even demographics. One of the oldest, San Angel was once a small town. In 1934, it was declared a Pueblo Tipico Pintoresco ( Picturesque Typical Town), which indeed it is, and has since been swallowed up by urban sprawl. Charming homes, cobblestoned streets, a monastery and the Saturday artisan market are among the draws. As our cab driver told us, " Muy bonita. Muy cara." Very beautiful. Very expensive.

This home had an armed security guard out front and a gardener sweeping up errant leaves off the sidewalk. The guard told us that many people stop to take photos (I asked permission) of the compelling artwork at the entrance. This was the only clue as to the grandeur that lay behind those doors.


Many homes in San Angel are like that - concrete fortresses that present a blank facade to the outside world, and to potential intruders.


This one offered more of a glimpse, but was equally well-protected.


Inviting tree-lined streets and laneways.



The El Carmen Monastery is right in the centre of town, set in magnificent gardens. There was a service on while we were there, but like the rest of San Angel, there were guards to discourage us from peeking in. Stephen popped in front of this monster agave to give a sense of scale.


The long-standing Saturday Market has its home in this handsome building, which houses some truly high-end works by local artists - fine pottery, jewelry, woodwork, textiles and custom design clothing and footwear.


Outside, dozens of artists and craftspeople display their wares in the Plaza de San Jacinto and on the adjoining sidewalks.



Since this is primarily an artist market, there was not a lot of fresh food, other than some eye-wateringly-priced macarons. I loved the fact that this lady had piggy-backed onto the market, and set up her wares. She was quite happy to pose for a photo - who could resist those artichokes?


And...interestingly, San Angel was also the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It's complicated - the famous Casa Azul which belonged to Frida, and was shared by Diego, is in Coyoacan, and that is the house that attracts the crowds.

The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo served as house and studio to both artists, although it was primarily Rivera's home. This arrangement speaks to the tempestuous relationship and perhaps to their artistic temperaments as well.



And far from the genteel beauty of San Angel, we take you to Juarez. It is currently Mexico City's financial centre, but was once a wealthy enclave; its streets filled with magnificent mansions. In recent years, since the 1985 earthquake, those mansions have been abandoned, severely deteriorated and occupied by squatters. Juarez is also home to Zone Rosa (Pink Zone), which has a large gay population.

The area can best be described as up-and-coming; vibrant, gritty and very much a slice of urban life.

Typical of this area - one intact and well-maintained building is situated right next to one that could use a little love.


The main pedestrian-only street is loud, brash and home to fast food chains, cheap clothing outlets and adult-only shops.


Street art tells provocative stories:


Tells scary stories:


Celebrates Mexico's favourite sport:


Celebrates Mexico's international icon:


Poverty is more visible here. There is a different tension in the streets - a little more jangly in some areas. Whether it is warranted or not, I was more conscious of my surroundings, more conscious of my belongings. It was never frightening, just less relaxing.

A large encampment lies in the shadow of this church. It runs for a couple of blocks and it appears to house several families.


And yet, there is beauty. Several artists have set up shop in Juarez, including this beautiful store selling handcrafted garments. The mural on the wall speaks to the time-honoured Mexican tradition of textile art.


I think this fabulous old building is an embassy, but I couldn't find a sign (that I could understand).


Also fabulous, but new. This style of architecture is quite common in Mexico City - big gravity-defying blocks suspended high in the air.


Street-corner, plastic-stool dining. Most of them are busy, with line-ups - those are the ones with tender foreign tummies to check out.


And...Mexico's pride, its Central Park, its Sunday family madness - Chapultepec Park. This is the second largest park in Latin America - a massive green space just crammed with every imaginable attraction. We deliberately went on a Sunday, which is like a carnival. Families descend upon the park in great numbers and walk, bike, roller-blade, go for paddle boat rides, buy balloons and trinkets and chow down on corn, candy, tacos, juices, more candy. Watching Mexican families in action is at least as much fun as anything else the park has to offer.

We entered at the entrance with the magnificent Ninos Heroes Monument - dedicated to six child cadets who died defending Mexico in the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.


Within the park there are several very good museums - the Tamayo Contemporary Art Museum and the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology. We didn't go to either museum this year as we have been twice before.

Entrance to the National Museum of Anthropology


We did go to the Museum of Modern Art, which had three expositions. The first one, called "Discontinuous Times" dealt with the disruption of the pandemic, and the effects on mental health.

Domingo, by Javier Anzures


Fragmented Landscapes showed ways to express alternative renditions of familiar images.

Boy, by Reynaldo Velazquez Zebadua


The third exposition dealt with feminism, and some groundbreaking images from the Movimento Nacional de Mujeres in macho '60s Mexico.

This arresting image by Hermina Dosel


The Botanical Gardens are a delight, and according to these folks at the gate - they are under threat of being torn up and being developed - a museum, other buildings - it wasn't clear. For the zero impact it will likely have, I signed a petition and went in through the gates to appreciate something that might not be here next time we visit.


The gardens have several species of mature trees and shrubs, as well as a huge greenhouse.


There are also ponds which are home to several fish and at least one handsome tortuga.


We knew there was a Sunday bike ride, in which 20 miles of major roads are blocked to vehicles, which brings out the cyclists in droves. We sadly forgot about this bike ride, until we got to the park - it would have been fun to join in.


And you thought I would never stop talking! We have so little time left and still so much to do. That's it for now - we will see you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 03:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico_city art_nouveau chapultepec_park art_deco colonia_juarez san_angel museum_of_modern_art

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WOW! thank you. Mexico City has always been known to me as the largest city in..... , dense, poor/rich, huge! Love love love the sun blue sky enhancing the buildings, streets, plants!

by Robin Louise Pile

Love your blogs. As you say so much to see and so little time. You can spend hours in the museums and parks, Mexico City is amazing. We are now in Cabo, so nice to feel the sun on your body. Have a safe trip back and will see you when we get back.

by Joy

I had no idea there was so much to see. You are covering it well & I appreciate your blog. A comfortable way for me to travel now !
by Lyn Morris

by Lyn Morris

Wonderful blog! I like everything about this tour of Mexico City...except having my last post flagged as spam

by Bob

Another wonderful story in words and pictures. You are both such brave travellers. We leave March 21 and with another storm predicted for Thursday, I've seen enough snow to last a lifetime. Looking forward to your next chapter. Take care! Wish we could have managed a "meet and greet"! Summer perhaps?

by Joan Fisher

Wonderful photos again ! Love all the art on the walls .
Lots of stories when you get home 🏡
Cheers Vikki

by Vikki Vettese

The title for your latest blog is very fitting for Mexico City, it seems. So much to see, do and reflect upon. Knowing you two, you’ll squeeze as much out of your visit as you can. Bravo!

by Heather Scott

Wow! Thank you so much!

by ED McHugh

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