5 Things I Did Not Know about Mexico City
All photos by David Cogswell
Today people are constantly seeking the opinion and advice of experts, but I don’t think we should entirely overlook the value of ignorant people. Ignorant people also have much to teach us.
I, for example, recently visited Mexico City for the first time, and it was only after I had arrived that I discovered how ignorant I had been about the place until that moment. An ignorant person has one advantage over an expert in such a situation, because there is so much room, so to speak, to expand. Everything is new. Nothing is old hat.
As an ignorant person, I may be able to be of service to other ignorant people. I may perhaps have a better idea of what to tell them than would an expert, who is so far from an ignorant person it is probably difficult to even imagine that mindset.
I, on the other hand, can easily imagine that mindset because I was that person myself only weeks ago, before I experienced Mexico City for myself. I learned a great deal in a short time, but obviously only so much. I remain highly ignorant of Mexico City. But I am vastly more knowledgeable than I was two weeks ago.
Here are five things I learned about Mexico City, that other ignorant people may find as fascinating as I did.
READ MORE: 6 Places To Embrace In Mexico City
Uno: The border towns and resort areas do not prepare you for Mexico City.
People who knew Mexico City always told me: “Don’t judge Mexico by the border towns.” Of course telling you what something isn’t doesn’t go very far towards telling you what it is. I had no complaints about the border towns anyway. I had had some of the most memorable times of my life partying with friends in the border towns of Mexico, especially one time when I had the opportunity to spend time with some local friends of friends who showed me the insider view of Nogales.
At that time one of the young women in our group had a wad of cash her mother had given her to buy shoes. She spent it all paying the mariachis to play on into the night for us while we danced on the sidewalk. (Your money goes a long way in Mexico). I had never had so much fun in my life. I’m sorry about my friend’s feet. I hope it was worth it for her; it surely was for me.
Telling me Mexico City was not like the border towns didn’t tell me much, but opened my imagination to practically any possibility. I hoped that the great sense of fun, celebration of life, soulful music and friendly people of the border towns was not something that changed as you moved further into the country.
Well folks, I can tell you now that those particular attributes are not lost when you go further into Mexico. In a sense, those traits become more concentrated and refined as you move into the country. The culture of the border towns is somewhat distorted by the tourist trade, which turns those cities into tourism showcases, caricatures of the real Mexico.
However, those wonderful, joyous, colorful, musical ways of the Mexicans that you meet in Nogales are also the ways of their brethren further south.
Dos: Mexico City is mild.
The resort areas also do not show you what to expect in Mexico City. One of the biggest surprises of Mexico City for me, after being in the resort areas on the east and west coasts, is that Mexico City is not hot. In the resorts on either the Pacific side around Los Cabos or on the Caribbean side in the Cancun area, the sun is scorching hot. That’s part of the attraction of a beach resort, and those are wonderful.
But Mexico City, which is further south than both of the major resort areas, is surprisingly not hot. Its altitude of 7,000 feet above sea level on the Central Plateau of Mexico makes the city cool and comfortable year round.
There are two seasons: the rainy season, during our summer, and the dry season. The difference is that there is more rain during the rainy season. It rains some every day, just passing, refreshing storms. High daily temperatures throughout the year range from the 60s Fahrenheit to the 80s, and the lows range from the 40s to the 60s.
Tres: Mexico City is like a city built in a forest.
Although the population of greater Mexico City is 20 million, the city doesn’t feel separated from the natural environment it was built in. Mexico City’s population within the city limits is more than 8 million, more than New York City, but it does not have the super-concentrated urban steel and concrete feeling that Manhattan has.
Even along Reforma Avenue, the great broad showcase boulevard that was designed to emulate Paris’ Champs d’ Elyse (though it is lined with some of the most striking skyscrapers in the world) there is greenery everywhere.
The Paseo de la Reforma is 10 lanes wide, divided into four sections. In the middle is a park median with tall trees, bushes, grass and park benches. I took many pictures of the skyscrapers along Reforma Avenue, and all of the pictures have trees in them too. You are never cut off from plant life in Mexico City
Plants were growing in great proliferation practically everywhere I visited, along streets, in pots, in roof gardens and in wall gardens. It may not be that way throughout the city, but in the parts I experienced, Mexico City felt like a garden.
Cuatro: For culture and history, Mexico City rivals the cities of Europe.
Though Mexico City is in the Americas, it is nearly 500 years old, as it was founded in 1521 as a Spanish colony. When you include the pre-Columbian history, as you would in Europe, the history stretches out much farther. The Aztecs founded their city there in 1325. After two centuries, the city was virtually destroyed by the Spanish, who built their city on the ruins of the Aztec city.
Many archaeological traces of the Aztec city can still be seen in Mexico City both in museums and in the open air. The history of the native groups who lived in the area before the Aztecs can also be traced.
Archaeologists break that history into three parts, Pre-Classic, before the year 1 A.D.; Classic, from 1 to 900, and Post-Classic after 900.
The history since colonial times becomes increasingly rich, as all of the diverse cultural streams blend into a colorful whole and the history passes through a series of tumultuous events as the country formed and defined itself over the centuries.
I was told that Mexico City has more museums than any other city, and I can confirm that it does have more museums than you could possibly visit without living there for an extended period. I can recommend in particular the amazing National Museum of Anthropology, which you could spend years exploring and studying; the Museum of Modern Art of Mexico and the Frida Kahlo Museum.
Cinco: As exotic as Mexico is, it is highly accessible.
Exotic is a subjective term, but to me Mexico City is exotic. It is culturally and geographically remote from the U.S. and has the cultural richness of Europe or Asia, but it is not nearly as hard to reach. As I look on Orbitz today (for reference, I personally would prefer to book through my travel agent or a good tour operator) I see flights from JetBlue for less than $400 roundtrip from New York JFK. There are flights from American, Air Canada and Avianca for less than $500, and from United, Delta and Interjet for less that $600.
The same site is showing nine-night hotel packages for less than $900. That’s roughly the range you can expect. The flight from New York was roughly five hours. The time zone was the same as Central Time, so there was no jet lag.
The good news is that you can discover Mexico City for less than you can visit most places in the world, and I highly recommend the experience.
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