Mexico City: A Travel Guide

Visiting the largest city in the Western Hemisphere should be next on your to-do list.

Flying into Mexico City, the first thing you notice is its size: New York and Los Angeles, two cities that I’ve lived in, look quaint by comparison. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the entire metropolitan area has an estimated population of 21.3 million people, making it the largest in the Western Hemisphere. So whether you are visiting as backdrop for a blind date, or there just to take in the sights, be assured this bustling metropolis has much to offer. Plus, given the relative strength of the U.S. dollar to the Mexican peso, a few day getaway is probably a lot more affordable than you think.

As can be imagined, there are countless colonias, or neighborhoods, to explore. Although, luckily, the areas of greatest interest to LGBT travelers are located near each other‚ I’d still recommend hiring a local guide like Antonio from ToursByLocals.com to help you get your bearings.

A guide may also come in handy when visiting one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Museo Frida Kahlo, as he may be able to score you passes that will get you to the front of the inevitable hours-long line. Located in Coyoacán, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Mexico City, the Casa Azul or “Blue House,” as it is alternately known, is the home where Kahlo, the legendary bisexual Mexican artist was born, lived with her husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera, and eventually died. In 1958, four years after her death, the home and its contents were turned into a museum celebrating her life and work.

Centro Histórico

Plan to spend an afternoon in the Centro Histórico or “Historic Center” of the city, in the area around the Zócalo, or main plaza, and the largest in Latin America, capable of holding 100,000 people. The area is also home to numerous cathedrals, churches and mansions like the Palace of Iturbide and Casa de Azulejos (“House of Tiles”).

As odd as it sounds, stop in to take a look at the magnificent staircase in the The Palacio de Correos de Mexico (“Postal Palace of Mexico City”). Although built in the early 20th-century, its architecture is reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palace. After taking a peek, head across the street to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, one of the city’s most important cultural centers.

Zona Rosa

Officially part of the Colonia Juárez, the Zona Rosa is the unofficial heart of Mexico City’s gay community and many of its LGBT-friendly bars, cafes, and shops claim this area as their home. Many of the cobblestone streets are pedestrian-only and will be jam-packed with people stumbling out of the bars and congregating around one of the vendors selling everything from hot dogs to tacos until the wee hours of the morning.

Stay at the Hotel Geneve, a stately building with a distinctly European flair, doormen in overcoats, and a beautiful lobby filled with grand oil paintings, leather-bound books and wingback chairs (a place, I should add, where I spent a lot of time because—and this would be my one complaint—the Wifi was horribly unreliable anywhere else in the hotel during my stay). Also, the included breakfast, served in a sun room-aviary, offered a hearty start to each day with delicious Mexican pastries, chilaquiles, tamales, and other local fare.

While in the Zona Rosa, stop into Radiata for dinner and a cocktail. The eatery’s indoor-meets-outdoor decor reflects its tagline, tenederor de temporarada (or, “seasonal fork”), in that its menu changes to highlight the freshest local ingredients. My modern, innovative dinner consisted of savory marinated pork topped with tart pickled vegetables all served over dried pineapple chips and I washed it down with a drink made from green prickly pear, lemon and basil.

(If you are the adventurous type and willing to try new things, I would also recommend heading to the nearby tony neighborhood of Condesa to dine at Azul. Order the cazuelita de escamoles, or ant eggs and larvae served with guacamole and tortillas. It’s more delicious than it sounds. For everyone else, they also have a full menu of amazing Mexican cuisine more familiar to American palates.)

On weekends, after dinner, head to Tom’s Leather Bar, with its fully nude strippers; Boy Bar, a hangout for many sexy locals; or, Kinky Bar (photo above) with its friendly staff and fun dance music on the upstairs terrace. And, if none of these are to your liking, there are countless other options just a few steps away.

If gay bars aren’t really your scene, then head to Xaman Bar (video above). Its hip décor (including what appears to be more of an apothecary than bar), intimate lighting and super cool staff provide the perfect backdrop for Xaman’s surprisingly fresh menu of handcrafted cocktails.

Teotihuacan

If you have an extra day in your itinerary, ask your guide to help arrange transport to the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan, located about an hour outside of the city center. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D., it is known primarily for its breathtaking monuments: the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. At its height, it is estimated to have housed more than 125,000 people.

For more information on Mexico City, or to start planning a trip, visit the website for Fondo Mixto de Promoción Turística.

Bryan van Gorder usually writes about the places he's been or the famous people forced to talk to him.
@bvangorder