Gruesome reports of decapitated bodies, kidnapped Americans, and cartel shootouts - these days it’s hard to read anything about Mexico that doesn’t relate to drug-related violence. Even popular tourist destinations like Acapulco and Cancun have made news headlines. And while violence is an issue travelers should take into consideration, especially in border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey, it has become an outright U.S. media obsession.
Despite the media’s trend, there are plenty of areas of this beautiful country to visit that have not been affected by the violence.
My central Mexico trip started in Mexico City, the Distrito Federal or D.F. as it is more commonly known. It was overcast as the plane landed, so I didn’t get a good look at the city until making it up to the Torre Mayor, the tallest building in D.F. I spent almost an hour on the observation deck, it just took that long to take the enormity of the city in.
Mexico City has so much to see, it’s impossible to do it all in a few days. As the largest city in the Americas (and the third most populous in the world) I knew D.F. was going to be big, but it far surpassed my expectations. Starting on the Paseo de Reforma we walked to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes to see the murals of Diego Rivera and José David Alfaro Siqueiros. From there we headed to the Zocalo, the city center square, one of the biggest in the world. Our trip coincided with the end of Mexico’s Bicentenario celebration, and the bright red, green and white decorations and lights had not yet been taken down.
The Plaza de la Constitución is surrounded by historic buildings and sites, including the National Palace, from which the president makes his annual Independence Day “yell,” the Metropolitan Cathedral, and behind that stands the Templo Mayor – the ruins of an ancient Aztec temple. Vendors set up outside the cathedral offering everything from tacos el pastor, fresh fruit, jewelry and handbags; you can even pay for a traditional spiritual cleansing ceremony.
We took a short bus ride from downtown to Coyoacán, a bohemian area southwest of the city. Plaza Hidalgo, the main square in Coyoacán, is usually packed with buskers and street vendors. The plaza has plenty of bars and cafes with outdoor seating, perfect for people watching.
The Frida Kahlo Museum is a must-see for a stop in Coyoacán. La Casa Azul is where Frida was born, grew up, and spent the last years of her life. The bright blue U-shaped house encircles a courtyard and holds Frida’s artwork and personal belongings, as well as paintings, photographs and prints from her husband Rivera and other artists. One area of the house that particularly stood out was her bedroom. Frida was involved in a streetcar accident at 18 that left her spine horrifically injured and required a number of surgeries. Affixed to her bed is the painted plastic back brace she was forced to wear daily, and the mirror hung under the canopy so she could paint self-portraits while recuperating.
On our second day in Mexico, we hit the road to San Miguel de Allende, a small town about two and a half hours north of D.F. San Miguel’s hippie vibe stems from the number of artist colonies that were founded there in the 1950s, including the famous Instituto de Allende. With its cobblestone streets, colonial charm, and laid-back atmosphere, it’s easy to see why so many American expats and retirees have made it their home.