From Aztec Past to Hectic Present ; to Paul Watkins Mexico City Is, like That First Tequila Slammer, a Complete Revelation
Watkins, Paul, The Independent (London, England)
At 25 million and counting, the population of Mexico City could be the world's largest. But don't be deterred: the people (and even the traffic) are part of the experience. Offspring of one of the world's greatest cultural collisions - the Aztecs and the conquistadors - the denizens of Mexico City are still energetically forging the city that rose in 1521 on the site of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire. Today it is hectic and hyperactive, but for all its problems, Mexico City is, like that first tequila slammer, a revelation.
When to go
Mexico City's altitude (2,240m) makes it cooler than other parts of the country (the highest temperatures are from March to May and the heaviest rainfall June to September). The cooler months of November to February, the best time to visit the country, can see higher levels of pollution in the capital, however. High season is December to Easter, and July to August.
The only non-stop flights to Mexico City are on British Airways from Heathrow, currently being sold through specialists such as South American Experience (tel: 020-7976 5511) for pounds 498 including taxes. A better deal is available on Lufthansa, for just pounds 283, from Heathrow, Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh or Manchester via Frankfurt, through discount agents. There are also great deals from a wide range of UK airports via Amsterdam on KLM (tel: 0990 750900).
Along with the ride, they say that passengers on Mexico City's metro get a sauna and massage: the five million who use it every day may not see the joke. But the system is cheap (1.50 pesos for any journey, just over 10p) and efficient (serving the airport and bus terminals, though with a restriction on luggage). Buses are equally cheap, with the city routes supported by the peseros, minibuses that pick up and drop off on request.
The city's infamous green and white Beetle taxis swarm everywhere, adding to the congestion. These customised VWs (their front passenger seats removed for quicker entrance - and, more essentially, exit) are quick and cheap, though some people warn that foreigners may be robbed in them. The safest taxis are those from the airport and bus stations (taxi autorizada, with a pre-purchased ticket) or from the ranks.
Where to stay
If it's atmosphere and history you're after, choose the Hotel Majestic at Avenida Madero 73 (tel: 0052 5521 8600). Built in the 1930s, with a tiled foyer and galleried interior, the Majestic offers a great view of the Zocalo, the city's great plaza, from its rooftop restaurant. Depending on front or side location, singles and doubles are from pounds 50.
With similar rates to the Majestic, and located near the Alameda Central park, the Hotel Cortes (tel: 0052 5518 2181) was originally an 18th- century Augustinian hospice, and is reputed to be the oldest hotel in the Americas. The rooms, however, are the latest in comfort, looking out on a charming courtyard restaurant.
Overlooking Chapultepec Park, the Presidente at Campos Eliseos 218, Polanco (tel: 0052 5327 7700) is a business hotel ideal for tourists looking for a good range of facilities. The weekend rate (Fri-Sun) is from pounds 60 per night single or double. Similarly priced, in the Zona Rosa area at Londres 130, is the Calinda Geneve (tel: 0052 5211 0071), which has a spa and an excellent restaurant.
What to see and do
Earthquakes and modern development have taken their toll on Mexico City's colonial and 19th-century architecture, but fascinating pockets remain. The main thoroughfare, the Paseo de la Reforma (laid out by the ill-fated Emperor Maximilian in the 1860s) and its offshoot, the Avenida Juarez, connect the city's four focal points: Chapultepec Park, the Zona Rosa, the Alameda Central and the Zocalo.
The Zocalo is Mexico's campus sanctus, …
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Publication information: Article title: From Aztec Past to Hectic Present ; to Paul Watkins Mexico City Is, like That First Tequila Slammer, a Complete Revelation. Contributors: Watkins, Paul - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 23, 2000. Page number: 9. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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