Mexico City: 5 Surprising Facts

by  Shelley Seale | Aug 17, 2015
Shelley Seale
Shelley Seale / Chapultepec Castle

Mexico City may have its share of crime, litter, and traffic -- as every large city in the world does. But anyone who has visited recently will tell you that many of the travel concerns here, from safety to health, are largely unfounded. In fact, there are plenty of pleasant surprises that you'll find in Mexico City, as we did on a recent trip. Here, top five reasons why you should visit.

1. It's much cleaner these days.
We've all heard for years how dirty Mexico City was. The United Nations even called it “the most polluted city on the planet” in 1992. But in the past two decades, improvement of air quality has been a major priority, and one with drastic results. During a recent visit there, we found the air to be completely clear -- likely thanks to requirements that factories be closed or moved and gasoline be reformulated, green space expansion, driving prohibitions, expanded public transportation, and the largest bike-sharing program in Latin America. Travelers will also find little to no trash in the streets and public areas. The ozone is still a problem, though, so be sure to wear sunblock. Final tip: The worst time for pollution is at the end of winter, particularly February and March.

2. Green space abounds.
As mentioned above, the city has added a surprising amount of green space. Many of the large boulevards and thoroughfares have wide, landscaped median promenades for walking or bicycling, while some neighborhoods have their own small parks.

The crown jewel of this green space is Chapultepec Park, the largest city park in Latin America. Covering more than 1,600 acres, it's essentially to Mexico City what Central Park is to NYC, and a lovely respite from the hustle and bustle. The park is divided into three sections, with the hilltop Chapultepec Castle built in 1775 --  full of paintings and imperial artifacts -- as one of the main attractions. Elsewhere, the park contains multiple lakes and fountains, several monuments, a botanical garden, and not one but 10 museums. That's not to mention the highly popular zoo, dedicated jogging trails, areas for yoga and exercise, and a Protected Natural Area filled with trees and wildlife.

3. The food scene is diverse and delicious.
Who knew? Mexico City has one of the most diverse and exciting international dining scenes in the world, offering everything from upscale restaurants run by celebrated chefs to small family establishments to street food. On the casual side, there are traditional taquerias such as El Fogoncito, the first taqueria opened in the city in 1968 and now boasting 11 locations. On the gourmet end you’ll find spots such as Dulce Patria and Astrid & Gaston, both run by female chefs. Their neighborhood of Polanco, along with La Condesa, are especially rife with trendy spots serving cuisines from around the world.

If you’re looking to sample the nightlife, there's plenty of that, too. Close to the restaurants, Jule’s Basement is a speakeasy that visitors have to enter through Surtidora Don Batiz restaurant. Make reservations beforehand, and once there, look for a serious-looking man in a suit with a clipboard who should have your name.

Shelley Seale / Mural by MEAN


4. And the art scene is just as impressive.
Mexico City is home to more museums than any other city in the world. Here, travelers can visit more than 200 public and private museums, from the stunningly beautiful Bella des Artes and huge institutions dedicated to archeology, history, and art to eclectically niche museums such as the Antique Toy Museum, Cartoon Museum, and Museo de Enervantes (a collection of items seized from the country’s drug cartels). For many lovers of art -- and love stories -- a stop at the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera is a must. La Casa Azul was Kahlo’s childhood home and where she lived with Rivera during their marriage until the end of her life.

Aside from the well-known, established artists and museums, the city is also home to a very thriving, modern art scene of young emerging and street artists. At Galería Despacho 29 in Barrio Alameda, you will find a group of artists in their 20s who are creating incredible works of painting, sculpture, 3D, and mixed-media art (much of it with a social message). Then there is MEAN, a 33-year-old street artist and muralist who has not only painted his visual expressions of anti-consumerism that tell the life of the city all over his hometown of Mexico City, but has also traveled to Japan and Brazil on commission to create artwork there.

5. It's not as dangerous as you think.
Like every other large metropolis in the world, Mexico City has its share of crime and other urban problems. That said, the risks of getting mugged or kidnapped are much lower than you might think. Many of these concerns have risen from travel warnings from the past decades, but it's important to note that those warnings apply to very specific parts of Mexico -- and Mexico City is not one of those areas.

We felt comfortable walking around among the city's diverse residents, and we'd recommend that travelers simply take the same smart cautions that they would in any big city. For a few examples: Don't wave valuables around out in the open, research which neighborhoods you should be more alert in, and figure out where you're going before you head out to avoid looking lost and vulnerable. The one thing to get a handle on? The taxi situation. It's best to use a "sitio" or authorized cab, especially for women traveling alone, from a taxi stand or by calling a dispatcher, rather than hailing off the streets.

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