In late June/early July, Andy and I spent about 10 days in Mexico, divided between Mexico City (DF) and Oaxaca City. I am writing about the highlights of our trip in four parts: the food, major historic sights and museums, public life and neighborhoods, and travel logistics/accommodations.
Both DF and Oaxaca City are full of interesting museums and art galleries, and of course there are many, many historic sites to visit. We knew we couldn’t do everything and we didn’t want to totally exhaust ourselves on this trip, but we did our best to see the things we really wanted to see while still having time to relax and enjoy exploring the cities and neighborhoods.
On our first day in DF, we headed to El Centro to check out the heart of the city, the zócalo. It is one of the largest city squares or plazas in the world, and the enormity of it was incredible in person.
We walked around El Centro, checked out the massive Catedral that dominates the north side of the square, and the Palacio National which borders the east side. Behind the Catedral is Templo Mayor, a major excavation site where Aztec ruins are still being unearthed.
We also visited the Centro Cultural de Espana, which was exhibiting both contemporary art pieces and urban planning proposals for DF, and the Palacio Postal, on that first day.
Later on in the trip we went to the Museo del Arte Popular (folk art museum) which was mysteriously empty of visitors, yet full of interesting displays of traditional crafts and cultural pieces, including tons of Dia de los Muertos stuff.
We also took a trip out of town to Teotihuacan, to see Los Piramides. We debated whether on not we should do this since it involved a long metro ride and bus ride and took the better part of a day, but I’m so glad we went.
Teotihuacan is the site of the largest and most influential city in Mesoamerica, which fell into ruin around 800 A.D. The starkness of the site and the overwhelming sense of history incredible; to think about the people who built and lived in this place and imagine the rise and fall of the city was really moving.
We climbed the tallest pyramid, the Piramide de la Sol, which was a sort of tough climb, but offered incredible views of the entire site and valley beyond.
On our final day in DF, we walked to Bosque de Chapultepec, the largest city park in Latin America. There are a ton of museums there that we wanted to check out. We were pretty much exhausted by then though, so we decided to just focus on two: the Museo del Arte Moderne and the Museo de Antropologia.
The Museo del Arte Moderne was quite good; it’s a beautiful, peaceful, airy space and had an interesting mix of modern and contemporary Mexican Art. The anthropology/archaeology museum was amazing. We spent hours there and could have spent many more, if we weren’t so tired and hungry the whole time. It’s a beautiful indoor/outdoor space with clean modern lines and open, airy spaces (impossible to get a photo that really captures this).
It seems to go on forever, with room after room of displays and exhibits documenting pre-colonial and post-colonial Mesoamerican history. It seriously started with the beginning of time, and the exhibits were extremely detailed, yet were so well-curated and logical that you just want to keep reading and looking at everything.
The second half of our trip, Oaxaca City, was a little lighter on sightseeing and little heavier on casual strolling, reading, eating, and drinking. But we did have a few sightseeing highlights:
First, one of the major destinations in Oaxaca City is the Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman.
This complex, a church and former convent that is now a museum housing many Oaxacan artifacts, is a central landmark in the city and, like the Museo de Antropologia in DF, could fill hours and hours of your day.
One of my favorite museums was the Museo Arte Prehispánico Rufino Tamayo. This collection of pre-colonial art and artifacts is housed in a cool, quiet historic house and was the first collection to exhibit pre-colonial works as art, rather than just historic objects. It was very well done and I highly recommend it.
And finally, we did a short day trip to another archaeological site, Monte Alban. This was a major city in the pre-Colombian period, and, like the Piramides, it was a powerful place to contemplate the course of human history and imagine how life was lived centuries ago.