Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco

The Sun StoneLocation: Mexico City, Mexico

Visited:

November, 2001

July, 2008

August, 2009

January 2, 2011

Opinion and Background: (Bias alert: I’m Mexican)

Mexico City is possibly one of the most amazing cities in the world with history bursting at the seams. It is the capital city of a country with 31 UNESCO world heritage sites and shows it. The exact center, El Zocalo (the name of the town square), warrants at least a day or two. It is surrounded by the judicial building, parliament, the executive building, and a cathedral and is symbolic to the governing principles of the Mexican people. These buildings alone take hours to tour, so plan to stay a while.

In addition, it had been known for centuries that this was the former capital of the Aztec Empire, Tenochitlan. However, the exact location of the ancient city’s center was unknown until construction began in the 1970s right next to “El Zocalo.” To add to the splendor of the 2nd largest town square in the world (after Red Square in Moscow), now there are ancient ruins to add to it, discovered adjacent to the cathedral. The town square itself continuously has some sort of exhibition. My last two visits were greeted with the largest dinosaur collection in all of America ever (3 yrs ago), and an artificial ice rink with free food (2 yrs ago).

Panoramic, click to enlarge!
Panoramic view, click to enlarge!

The outskirts of the city are well worth a visit. The Chapultepec Forest (Nominated to be a WHS in its own right) hosts the Anthropology and National History Museums. If you are interested in modern Mexican history, the National history museum shows the development of Mexico after the conquest by Spaniard Conquistadors. The museum sits on the Chapultepec Castle, which was donated to the people of Mexico by President Lazaro Cardenas, widely regarded as one of Mexico’s greatest president (analogous to Abraham Lincoln). The Anthropology museum takes the clock further back to the settling of the Americas by nomadic people who arrived via the Bering Strait (the connection between Alaska and Russia). Frida Kahlo’s house (pictured below) has kept in tact everything from the time where she lived there with her husband Diego Rivera. A few original art pieces are also displayed. While arriving here is rather tricky, it is definitely worth a look.

Xochimilco is a town directly south of Mexico. It is now easily accessible through an extension of the subway system (connection Tasquena) to a light rail line. It has many man made canals which can be navigated by boat. While it used to be a hot spot, for both locals and tourists, it seems to have lost its allure. On my second trip there, I appreciated the architecture it takes to build this network, but was not blown away. Regardless, Mexico City is overloaded with things to offer any visitor.

Even though I have been here four times, my list of “things to do in and near Mexico City” is not even half done. It is surrounded by three other World Heritage Sites, one of which is the Ancient City of Teotihuacan which I already wrote an article on here.

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Evaluation:

1) Completeness and Originality (11/15): Fantastic and almost completely intact. The discovery of “Templo Mayor” in the Zocalo area has added to this amazing city. The rivers of Xochimilco’s canal system are in serious trouble. I remember my visit in 2001 being full of people. My most recent visit in 2008 had people begging me to take a gondola as no one was there.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (14/15): The city if the third biggest in the world, and has a million things to see. Every corner is picture worthy.

3) Cultural Significance (21/25): It is the heart of the Mexican people and the one of the last links to ancient people before Europeans. It is the third largest city in the world, one of the first (if not THE first) settlements of the New World. In addition, with the discovery of ruins in the historical center, the importance transcends colonial history.

4) Personal Impact (12/15): I’ve been here a few times and I am always glad to come back

5) Logistics (9/10): The airport is located on a subway line, as are the two major bus lines. You need to try hard to get lost. One very annoying this is trying to leave the country. Mexican airports are pretty bad in that they thoroughly check every single bag by hand, in front of you. Furthermore, rules are pretty strict and different terminals are quite far from each other. Besides this however, everything is easily accessible, even if you don’t speak Spanish. It is also very close to a few other UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

6) Uniqueness (14/20): The historical center is similar in style to many colonial towns. However, the existence of Pre-Hispanic ruins in the center makes stand out among the rest in Mexico.

 

Combined Score: 81/100

Is this a good score? Find out how it compares in our rankings.

 

Related Articles / Useful Links on This Site:

1) Evaluation of Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan (Mexico)

2) Other Mexico Articles

3) Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Related Articles / Useful Links on This Site:

1) Location of Mexico City

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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5 thoughts on “Historic Center of Mexico City and Xochimilco

  • April 5, 2014 at 8:08 pm
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    I plan to visit Mexico city with my wife sometime later this year or early 2015. Any advice, tips, suggestions? It will probably be a 3-4 day weekend. What are the absolute must-see’s, beyond El Zocalo? Should I make any day trips outside the city, (at least Teotihuacan) or should I prioritize all my time within the city?

    We love history, great museums, unique local restaurants, hiking, and bustling markets. I have very little Spanish, but I’m usually pretty comfortable making my way on any subway, taxi, bus, etc. Is there any specific location in the city that is a great base for exploration?

    Reply
    • April 7, 2014 at 6:09 pm
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      Hey Kyle,
      El Zocalo area will take you a good day. The cathedral, and surrounding areas are awesome. Next to the cathedral is “El Templo Major.” They are the recently (1970s I think) discovered ruins of the old Aztec capital of Tenochitlan.
      Teotihuacan is DEFINITELY must do. I HIGHLY recommend that you get there yourself with public transportation instead of paying for a tour. A tour is about $60 from any hostel in the Zocalo area, but they limit your time for exploring (which sucks in such a magnificent place). Personally, I also dislike group tours.
      To get to Teotihuacan, take the subway to “Indios Verdes” which is the last stop north on the green line. From here, ask for the “Camiones Teotihuacaneros” which means Teotihuacan bus. People will point to you in the right direction and buses leave every 30 minutes or so. These are very comfortable long distance buses and they are 12 pesos (1 dollar last time I went a few years ago). The subway is 5 pesos. The archeological site is 50ish pesos ($5). DO NOT say “TO THE PYRAMIDS” or “AZTEC CITY” as those are names of cities nearby.
      Speaking of Indios Verdes, that is an AMAZING place for tacos and other food. It is a gastronomical paradise, and a huge marketplace if you are into those things.
      I also like seeing the “monument of independence” which locals sometimes call (incorrectly) the “angel of independence.” It is a golden angel about an hour walk from the zocalo (take the subway).

      I also enjoy the Archeological museum which is where the Sun Stone is, sometimes incorrectly called the “Aztec Calendar.” It is off Chapultepec Exit in chapultepec park (potential world heritage site).

      The popocatepetl is a nearby volcano which is a world heritage site, but is often active, off limits, and a few hours away. It is almost exactly like Mt. Fuji in terms of history and local legend.

      If you are into art, there is the Frida Kahlo house which is off Coyoacan exit on the subway. She is one of Mexico’s most famous painters.

      There is so much to see in Mexico city. For your time frame though, I would skip Xochimilco, which used to be known as Mexico’s Venice, but I am far more critical about it than that. It is not bad, but overpriced for what it actually is.

      Here are some useful links on my blog:
      http://www.travelworldheritage.com/2013/07/03/misconceptions-about-mexico/
      http://www.travelworldheritage.com/listing/evaluating-the-pre-hispanic-city-of-teotihuacan-the-pyramids-of-teotihuacan-world-heritage-site-3/

      And outside of my blog:
      http://www.metro.df.gob.mx/
      http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g150800-d152582-Reviews-Frida_Kahlo_Museum-Mexico_City_Central_Mexico_and_Gulf_Coast.html

      And outside of Mexico city
      http://www.visitmexico.com/en/magicaltowns

      Reply
      • April 7, 2014 at 6:29 pm
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        Thanks so much. I am thinking El Zocalo – El Templo Major (1 Day), Chapultepec Park – Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo House-Museum (1 Day), Teotihuacan (1 Day), will be the key areas/sites on my (updated itinerary).

        Other possibilities include (2) other world heritage sites.
        – Luis Barragán House and Studio
        – Central University City Campus of the UNAM

        I’ve heard mostly good things about the Luis Barragan House, though it is a bit pricey (required guided tour). As far as UNAM, as a campus I suppose you can just explore the grounds and look for the iconic murals/mosaics, not sure how interesting this will be beyond its world heritage status though.

        Reply
        • April 7, 2014 at 8:12 pm
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          I might have mentioned this on my list of visited sites, but there is a reason I haven’t reviewed UNAM. I have been to UNAM twice but didn’t realize the paintings were the source of the WHS and haven’t seen them. Overall, I found the university itself to be unimpressive and doubt the paintings will change my mind. Like you said, I would do it for the sake of it being a WHS.

          I have not been to the Luis Barragan House as I went before I was into WHS and didn’t know that was one of them. Let us know if it is worth a look!

          Reply
  • April 7, 2014 at 6:11 pm
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    Ah and about the territory, besides teotihuacan, stick to the city and stick to “El Zocalo” and “Chapultepec Park” areas. I think you will love them.

    Reply

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