¡Bienvenido a Mexico City! Formerly known as DF (distrito federal) for the past two centuries, Mexico's capital changed its official name last year and is now known as Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX). Once centre of the Aztec Empire, latter day CDMX (catchier than one-time Tenochtitlan) sits gritty at 6,500ft above sea level, which may account for the light-headedness encountered by many new arrivals. Hip hotels, a resurgent national cuisine and a long-established art scene booming even bigger thanks to the gazillionaire Carlos Slim's pickings all point to one immutable fact - this colossal (at last count the third largest conurbation on earth) collection of colonias or neighbourhoods is a coming force best enjoyed to the Mex max rather than passed through on route to the beach. Given the size of the city, a trip needs planning, and that is all the purpose of this blog post...
Las Alcobas in upscale Polanco may attract savvier business travellers but mercifully not enough of them to sully the stylish vibe. The rooms are big, the aesthetic - as the name The Alcoves suggests - discreet and the restaurant, La Dulce Patria, one of the best in town, dishing out top drawer modern Mexican.
Beach shack chic Contramar in colonia Roma - Mexico City coolest neighbourhood - is only open for lunch but it will be dark outside by the time you leave. In the intervening hours, enjoy their sublime signature tuna tostada with chipotle mayo, chopped fried leek, avocado and lime, washed down with several michelada (beer with lemon juice) and all in the lively company of the beautiful and the beneficiaries of Mexico's recent economic boom.
Pujol is Mexico's answer to Noma - a celebration of a nation's gastronomic heritage, including some of its quirkier culinary dishes along the way: ant larvae taco (escamoles), anyone? There's more to the menu than Aztec ant-ics, though: try the hoja santa tortilla and sea bass ceviche taco with black bean purée consumed alongside super-smooth Casa Dragones tequila.
Nowadays, it's more about mezcal and pulque than tequila. Mezcaleria bars are popping up a peso a dozen and we rate El Palenquito. Top tip: sip don't neck, and drink with your chaser of choice, ideally a locally brewed craft beer. Pulque is less rocket fuel, more sticky alcoholic milk and a good deal better than it sounds, particularly somewhere as atmospheric as Roma's perma-packed bare brick standing room only Expendio de Pulques Finos. The perfect place to start the evening with like-minded party goers.
Whichever colonia you start your night in, you need to end up at M.N.Roy, named after the founder of the Mexican (and Indian) communist party in whose former house this slick club resides. The exterior is a study in peeling paint shabby chic, patrolled by epic face control in the flamboyantly dressed shape of transgender Zemmoa, Mexico's answer to Lady Gaga. Get past him/her and there's a superslick pyramidal dancefloor writhing with agave-bots until 7am.
- The real life lucha libre wrestlers in action at the huge and boisterous Arena Mexico on Friday nights. Turns out Nacho Libre, Jack Black's 2006 pastiche of Mexican wrestlers, was actually a highly accurate sports documentary. Stock up on tacos and beer and watch the masked Mexican equivalents of Grande Papa and Gigante Pajares (visit your nearest Spanish dictionary) in action. It's more World Wildlife Fund than World Wrestling Federation and great fun.
- A day-trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacán is a must-do! This ancient city and complex of awesome pyramids is just an hour away and you can easily take a bus from Mexico City to get there (buses run every twenty minutes from Autobuses del Norte station).
Mexicans do good markets and have done since the Aztecs. Best of the bunch for brunch and a browse rolled into one is Bazar del Sabado (on Saturday mornings, no less) in colonial-era San Angel. Great shopping for Mexican tat preceded by the real reason for coming - Mexican brunch of huevos (eggs) infinite ways and quesadillas (cheese filled tortilla) served at Fonda San Angel and guaranteed to stop a hangover dead at five paces.
Hailing at cab. There are plenty of cowboys south of the US border and many seem to be behind the wheel of CDMX's taxis. Think NYC's 'finest' meets Lebanese drivers on a strict deadline. Use UBER instead!
Eat on the street, and in a town with several thousand of them, the choice of vendors is bewildering. Mexican street food - recently awarded UNESCO world heritage status is arguably unequalled in diversity and quality but you need to know your tacos from your tostados, and while you're at it, your tlacoyos, flautas, pambazos, gorditas, huaraches and sopes. Mexico City may be landlocked but the freshest seafood ceviches in town are served at pavement shack El Caguamo. Try the pulpo (octopus) tortilla and die happy.
Mexico City's very own K Mo - Karla Moles - set up hipster mezcaleria El Palenquito, stocking dozens of bottles of Oaxaca's most famous export. When you find the one you like (try lots), ask the bar staff to bottle it for you and you can export it back to Blighty yourself.
No particular date in the diary, but considering the city's winters can be chilly and the summers can be rainy, the best time to visit Mexico City would be between March and May. Even though the streets are pretty crowded this time of year, your trade-off is beautiful weather.
British Airways flies daily to Mexico City.
For more information about tailor-made trips to Mexico City, please contact us.