This article is from the April 2006 The Mexico File
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Las Joyas de Mexico
Hotel Catedral, Mexico City
by Lynne Doyle
Lynne Doyle is a longtime Mexico File subscriber and contributing editor from Maine. The object of the Las Joyas de Mexico feature is to highlight for MF readers some of the lesser-known but most rewarding of Mexico’s geographic, human and artistic treasures. Lynne can be contacted at LinfordD@aol.com.
I am ALL EXCITED! For years, I have passed through Mexico City for just about every trip I have made into Mexico, and that adds up to a lot of passes. Usually, I am on my way somewhere else, so I have seldom stayed for more than a night or two coming or going, and then usually we have chosen either an airport hotel on the way home (always expensive) or one of the four or five stars guaranteed to be safe and clean, if not reasonably priced and convenient. Which isn’t all bad – we’ve stayed in some really great places over the years (the Sheraton Centro Historico at $150/night, the Camino Real at $275/night), but nothing that could ever be called affordable. It hasn’t really mattered all that much, because we rarely ever stay long in Mexico City, but in preparation for this last trip earlier this month, when I knew we would be in the city for at least a few days at the beginning of the trip, plus a few more days at the end, I made a serious search to find just the right place. And after years of wandering around Mexico City looking for a hotel that looked clean, safe, friendly and even moderately affordable, I am thrilled to report that I have finally found one that I really, really LOVE. Unfortunately, in the process of my search, I hit so many different websites that I no longer have any idea where I found the Hotel Catedral, but luckily, I did find it and I can without qualification recommend it to all of you.
Initially, because it is so close to the zocalo, I was a little leery of it, but because of the amenities listed (restaurant and internet availability) and – if I’m going to be really honest – the amazing price (about $47/night for a double depending on the exchange rate), we decided to take a shot. (Another nice little benefit is that no deposit is required here unless your arrival time will be later than 8:00 pm) Once we arrived, we found so many other added little treasures connected to this place that I’ve decided it was just one of those wonderful serendipitous things that happens every once in a while in Mexico.
Located one block directly behind the Metropolitan Cathedral (which is right on the zocalo), this hotel is surrounded by hundreds of stores and street vendors, making the sidewalks crowded and the noise deafening by day, but by 8:00 pm, everything is closed, the street vendors are all gone, and you can sleep with your windows open if you want. There is one slight disadvantage – if you can call it that – attached to this location. Because of the confluence of one-way streets, taxi drivers seem to always want to leave you on the corner approaching the hotel (it is located in the middle of its block), but I didn’t find it a big problem because if you feign ignorance and insist on being dropped right at the door, drivers will do it and the extra cost is negligible. They don’t like to go down the street because they cannot easily get around Plaza Mayor and back into the stream of traffic without traveling a couple of extra blocks – but hey – I tip well and sometimes things just aren’t easy.
Once inside this pleasant little place, you are greeted by courteous young women behind the desk, some of whom speak English and some who don’t. But they all manage to get the job done, and check-in for us was quick and easy. Rooms are good sized, some larger than others, some with more goodies than others. Our first bathroom had a bidet, our second room had a key card rather than an old-fashioned key (I think the hotel is in the process of changing their locking system) and a couch in addition to two double beds. Lighting is excellent – bedside reading lights are always a requirement for me and these rooms have recessed lights over the beds controlled by bedside switches. We found water pressure to be excellent (another issue for me), hot water abundant and towels large and thick (my husband’s pet peeve).
Because we arrived mid-afternoon, one of our first stops was the hotel restaurant, which we found to have a large non-smoking section, smiling servers and good, affordable meals. We don’t stay up really late usually, so I can’t speak for late hours, but every time we wanted to eat, the restaurant was open, although sometimes more crowded than others, and the dinner hour featured live music. All meals were – I felt – great combinations of Mexican and American foods and no one with us complained about anything. My husband, who pretty much travels on his stomach, was pleased with the pancakes and, most of all, with the ice cream and a little dessert called Tres Marias featuring strawberry ice cream, which he tells me is not always terrific in Mexico. I was happy with the gin and tonics and my favorite, arrachera (thin, marinated, and grilled beef), which was always cooked to perfection.
One of the extra little bonuses we found were two rooftop gardens complete with little patches of grass, terra cotta pots filled with flowers, tables with umbrellas and panoramic views of the cathedral on one side of the hotel and the city all the way to the mountains on the other side. Additionally, and maybe best of all, this hotel features free storage of excess luggage. We left the city for several days of travel in Michoacan and since we were traveling by car with several other people, couldn’t really carry everything we brought with us. The hotel happily stored our extra belongings and purchases until we returned. There is also a little travel agency in the lobby where guests can arrange tours, two computers located in the lobby for use by guests, a bar where drinks could be purchased and carried up to the roof to boost enjoyment of the sunsets, and smiling bellhops to carry anything and everything and find cabs for you. During our stay, I saw one of the girls on the desk go to great lengths to juggle rooms for guests who arrived without reservations so that they could be accommodated. Also available are three English-speaking television stations for those interested, although during our time there, the signal was hinky and two of the stations were without volume – not a big problem for me as I generally tend to read rather than watch television. Fortunately, CNN was in fine fettle so we could keep track of what was happening in the real world.
Perhaps one of the best things about Hotel Catedral, in spite of my initial reservations, was its location. We walked daily to the zocalo, visited again Plaza Mayor and Palacio de Gobierno, were within a moderate walk to Casa de Azulejos, Belles Artes and Parque Alameda, and important to my husband – philistine that he is – close to a large McDonald’s. Restaurants around us were plentiful and at least the ones we sampled were all fine and affordable. We weren’t very far from everything we wanted to do and see, and were about 20 minutes and $100 pesos from the airport. And significant to me, in spite of the crowded streets and sidewalks, I never at any point felt unsafe or at risk. I must add here that I have been told by other travelers in Mexico that I am naďve and not really in tune with the issues surrounding Americans visiting Mexico City, but I respectfully disagree. I’m not stupid and I read the papers – however, I found the city dwellers the same as I find most people in Mexico – friendly, helpful, and courteous when they bump into you. What more can you ask??
So should you find yourself in Mexico City for any length of time, don’t hesitate to choose this great little hotel. There are an unlimited amount of things to do in the city that you ordinarily wouldn’t think of (another article coming about this topic) and this place is convenient to many of them. The people are nice, the rooms are clean, the food is good, the price is right, and those roof gardens are something else again.