This article is from the June 1997 The Mexico File newsletter.
Back to Articles List

Mexico City, Take Another Look

by David Simmonds

Once you get hung with a reputation, it's hard to shake it. Just ask Dennis Rodman...O.K., bad example, but he deserves it. But usually it’s nearly impossible to rehabilitate a public perception. If you don't believe me, go to a class reunion. No matter how you have changed, to the others you are the same person they sat next to in biology class, devising methods to sabotage the teacher's efforts and conspiring to get long-legged Becky (or Kenny) to be your lab partner. So no one said life was going to be fair, right?

Mexico City HAS a reputation. You hear of corruption (hello Washington D.C.), rampant crime (ever heard of New Orleans or New York?), pollution (swam in the Seine lately?). Big cities have big problems. Great cities work on solutions to overcome their problems, and I put Mexico City in this category. I truly believe this. I think Mexico City is a great city, the de facto capital of Latin America.

I have been fortunate enough to have visited many of the world’s capitals. And, truthfully, I have to put Paris as my favorite, hardly a unique sentiment. Amsterdam...I really like a lot. But I'll put Mexico City right there in the same neighborhood. It is truly a fascinating place, and, I think, egregiously misunderstood. It has been noted that the City, and all of Mexico, is steeped in age-old tradition while flying full-speed into the future. These occurrences are creating a dynamic and synergistic atmosphere that will uniquely position the country to draw worldwide attention as we approach the millennium. Mexico will never lose its intriguing past, but its future will determine its place in the world, and Mexico City is the key.

I am addressing this subject because I think Mexico City has a bad rap. It is the gateway for many visitors to the country and I think it is important that you, the traveler, look for more than the quickest way out of town.

I recently met with Carlos Velázquez Cerda, director of the Mexico City Tourism Board, for a refreshing and informative discussion. He has the rare quality of one who doesn't take himself seriously, but takes what he does very seriously. He is a very bright man with a vision of the future one might not expect from a man in his bureaucratic position. "We Mexicans know what a great city this is," he noted. "The job of my department is to let the world know. We are working to create an atmosphere where tourists will want to come and feel safe." For example, we all know that Mexico City can be a driver's nightmare. To help alleviate this problem, the city is putting up over 1,000 international directional signs to guide drivers as they traverse the city. As for the few dishonest taxi drivers, they are being apprehended and jailed. There are now ticket booths at the airport and bus stations to purchase and prepay for your cab fare and the drivers are certified as being honest. Many of the hotels are employing doormen who will ensure you are taking a safe cab when you leave your room.

Most people are aware that the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlán is essentially buried beneath present-day Mexico City. This area is an archaeological treasure. I have visited the city many times over the years and haven't come close to seeing all it has to offer. Most people are aware of the world-renowned anthropological museum, but did you know that there are over thirty other museums in the city? I have seen maybe six of them.

There are few cities of this magnitude that are as affordable as Mexico City. There are fine hotels in every price range, generally costing a third to one-half of what you might expect to pay in the other world capitals. And the restaurants are simply the best in Mexico and rival those anywhere else. Again, the price of a fine meal with a bottle of wine can be had for the price of coffee-shop fare back home. Mexican food is now ranked behind only French and Chinese in world-wide polls. We have some pretty good Mexican food in San Diego, but whenever I go to Mexico City I find food and recipes I've never seen or heard of before. I always thought San Francisco or New Orleans had the best food in this part of the world, but I think Mexico City may be better. I just had a late night repast at a little neighborhood storefront near the Zona Rosa at about midnight that was as good a meal as I have had in the past year. It cost me about three bucks. How did I find it? I literally smelled my way there from my hotel a couple of blocks away. I felt safer walking there than I would have in downtown Los Angeles or most other downtowns I can think of.

I could fill this and several more issues of the newsletter with news and facts about Mexico City. But instead, I am going to start including a Mexico City column as a regular feature. I’ll highlight not only the city itself, but day-trips from the city that can be easily reached. I plan to report on little known hotels and restaurants, cultural events, museums, parks, anything I can find. This city has been avoided and ignored for far too long. This is going to be fun, as long as that pesky volcano doesn't blow it all away. (Oh yeah, I almost forgot: there's this belching volcano!) More later....