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Tenochtitlan. Ancient Aztec capital of kings. Whatever you may call it, Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis set in a powerfully historic valley halfway to the sky. The political and financial capital of Mexico–and the third largest metropolitan area in the world–Mexico City offers the traveler a love/hate blend of colorful markets and rampant crime, intriguing culture and choking pollution. Whatever its faults, Mexico City, or simply D.F. (Districto Federal), is nonetheless an adventure worth taking.
While it could take years to properly explore all of the 16 neighborhoods that comprise the metropolitan area, most travelers will find themselves spending time in the Centro Historico, a charming district of park-lined boulevards and streetside cafes that is listed as one of the city’s two UNESCO world heritage sites. Either directly off of the crowded metro stop (which are among some of the most congested I have ever seen), or surely soon thereafter, any visitor to the Centro Historico will pass directly through the massive central square known simply as the Zocalo. Officially measured as the world’s second largest urban square behind Moscow’s Red Square, aside from the gigantic flag that hangs from the center of the floor, it is also home to the historic Palacio Nacional on the east side of the area.
Now I’m not sure about you, but whenever I am in a big city, I always want to get up to a high point and see what kind of a view I can get of the place–especially a city of this magnitude. To get a proper 360 degree view of this Latin American megalopolis, there is no better place to head than to the top floor of the Torre Latinoamericana skyscraper that stands just west of the Zocalo. The cost is about $5 to head to the top floor, but to gaze out at such urban sprawl in a valley of such historic proportions is worth every cent of the climb. Just across the street from the skyscraper is the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), and the neighboring Alameda Park. Dating back to the 16th century, Alameda Park is one of those charming central green spaces where you can sprawl out on a bench with lunch from a local vendor and watch the daily urban grind unfold before your eyes.
Speaking of parks, easily the largest and most recognizable in all of the city is the 1600 acre Chapultepec Park and neighboring Chapultepec Castle. The D.F.’s answer to Manhattan’s Central park, Chapultepec features all kinds of street performers, fountains, grassy areas for lounging, and walking trails that lead up the hill to Chapultepec Castle, current home of the National History Museum. Outside of Chapultepec there are a number of neighborhoods that make for an adventurous stroll, though like anywhere in Mexico City, extreme caution should be exercised by anyone out on the streets after dark.
While truly delving into the heart of Mexico City could easily take months to do properly, anyone finding themselves with even a little bit of spare time in the city can easily find a number of historical attractions and comfortable spaces for lounging amongst all the chaos of this Latin American megalopolis in the sky.