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10 Signs You’ve Never Been to Mexico City

Insider Guides
by Susannah Rigg Sep 19, 2015
1. You imagine it to be all dirt tracks and donkeys…

Whenever Hollywood portrays Mexico it seems to show dusty roads with beat-up cars and the occasional donkey. It’s not surprising, then, that if you’ve never been to Mexico’s capital, you might be expecting something similar. However, Mexico City is a bustling urban centre with over 20 million inhabitants, real roads, and lots of new cars.

2. …or an urban jungle.

Mexico City is big and urban, but there are so many green spaces and huge parks in all different corners of the city. In addition, beautiful, tree-filled plazas are everywhere.

3. You think Mexico City is poor and third world.

Mexico City is one of the most important economic centres of the Americas and one of the top 25 urban economies in the world. In fact, the country of Mexico is the world’s 14th-largest economy. Like in many large cities, there are very rich residents and very poor residents, but head to Polanco, Pedregal, and Lomas de Chapultepec and you might be very surprised by the extraordinary wealth in those parts of the city.

4. You think it’s really dangerous and that you’ll get kidnapped.

Mexico City got a nasty reputation in the ’90s for being dangerous and a hot spot for kidnappings. However, a lot’s changed since then, and most tourists are surprised by just how safe they feel. Of course, crimes do occur — it’s a big city — but it’s not the crime-infested place many seem to believe.

5. You get confused when people in Mexico simply call Mexico City “Mexico.”

For new travelers to Mexico (the country) this can be a confusing one. Are people saying they’re from Mexico the city or Mexico the country? You can imagine some of the interesting (read: ridiculously confusing) conversations that can result from this.

Note: You may also hear Mexico City referred to as D.F., Mexico D.F., the Federal District of Mexico, Chilangolandia, El Defectuoso, or La Capirucha. Now “Mexico” seems much better, right?

6. You don’t know it’s built on a lake and is in fact sinking.

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, they found the huge, important city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, built on an island on Lake Texcoco. The Spaniards constructed Mexico City over Tenochtitlan, draining the water off the lake to extend the city. Imagine, a city of 20 million built on a lake. No wonder it’s sinking at a rate of between 6 – 35cm per year.

7. You’re unaware of its elevation.

Many people arrive in Mexico City wondering why they run out of breath so quickly or sometimes feel slightly lightheaded for a day or two. The reason is that Mexico’s capital is 7,350ft (2,240m) above sea level, making it the eighth-highest capital city in the world and the highest in North America. Oh, and that’s another thing: Mexico is part of North America, not South America or Central America as many people think.

8. You haven’t heard of the floating gardens of the Aztecs.

South of Mexico City there are canals in an area called Xochimilco. Here, the Aztecs built fertile banks on the lake, in which they grew one-third of the produce needed to feed the city. These canals stood the test of time and still exist today. Nowadays, you can rent a colourful boat called a trajinera and float down the canal with friends, enjoying the music of mariachis and a cold beer or two.

9. You’re unaware that it’s the city with the most museums in the world.

According to the National Council for Culture and Arts, Mexico’s capital has more museums than any other city. Whatever your interest, be it archaeology, art, toys, or even chocolate, you’ll find a museum or two or three for you.

10. You didn’t know there’s an Aztec pyramid right in the heart of the city.

Right in the main square next to the cathedral is the Templo Mayor — huei teocalli in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs (or Mexica, as they were known). The Spanish built their cathedral on top of the temple, but years later parts of the temple were excavated by archaeologists. Still, much of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan remains buried, often discovered as new metro lines are built underground.

This article was originally published on September 30, 2014. 

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