Mexico City: Where to Stay, What to See, and Why You Should Go Right Now

Photo: FMPT-CDMX

Mexico City is on fire! On the travel trend scale, wherein one equals "Don't bother" and 10 equals "Get there before the college kids come," Mexico City is currently an 11. 

Why? The answers are many. Among them: Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo have, in recent years, figured prominently in everything from films to museum exhibits (LA's LACMA has made expanding its collection of Latin American art a top priority since 1997, when it was gifted more than 2,000 works mostly by Mexican modernists); Mexican cuisine, following the food truck and food blog booms, is the second most popular "ethnic" food in the U.S. (Chinese is the first); direct flights to Mexico City, available from most major U.S. hubs, are quicker and cheaper than flights to cities in Asia and Europe; the emphasis on immigration and trade during the 2016 presidential election made Mexico a point of conversation at dinner tables throughout the U.S.

All of these answers - and there are dozens more, to be sure - explain, at least in part, why Mexico City is the present darling of international travel destinations. Mexico - the country - has been making its way to the fore of the American psyche for decades. As its capital, Mexico City represents its brightest and most curiosity-inducing star. 

But the real reason for Mexico's inner city emergence is much simpler: it's cool. Like, super cool. Once an afterthought suffered only because its airport brought sun-seekers one step closer to Cabo and Cancun, Mexico City is now cooler than all its neighboring beach hotspots combined.  

In La Condesa, a vibrant enclave marked by colorful homes and tree-lined streets - Avenida Amsterdam the most notable among them - the calles buzz with activity, in restaurants and cafes during the day and clubs and bars at night. Contramar, famous for its rapid fire service and celebration of the Mexican sobremesa tradition - it officially closes at 6pm, but patrons often remain seated until well past midnight - is one of the neighborhood's best-loved eateries. 

Contramar

Photo: Amanda Cargill

In nearby La Roma, young Chilangos dressed in the latest hipster gear gather at art cafes and galleries.  Outside the MODO Museum, well-known for its collection of modern day detritus - think Iron Maiden cassettes and hats from the 1920s - a smaller scale version of Paris' Love Locks lives on.

Love Locks

Photo: Amanda Cargill

In posh Polanco, Mexico City's elite collect in world class restaurants after a workday spent negotiating business deals or a Saturday spent shopping at the city's upscale department store, Palacio de Hierro.

El Palacio de Hierro Polanco

Photo: Palacio de Hierro

(There's a heliport on Palacio's rooftop and one of the city's oldest restaurants, Prendes, on its ground floor.)

Prendes

Photo: Prendes

On Paseo de la Reforma, tourist-filled taxis en route to the Zocalo and La Casa Azul mix with school buses trundling towards the Anthropology Museum and commuters darting and dashing their way to work.

Zocalo

Photo: Amanda Cargill

Dotted with statues depicting Mexico's most historic figures and pulsing on any given day with parades, protesters, and traffic jams, this enormous thoroughfare is the beating heart of Mexico City, a central artery where 21st century challenges - traffic, pollution, population - meet the simultaneously laid back and urgent energy that is unique to Mexico City. 

How long Mexico City can walk this high wire - balancing then and now, tradition and progress - remains to be seen. Time, after all, is a fickle mistress. But for now, at least, Mexico City is cool. Super cool.