It’s been almost a year since the Huffington Post asked if Mexico City is the Next Paris? In January of this year, no less than the New York Times called it the number one place to visit in 2016.
Nathaniel Parish Flannery, even more recently, asked if Mexico City isn’t turning into the new New York City. And this was in the same pages where Ann Abel, barely a year ago, quoted another American business person asking if Mexico City couldn’t be the next Berlin. Her ten reasons for loving Mexico City are of course – spot on.
But many chilangos meet such declarations with a sigh, and perhaps something of the feeling that we still hope Berlin gets to be Berlin.
The Next Paris? No one here is sure the last time Paris was Paris. But Mexico City is a whole other kettle of fish – and always has been. As author Charles C. Mann put it:
[…] to the contemporary eye, sixteenth and seventeenth-century Mexico City looks oddly familiar. In its dystopic way, it was an amazingly contemporary place, unlike any other then on the planet. It was the first twenty-first-century city, the first of today’s modern, globalized megalopolises. 1
In a sense, Mexico City was already the Next Paris around about 1640. Certainly, it was the Next Madrid. But let’s take a detailed look at the reasoning behind the Huffington Post’s year-old prediction and see how things line up.
London probably counts some 200 museums. New York has some 45. Berlin? About 30. The “abouts” are because in lots of cases, those of us counting aren’t sure what kind of collections or public displays count as “Museums.” Mexico City has about 150 official museums, and lots of university galleries, private galleries and collections and temporary exhibitions that crop up all over. But is the Next Paris really going to be found in a list of museums and exhibition places?
2.Frida and Diego
Love them or hate them – you can argue about whichever, most folks don’t realize that Frida’s fame was largely posthumous. Though her difficult life must have been ultimately fulfilling, that fulfillment didn’t come from anything like the celebrity and fame and influence we often associate with living artists. Rather, it came from a deep knowledge and interest in her society and people, and from the unflinching self-examination that’s come to influence so much of post-modern art in more recent decades.
That’s to say – people alive today have made Frida Kahlo into the significant, vibrant and important artist that she still is. We needed her. We still do.
Complex, interesting and fully relevant – even in the Next Paris – the pair of them – Frida & Diego – cast a shadow from the blazing sun of Contemporary Art in Mexico. It’s a shadow in which many Mexico City art enthusiasts are pleased to find refuge.
To quote the Huffington Post… “Neighborhoods in Mexico City look like Europe.” Beyond invoking a rather derisive snort, the statement bears some looking into. Like all post-Colonial cultures, Mexico City has worked long and hard to come to terms with its history. Identity, understanding, “what to keep and what to get rid of”; all of these are still living and important questions – even today. As in its very mixed relationship with Catholicism, Mexico City struggles to both respect some European heritage and to be something purely American. Influences are everywhere. Indeed, it would take an American to miss that the strongest influences in Mexico are Mediterranean rather than something continental in the English sense of the word.
And like all big cities – Mexico City can be daunting for international visitors. Take to the neighborhoods where the people live – there are hundreds. Many, especially in the center of the city, are very walkable. Roving tianguis and street fairs will shut down streets to traffic and pedestrians rule the day. And if you must compare, compare the city to other great capitals and ancient cities and you’ll find both similarities and odd discontinuities too.
4. The Cultural Capital of Latin America?
The Huffington Post makes no mention of the rest of Latin America – of which Mexico City is named cultural capital. But amongst our streets, you will find people from every other country in Latin America. And international fairs of whatever stripe – food, culture, arts, music – will undoubtedly include more representatives from South and Central America and the Caribbean than will festivals anywhere else. These can include countries like Guyana and Suriname and Nicaragua and Saint Lucia. But Mexico City is also home to the first real “China Town” anywhere on Earth. Even within Mexico, the diversity of peoples, languages, and cultures is striking. They’re all here too.
Err Sorry, not those boats, these ones…
Xochimilco – and even a few other places in the south of the city – are among the most popular tourist attractions anywhere. You can still ride – for as little as an hour – or all afternoon, what was once the primary means of transportation in the entire valley of Mexico. We’re still not sure where gondolas fit into the Next Paris, but we have some.
6. Eat Without Breaking the Bank
You bet. See our complete guide to street food here. But beyond the ten peso taco – there’s a whole world of truly affordable and magnificent food. And to get anything truly “expensive” you have to really hunt for the most expensive restaurant anywhere – but why would you?
7. Parks and Plazas and Public Spaces
This is one place where Mexico City really excels. Just among the most frequently visited we can name without even pausing for breath…
And those are just the fairly obvious ones. There’s always a public space or park more magnificent than the last one. Many of the city’s most prominent avenues and streets were modeled on the old Paris, so someone really looking for the Next Paris may really feel that this is it.
You won’t find hyper bargains on clothing in Mexico like you will at even in the most out-of-the-way GAP in the USA. But Mexico does have homegrown designers and they’re not the kids you see getting thrown off of Project Runway. Mexico’s design scene is among the most respected in the world and they rely on the same production – domestic fabrication plants – as do the big players like Diesel and Levis. So you really can find deals on original clothes and from smaller names and brands working exclusively in this country. Most of these are in the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods with a few outliers in Polanco. That’s not even to mention handcrafts, arts, even antiques – that are not available anywhere else.
9. It’s Close
Of course, Mexico City is already a premier destination for folks traveling from Finland, Norway and other parts of Europe much further. Canadians get direct flights. There are daily flights from many points in the USA and these are truly short little affairs – three to four hours, about five from New York. From Texas, you’re here in two hours.
Does any of this make Mexico City the Next Paris? A lot of us are hoping Paris can go back to being the old Paris. Mexico City seems to have no doubt – something is still going right – be it next – or even last.
Mexico City is vibrant, vast and very important. Not just in terms of the space it occupies and the stone and brick from it’s made from, but Mexico City greeted more than 30 million visitors last year. That’s more than it’s entire metro-population (though not by much). Let’s look at why they came.
Last year, at about this time, The New York Times had named the city the number one travel destination for 2016. Tourism searches on Google showed Mexico City as not just a Latin American Favorite, but in the top five tourist searches in the world. And of course, people have been asking for the last several years if it wasn’t the Next Paris, or the Next New York or the Next SOMETHING.
The City government set itself to the task of figuring out just why people love coming here. These are the top 15 reasons they came up with, and ultimately they’re the reasons that Mexico City is Latin America’s favorite, and maybe your favorite too!
1) 185 museums, nine archaeological sites and four World Heritage sites? The cultural scene is enormous, rich and varied. There’s something for every kind of cultural traveler.
2) Fairs, festivals, conventions, meetings and extravaganzas cover music, food, movies, books, and trade in every kind of human activity, down to the annual clown convention.
3) Blockbuster events? Last year saw a Formula 1 race, an NFL game or two, the Tour de France, and a free Roger Waters concert in the city center.
4) Chosen for the sixth world C40 Mayors Summit in November of 2016, Mexico City is widely perceived as a world leader in combatting climate change.
5) The Metrobús system, originally based on one running in Bogota, Colombia, is now the biggest in Latin America. Stretching some 125 kms today, in 2017 no less than 90 Alexander Dennis Enviro500 double-decker buses will begin plying the length of Paseo de la Reforma, as Metrobus Line 7 officially opens.
6. The tourist program Sonrisas por tu ciudad, literally “Smiles for your city,” organized by the Secretary for Tourism, has benefited more than 200,000 people.
7. Mexico City’s Central de Abasto (pictured below), after more than 30 years sells 30,000 tons of merchandise (mostly food) and sells to about 30,000 people every day. It’s the largest shopping area in the world.
8. Mexico City was the first Latin American city to join the Rainbow Cities Network, which coordinates city-level actions to protect LGBTI citizens and residents.
9. Mexico City was chosen as the World Capital of Design for 2018, by the World Design Organization.
10. The Centro Histórico is the largest historical city center in Latin America, with 1,500 buildings designated as having historical, cultural, artistic or architectural value. That’s more than most tour guides can handle, but it’s also home the continent’s biggest Metropolitan Cathedral.
11. Mexico City’s first ever Day of the Dead parade was celebrated by more than 250,000 marchers, band members, onlookers and, yes, zombies.
12. The city’s El Médico en tu Casa program puts a “Doctor in Your Home.” It’s already recognized in America, Asia, and Europe, for bringing health services closer to people who can’t easily visit hospitals or clinics.
13. Mexico City also began the first Specialized Center for the Management of Diabetes anywhere in Latin America.
14. The Ecobici system (pictured below) is the biggest public bike system in Latin America, with 452 cycle stations and about 35 million trips made by 200,ooo riders every year.
15. And finally, the good old underground Metro network is the biggest in Latin America, too. With 12 lines 226 km in total length, about 5 million people ride it every day.
Source: CDMX government, with information from International CDMX and the 4th Governmental Report CDMX, 2016.
Casa Madero may have been the first winery in the Americas, founded way back in 1597, and way up in Coahuila. But Mexico’s predominant “beer culture” has always given wine producers something of a long shadow to grow up in. Aguascalientes, Querétaro, Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Chihuahua all produce respectable wines, but it’s been the environs of Ensenada (the Guadalupe Valley, the Santo Tomas Valley, and the Ojos Negros Valley) that have really busted the Mexican wine scene out onto international lists of “respectability.” Some parts Coahuila (the Valley Of Parras, and Cuatro Ciénagas in particular) still hold their own – but most wine enthusiasts agree, Baja’s got the wine to beat.
Mexico exports wine around the world. According to the Mexican Wine Council, about 400 brands of wine are currently being produced in the country, and these increasingly appear on the international lists as being wines to watch (and to taste). But those lists aren’t everything. Even the most sophisticated drinkers know today that plenty is coming each year from Mexican wineries that’s worth taking note of.
Yes, you can still find plenty of good Mexican vintages mixed in with the international offerings on the shelves at Liverpool. But the wine shops below are pretty active at pushing good wines, from Mexico, onto more Mexican tables.
Vinoteca has three locations in and around the city and carries a wide range of Mexican wines, and still more around the country. They do a fair internet trade in wines too, but stopping in lets you pick the brains of their knowledgeable staff.
La Contra, also with shops all over the country, is one of the city’s leading advocates for the Mexican wine industry. With a capital location in Roma, it’s an easy and relaxed place to pick up recommendations, or indeed, to sample some of the best bottles coming in.
Address: Álvaro Obregón 130, local # 10, Colonia Roma Norte
Telephone: 5564 0966
Website | Facebook
Á de Acento offers a very well-regarded restaurant, but the gourmet shop offers plenty that’s pure Mexican and well worth a bottle or two. In fact, prices are very reasonable, but there’s also usually something special hidden away in the shelves that inquiring customers will be very pleased to find.
Address: Cuernavaca # 85, Colonia Condesa
Telephone: 5260 4721
Website | Facebook
Another in the list of combo restaurant and gourmet shops, Amaya has made a big splash with their list of “vinos raros.” Far from weird, many of them are fabulous. They’re also generally available in the shop, no reservation necessary and many of the best are, in fact, domestically produced!
Address: General Prim # 95, Col. Juárez
Telephone: 5592 5571
Website | Facebook
Don’t expect friendly service. La Europea is still trying to figure out in which decade they’re doing business. But for all the wood-boxed bacalao these people sling during the holidays, they’ve always got a ton of good wine, too. With a good number of branches in and around the city, calling them one of the best wine shops in Mexico might be a stretch, but they do a lot of business, and for that, they always offer a ton of good Mexican wines too.
Si Mon is run by the chefs at Broka Bistrot, practically next door. And the emphasis is on local, good, and even inspiring wines. One of the best things about shopping at a wine bar is after all, that there is usually a bottle open. And for that, including Si Mon in a list of the best wine shops is practically a given.
Address: Zacatecas # 126, Colonia Roma Norte
Telephone: 1866 9030
Main Photo Above: Aborigen Valle Seco, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Cabernet Sauvignon, Courtesy of La Contra