Colonia Centro -- This business, banking, and historic center is the heart of Mexico City and includes the areas in and around La Alameda park and the zócalo, the capital's historic central square. The Spaniards built their new capital city on top of the destroyed capital of the conquered Aztec, and today it is home to more than 1,500 buildings. In the Centro Histórico -- the concentrated historical center within Colonia Centro -- you'll find the most historic landmarks, the most important public buildings, the partially unearthed Aztec ruins of the Great Temple, and numerous museums. The area has restaurants, shops, and hotels as well. In recent years, public improvements have spurred the development of a few new hotels here, as well as a surge in nightlife and dining options, with some exquisite bars and clubs located in historic buildings.
A $300-million face-lift was completed in 2003 in honor of the city's 675th anniversary. Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim Helú, who often, depending on the stock market, is considered the richest person in the world, has also put a lot of money into renovating the area. In addition to a beautification program for the zócalo, other elements of the program included the restoration and conversion of more than 80 18th- and 19th-century buildings.
A special corps of police on horseback outfitted in traditional charro attire (along with many female police on foot) now patrols the Centro Histórico and Alameda Park. Many speak English, and they have been specially trained in the history and culture of the area they patrol.
Chapultepec Park & Polanco -- The large residential area west of the city center and Zona Rosa centers on Chapultepec Park. The largest green area in Mexico City, it was dedicated as a park in the 15th century by the Aztec ruler Nezahualcóyotl. Together with the neighboring colonia of Polanco (north of the park), this is Mexico City's most exclusive address. With its zoo, many notable museums, antiques shops, stylish shopping, fine dining and nightlife, and upscale hotels, it's an ideal place for discovering contemporary Mexican culture. Avenida Presidente Masaryk is the main artery -- think of it as the Rodeo Drive or Champs-Elysées of Mexico City. Some of the city's best high-rise hotels are located along the aptly named Campos Eliseos, Polanco's version of the Champs-Elysées.
Condesa & Roma -- These side-by-side bohemian neighborhoods, located just south of the Zona Rosa, are home to some of the city's hippest cafes and bars, from cutting-edge restaurants to offbeat shops, art galleries, and nightclubs. The neighborhoods are also known for their parks and restored Art Deco buildings.
Coyoacán -- Eight kilometers (5 miles) from the city center, east of San Angel and north of the Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán (Koh-yoh-ah-kahn) is an attractive, Colonial-Era suburb noted for its beautiful town square, cobblestone streets, fine old mansions, and several of the city's most interesting museums. This was the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and of Leon Trotsky after his exile from Stalin's USSR. With something of a hippie feel, it's a wonderful place to spend the day, but overnight accommodations are almost nonexistent. A fun hippie market takes place here on Sundays.
From downtown, Metro Line 3 can take you to the Coyoacán or Viveros station, within walking distance of Coyoacán's museums. Iztacala-Coyoacán buses run from the center to this suburb. If you're coming from San Angel, the quickest and easiest way is to take a cab for the 15-minute ride to the Plaza Hidalgo. Francisco Sosa, a beautiful cobblestone street surrounded by old aristocratic homes, is the main artery into Coyoacán from San Angel, which you can also walk. Or you can catch the Alcantarilla-Col. Agrarista bus heading east along the Camino al Desierto de los Leónes or Avenida Altavista, near the San Angel Inn. Get off when the bus reaches the corner of Avenida México and Xicoténcatl in Coyoacán.
San Angel -- Eight kilometers (5 miles) south of the city center, San Angel (Sahn Ahn-hehl) was once a weekend retreat for Spanish nobles but has long since been absorbed by the city. It's a stunningly beautiful neighborhood of cobblestone streets and Colonial-Era homes, with several worthwhile museums. This is where the renowned Bazar del Sábado (Saturday Bazaar) is held at Plaza San Jacinto. It's full of artistic and antique treasures and surrounded by excellent restaurants and cantinas -- a wonderful place to spend a day. Other attractions in San Angel include a magnificent baroque fountain made of broken pieces of porcelain at the Centro Cultural Isidro Fabela, better known as the Casa del Risco (Plaza San Jacinto 15), and the ethereal Iglesia San Jacinto, a 16th-century church with an exquisite baroque altar, bordering the Plaza San Jacinto.
The nearest Metro station is M.A. de Quevedo (Line 3). From the center of town, take the Metrobus all the way down Insurgentes and get off at the La Bombilla stop and cross to the west side of Insurgentes; continue straight, walking up Avenida La Paz. Cross Avenida Revolucion and walk up Madero to Plaza San Jacinto.
Santa Fe -- Eight kilometers (5 miles) west of the town center, this is Mexico City's newest and most modern neighborhood. It includes high-tech and multinational companies, banks, Iberro Americana University, and a large shopping complex. Santa Fe looks more like a modern American neighborhood than anywhere else in Mexico City. Many of the capital's well-off young professionals have moved to this area, which has developed a booming restaurant and nightlife scene. To reach Santa Fe, take Avenida Reforma west to the Toluca highway and follow the signs to Santa Fe.
Xochimilco -- Twenty-four kilometers (15 miles) south of the town center, Xochimilco (Soh-chee-meel-coh) is noted for its famed canals and Floating Gardens, which have existed here since the time of the Aztec. Although the best-known attractions are the more than 80km (50 miles) of canals, Xochimilco itself is a Colonial-Era gem: It seems small, with its brick streets, but the streets can become heavy with traffic -- it has a population of 300,000. Restaurants are at the edge of the canal and shopping district, and historically significant churches are within easy walking distance of the main square. In the town of Xochimilco, you'll find a busy market, specializing in rugs, ethnic clothing, and brightly decorated pottery.
Xochimilco hosts an amazing number of festivals -- more than 400 annually -- the most famous of which celebrate the Niñopa, a figure of the Christ Child that is believed to possess miraculous powers. The figure is venerated on January 6 (Three Kings' Day), February 2 (annual changing of the Niñopa's custodian), April 30 (Day of the Child), and from December 16 to December 24 (posadas for the Niñopa). Caring for the Niñopa is a coveted privilege, and the schedule of approved caretakers is filled through 2031. The week before Easter is the Feria de la Flor Más Bella del Ejido, a flower fair when the most beautiful girl with Indian features and costume is selected. For more information and exact dates, contact the Xochimilco Tourist Office (Subdirección de Turismo), Pino 36, Barrio San Juan (tel. 55/5676-8879; fax 55/5676-0810), next to Domino's Pizza, 2 blocks from the main square. It's open weekdays from 9am to 8pm, and weekends from 10am to 7pm.
To reach Xochimilco, take the Metro to Taxqueña, then the tren ligero (light train). From there, take a taxi to the main plaza of the town of Xochimilco. Buses run all the way across the city from north to south to end up at Xochimilco, but they take longer than the Metro. Of the buses coming from the center, the most convenient is La Villa-Xochimilco, which you catch going south on Correo Mayor and Pino Suárez near the zócalo, or near Chapultepec on Avenida Vasconcelos, Avenida Nuevo León, and Avenida Division del Norte. Because Xochimilco is located in the far south of the city, it can take a long time to reach in traffic during the workweek. Consider visiting it on the weekend.
Zona Rosa -- West of the Centro, the "Pink Zone" was once the city's most exclusive residential neighborhood. It has given way to just about every segment of society and offers an array of moderate hotels, antiques and silver shops, casual restaurants, gay bars, and kitsch nightlife venues. Although the Zona Rosa has become increasingly tacky with time, many of the streets here are pedestrian-only, and you will find inviting cafes, ice-cream shops, and shopping plazas along the way. It's a good place to shop or grab a bite, but there are few real historic or cultural attractions within the area. It's not safe to walk in this area at night.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.