14 FEB 2014: What happens when a destination wants to change its image? Well you have to “Live it to believe it.” That’s Mexico’s clever new North American marketing campaign launched last fall so I decided to put it to the test.

Thankfully in a quick five hour direct flight from Toronto (YYZ) to Mexico City (MEX) with Air Canada, I was there for a city meets countryside romp. The plan was simple: Experience the capital city; suss out heavily trafficked areas, tour various neighborhoods and discover something extraordinary i.e. the WOW of it.

When I broached friends and family of my travel plans they of course murmured reservations. “Why would you want to go there?” “Haven’t they been in the news lately?”

“Well because...,” was my first reply and “Yes,” was another.

Being a culture-vulture myself and a huge lover of Mexican art (who can forget the fabulous Frida and Diego show last year at the Art Gallery of Ontario) I knew the product would be there. Geesh all you have to do is walk down any sundrenched street to see the rich palette of colours dance off the Spanish Colonial architecture or watch the vibrant city scenes of vendors, organ grinders and happy kids playing.

But then there were those headlines you know the ones I mean. I pulled out a map, and noted the troubled spots earning all the ink. These areas were as far away as another planet from where I was going.

Now the snapshot:

Mexico City

In a swanky enclave of Mexico City home to a vibrant Jewish community near Fortune 500 companies and Mexico City’s version of Rodeo Drive there’s a new luxe hotel where international business jetsetters like to stay.

The Live Aqua Mexico City Hotel and Spa situated in Bosques de las Lomas was my home-away-from-home. This great property tucked next to the El Pantalón building, (the local nickname for the Arcos Bosques complex) emits a soothing vibe.

By the driveway a living green wall festooned in vines and tropical plants nicely hides the neighbouring concrete structure with a gurgling fountain by the valet parking good for noise cancellation. Inside there’s an inconspicuous lagoon that wraps around the lobby lounge. It helps there’s butler service, nightly mezcal stations on every floor and the city’s newest shopping plaza next door.

For a sightseeing intro my other half and I enjoy touring with the Hop off-Hop-On Double Decker buses available in so many cities but sadly for this jaunt that was out of the cards... we arrived too late.

On the plus side our thoughtful butler grabbed his car keys and took us on an impromptu guided city tour. Now where else would you get that kind friendly attentive service?

Overall hotel experience: Heavenly. Security is well noted, good location for the business traveller but if you’re into leisure travel it’s a bit of a drive to see the landmarks.

Heavily trafficked areas: Everywhere!!! Pack patience for this snail paced journey to the Zocalo but along the way see an entire spectrum of vehicles from snazzy pimped out rides to beautifully over-loved ones that have seen better days.


Polanco – Big with the stroller toting, bicycle riding and celebrity set known to jog the tightly crammed streets many of which are named after famous writers, philosophers and scientists.

The plus: cafes and only one of the world’s best restaurants, Pujol.

Coyoacan – Translated as ‘place of coyotes’ from the Aztecs this area has been designated as a magic neighbourhood ‘barrio magico’ for good reason. One of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods it has plenty of everything. For R&R find the fabulous tree-fringed park Jardín Centenario lined with benches and the emblematic statue of coyotes. The entire area screams history. Narrow cobblestoned streets, it’s considered ‘the’ next big popular spot after the famous Zocalo.

Other bonuses: Frida Kahlo’s Blue House and the bustling Coyoacan Market aka the ‘mercado’ literally jammed with food stalls, souvenirs, handicrafts and the wonderful farm fresh produce competing alongside the fish mongers and butchers.

Centro Historico aka Zocalo: At the historic centre of the city prepare for a huge eye-opener. Once you soak in one of the world’s largest plazas (this one has the iconic enormous Mexican flag) there are definitely two must-see places there: the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral. My Diego Rivera fantasy turned reality when I set my eyes on the huge murals covering the walls of the staircase and the second story corridor. The murals depict scenes from Mexico’s history from the Aztecs and indigenous peoples to the Spanish Conquest, to the workers revolts and of course a portrait of the lovely Frida.

The wealth of the magnificent towering Cathedral is a sight to behold. There’s even a Cocoa Chapel dedicated to St. Joseph accompanied by a Lord of the Cocoa Beans statue. The big surprise was the slanting floor as the Cathedral, believe it or not, is sinking.

Other Zocalo bonuses: Lovely boutique hotels inside historic buildings and a school of gastronomy known as the Claustro de Sor Juana housed in a former convent renowned for one nun, Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz. She’s considered the greatest Spanish-language poet of the 17th century. Inquire about free musical evenings scheduled in the chapel, tour the grounds and later have a fixed price lunch at the school’s recently refurbished restaurant Zefiro. Good eats at affordable prices.

The biggest WOW
: The ancient La Chinampas of Xochimilco. On the city’s outskirts by the old 1968 Olympic rowing pavilion you will find an intricate waterway of canals dating back to Aztec times. It’s hard to imagine that these floating gardens have been feeding Mexico City for centuries but sadly due to sprawl and other issues much of it is at risk.

Diego Rivera in his National Palace mural The Marketplace Tlatelolco pays homage to the canals. Today tourists can tour these channels via brightly coloured trajinera boats known for their long centre tables for a traditional dinner with accompanying musicians. Me – I did something totally different. I heard there was a remarkable urban organic farming initiative whose fresh produce has lured the city’s top chefs as customers.

Thanks to Antonio Murad, a former financial consultant turned eco-entrepreneur, I ventured on a nature cruise to tour some of the gardens to see the budding plots of Yolcan.

Antonio strongly believes we as urbanites can do the right thing. Pointing to a new crop he says, “This is a very important heritage of our city. This was something I know made me feel I was doing the right thing. You can do a business model that is profitable and that is socially responsible. I’m very proud of what I do. I’m convinced we are having an impact ... maybe we can change something,” he explains as we both glance at this marvelous vegetable basket of Mexico City.

Away from the crowds and the whirring traffic noise beating in the heart of the city, this paradise was simply nature at its best. You know it – you have to live it to believe it and in this case see it.

Getting there: Air Canada flies from Toronto Pearson to Mexico City direct twice daily.

Image credits: All images except top banner - Stephen Smith


Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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