Mexico City and Oaxaca — two fascinating and very different takes on Mexico!
Sitting high up at 7,000 feet and ringed by mountains the Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX) is a massive and buzzing metropolis of over 20 million people, alive with a vibrant food scene, tons of museums, flourishing art and design communities, and a whole lot of tumultuous history, from its pre-colonial days to the Spanish occupation to more recent times. Once the heart of the Aztec civilization long ago it’s now the undisputed cultural and business capital of Latin America.
Brightly painted facades, cobbled streets, an abundance of arts and crafts, some elegant architecture, a vibrant Indigenous culture, an innovative culinary scene (mole sauces, anyone?), mezcal makers, street art — This is just some of Oaxaca City’s appeal. It’s a lively yet easy-going kind of place to spend a few days.
Still an active archeological zone and once the largest city of pre-Columbian Mexico, Teotihuacán is certainly the most striking site from the ancient world around present-day Mexico City. On display for us are impressive remains of pyramids, temples, and palaces. Founded around 200 BCE it dominated life in the region for five centuries, yet its origins and demise remain a mystery today.
One of the most instantly recognizable artists in the world, Frida Kahlo’s paintings were inspired by folk art, politics, and the chronic pain she suffered. Her self-portraits have become pop icons globally, and her former home, Casa Azul in the Coyoacán district of Mexico City, is a great place for us to learn a little about her life and relationship with Diego Rivera.
The historical center of Mexico City is absolutely brimming with activity and sights. The main plaza, the Zócalo, is the third-largest square in the world (by most accounts anyway). On the square itself are the Metropolitan Cathedral — the largest church in Latin America — as well as the Aztec archeological site of Templo Mayor, which pre-dates the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors who destroyed this Aztec city called Tenochtitlán. Also in the historical center we see famous murals by Diego Rivera and others as well as the beautiful Palácio de Bellas Artes, incorporating Neo-Classical, Art-Nouveau, and Art Deco styles (it took decades to complete).
The adjacent Roma and Condesa neighborhoods are another great walking area. This has become the city’s “hip & trendy” zone with clothing boutiques, cafes, restaurants, unique shops, bars, galleries, vinyl-record stores, tattoo parlors, and so on. Much of Roma and Condesa are leafy, and there are a good many architecturally interesting buildings and attractive plazas and parks in these neighborhoods as well.
It is said that Mexico City has more museums per capita than anywhere in the world. And perhaps the most famous of them all is the world-renowned National Anthropology Museum — a must-see — where all the fabrics of a complex 3,000-year Mexican history are woven together into a remarkable, informative, and pleasing whole presenting all of the country’s past civilizations.
While Oaxaca has a plethora of churches the splendid Baroque Santo Domingo Church stands out in the city center. Begun in 1572 it took over 200 years to complete. Its interior is stunning with gilded plaster, colored stucco, and many paintings. Oaxaca can boast a great many museums, and the Museum of Oaxacan Cultures in a former 16th-century Dominican monastery shines with extensive displays covering indigenous cultures of the Oaxaca region including the Mixtec and Zapotecs.
Around 1,300 feet above the Oaxaca Valley, Monte Alban was the greatest Zapotec city, occupied from around 500 BCE until 900 CE, and is now one of the most highly regarded architectural sites in Latin America. Wandering among the ruins it’s easy to imagine the temples, palaces, and terraced dwellings. The site offers excellent views of the valley and surrounding mountains.
The Oaxaca region can boast an extraordinary arts and crafts scene (weaving, black pottery, wooden sculptures, mezcal production), and while you can find all of it at various shops in the city it’s also an interesting experience to go to the source. Our program will include a visit to an alebrije workshop where we can observe the process of making these delightful carved and painted wooden animal sculptures.