Let's Go! Mexico City

Mexico City is an amazing place. It may not immediately conjure images of nature but if you dig your heels in and do a little exploring it yields an abundance of not only gardens, but culture, color, amazing people and let's not forget food. I invite you to tour now the Condesa, Coyoacan and Centro Historico neighborhoods where we recently celebrated the Day of the Dead, or Dia de Muertos, and Halloween during a brief visit to this unique city.

Here in the Centro Historico, a public altar for Day of the Dead lures hundreds of locals to explore its colorful displays.

Our bed-and-breakfast is in the Condesa neighborhood, known for garden-lined streets, Art Nouveau architecture and many restaurants. Close by was the Bosque de Chapultepec, a.k.a. the HUGE park in the center of the city. Its sprawling lawns and tree-lined walkways encompass the fabulous Archaeological Museum, Museum of Modern Art, a lake with paddle boats, hundreds of vendors, a castle . . . much to see. Pictured here is a quiet corner where I happily strolled after a day recovering in bed from a migraine. This was just what the doctor ordered.

All over the city marigolds could be seen planted and scattered around, a reminder that this time of year Day of the Dead is a national holiday. The meridians in the larger streets are often planted with a variety of shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

Here a major boulevard (which was closed to auto traffic on Sunday and much used by bicyclists and roller skaters) is also decorated with marigolds. You can see the pedestrian path down the middle decorated with public sculptures.

In the Centro Historico the back side of an older building is lit up with bougainvillea and other plants.

Not far from our bed-and-breakfast was this wonderful park, Parque Mexico. It had many clipped boxwood hedges and ferns, creating a European flavor to this warm weather locale.

Nice wide paths for everyone to enjoy. The people were so friendly, welcoming, and I swear that one in three had a dog. They adore their furry family members and we saw many pet boutiques during our stay.

This too is in the Parque Mexico, taken by Facilities Manager the day I was down with a migraine.

In many cases even the soil is decorated with marigold petals for Day of the Dead. You can buy these by the bag full for a dollar or two.

Wait! What's that houseplant doing in a hellstrip?

Most street agaves were not vandalized. This one's markings are barely noticeable anyhow.

Oh, the house plants one can grow in a sunny window.

More street agaves in the center strip walkway down a boulevard.

A rather well-trimmed ficus tree, a very typical street tree.

I love these old stone or concrete planters. These lined this pedestrian shopping street in the historic center of town.

Many of the sidewalks are incredibly uneven due to massive, old tree roots. Much effort went into fixing the problem. Here, after the layers of concrete have been removed you can see what impact street-planting has on a very root-bound tree. Poor thing. I bet, however, that they will clean this up and give some fresh soil to the whole thing. We saw a lot of care going into the street gardens.

We saw this combination a lot in public places.

On a street corner near the Roma neighborhood one can easily get a quick plant fix. 

I kind of like the plastic containers used. They are collapsible and likely re-used many times.

Perhaps you need a bonsai palm tree from this car-turned-nursery on the street corner?

This is a small flower stall in the local Tuesday marketplace. Those impatiens priced at 25 pesos are about $1.50.

Marigolds for sale everywhere. As I took this photo a young woman asked me if I would buy some, as I was taking a photo. She was very friendly about it so I did, I bought a bouquet of marigolds to offer the Day of the Dead altar in our bed-and-breakfast. They cost me about $1.

Just off of the zocalo or main square in the historic district, we found this trail of papel picado and marigolds leading to a Day of the Dead altar.

These two flowers, marigolds and cockscomb are used for altars across Mexico at this special time of year. Flowers are fragile and therefore represent the fleeting nature of life. The cockscomb is seen as the symbol for the blood of Christ. The marigolds or Tagetes erecta represent the color of the sun, used to guide loved ones who have passed to the underworld. The strong scent is also said to be pleasing to the dead. These marigolds are native to Mexico.

Here you can see how marigold petals are used.

The path led to this altar, where the public is most welcome to reflect upon and honor the dead.

In the historic center we came across a wonderful public altar. This entrance is made up of flowers associated with the very widely celebrated national holiday.

The altar consisted of an interior altar surrounded by exterior smaller altars. Pictured here is the larger central altar with all of its offerings.

Foods that were favorites of loved ones who have passed are left as offerings or ofrenda to the dead. When the festivities, stories, laughter and contemplation are over, those making the offerings consume the foods knowing there really is no nutritional value left, because the dead have consumed them spiritually. Still, you can't let a good banana go to waste so it is eaten.

Paper-mache skeletons of pets as well as people make up the colorful altars.

Pictured here are sweet ofrendas of puffed rice cereal, chocolate and other tasty bits.

Of course, the sugar skulls are a ubiquitous sight at altars. 

I've seen these papel picados at all times of the year in Mexico but I believe they are much more common for Day of the Dead.

We came upon another private altar that was open to the public. This was for Mexican literary figure Elena Garro. Towards the end of her life, she lived with her daughter and dozen cats - which explains the photo of her with cats and the many paper-mache cat skeletons for her altar.

Here, inside the beautiful building, is the altar for her, complete with ofrendas of sugar skulls and flowers.

Looking up, the papel picados are displayed to a dizzying effect under a skylight.

The tiny courtyard for sipping coffee had this wonderful screen of green between our building and the neighbors. Upon closer inspection, I realized it is fake. Still, a nice wall of green to look at.

In our room we got in on the act with marigolds and papel picados.

The lobby of our bed-and-breakfast, the Condesa Haus, with an altar. The tiny balcony up above on the right is connected to the room we stayed in.

On Monday, we chose to visit the Jardin Botanico or botanical gardens, because all the museums are generally closed that day. Much to our surprise, the whole park was also closed. A park! Crazy. I should have paid attention. We could only glimpse the garden through the gate. I bring you bad far-away photos from what could have been a pretty cool visit.

These really look like Muhlenbergia rigens or deer grass to me, something I added to Chickadee Gardens earlier this summer. There are a few images from a July post which can be revisited here.

A forest of cactus, euphorbia and other goodies. Darn. 

Agaves, too. 

Well, Lunes closed. I should have done my research. Moving on.

A highlight was visiting the Museo de Arte Popular or the Folk Art Museum. I took hundreds of photos for this is a favorite of mine. I will spare you all masses of images, for this is a gardening blog, after all. I thought a few sprinkled in to end this post would be appropriate, for the folk art of Mexico is not only wonderful, it is a tradition so ingrained into the psyche of its citizens that you can't really separate the two.

This diablo mocks some unseen spirit. 

Here a mermaid or sirena altar is entirely made of painted paper.

While not folk art, the murals of Diego Rivera are very celebrated. Here's a detail of a huge one in a museum dedicated to him. In the center we see a young Diego holding hands with a Catrina. Frida Kahlo is behind them, looking straight on as if she knows something we don't. 

Here is a tree of life candelabra at the folk art musuem. Can you imagine how fragile these are?

Here is a living, breathing version of the same thing. This was taken the night of Day of the Dead in the Coyoacan neighborhood (well-known as Frida's neighborhood where her Casa Azul house and museum are located). The costumes were amazing. It was a sea of humanity, wonderful costumes and a carnival atmosphere. People dressed up and came out to marvel at the festivities. There were many entire families dressed to the nines and even though this was one of the largest crowds I have been in, it was also so orderly, no shoving or pushing, you just walked along with the flow. I get a little claustrophobic yet surprisingly did not feel any distress in this crowd. 

I leave you with a sweet doggie, trick or treating for doggie biscuits. He was in one of the public markets we visited and was having quite a good time despite the look on his face.

Whether you call it Mexico City, D.F. (for Distrito Federal), or Ciudad de México, it is a place full of culture and vibrancy. When we told people we were going to Mexico City for a brief vacation, nearly every one of them asked "Why THERE?" I think there is a conception that it is a dangerous and dirty place. Granted it is one of the 10 largest cities in the world at some 21 million people, and cities have their share of problems, but I never once felt uneasy. In fact, many of the neighborhoods at night were so lovely walking around, I felt safer there than I have at times when we lived in Portland. The streetlights were on, you could see the trees and flowers everywhere, people were walking arm in arm, hugging, walking dogs, sipping coffees, going for jogs, all the things that urban people do. The food was incredible (save for the to-go salad for the plane that quickly brought this traveler to her knees on the airplane home), the people so warm. I only wish my Spanish were better. 

If we ever went back, and I hope we do, I would take more time to see a few more museums. I would also visit both botanical gardens, one associated with the university, the other was the closed one we attempted to visit. If you are curious about Mexico and love cities, it's a fun place to go. I don't think it's an accurate snapshot of the more rural areas and its customs as often is the case with big cities. Still, the culture and arts alone are worth the trip.

Well, that wraps up a trip to warmer climes (although it's mild year-round in D.F. and even rained once or twice while we were there). Thank you for reading and until next time, happy gardening and traveling. In the words of Mark Twain in Innocents Abroad: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." I think that a little travel could go a long way for many Americans, especially now.


  1. Fun. And what a lovely time to have been there. : )

    1. Thanks Stephilius - it was a great time indeed :)

  2. I wish traveling didn't make me so anxious. I fear the migraine and stomach ailments that plagued you. I know they won't kill me, but the fear of them makes traveling hard to enjoy. I love reading about other people's travels though! What a vibrant, colorful city and a great time of the year to be there.

    1. Oh, I feel your pain, Alison. Reading about others' travels is a wonderful way to see the world :)

  3. I've visited Mexico but have never been to Mexico City so I enjoyed the opportunity to join you on your well-photographed visit. I was surprised at just how European the city seemed, at least compared to the country's resort locations. I loved the trick-or-treating pooch's get-up too.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Kris. It IS very European - the architecture, the boulevards, the cafes - all with spice. It's a great destination and pretty close for you to fly there - it was only a 3.5 hour flight from San Francisco.

  4. What a lovely post, I so enjoyed it. The Mexican culture is so rich, it's a shame that some fear it. Thanks so much for posting these, and no bueno that botanical garden was closed !

    1. Oh, I'm so glad! It is so incredibly rich...literature, food, music...so much. The people are so warm, too. And yes, bummer no bueno about the botanical garden. Live and learn!

  5. We do plan to visit there soon, in fact Andrew mentioned it as a destination for his upcoming (2 yrs away) birthday with a big number and a zero. Hopefully they'll still be friendly to Americans then...

    So sorry you had a migraine, and the garden was closed!!! Darn wacky schedules. Thanks for the many beautiful photos and the time you took to put this post together. You've almost got me thinking positive thoughts about marigolds.

    1. Oh, I think they would welcome friendly people any time, Loree. I hope you do get a chance to go!

      I can't believe you MIGHT like marigolds..hahah - they are really very cool when massed like that.

  6. Like many people in the U.S. I have a mental image of Mexico that is dirty and dangerous. I've never really believed it, but all that prejudiced misrepresentation in American media had left me with that image to work with. Thank you for giving me a glimpse at the real Mexico City. It looks nicer than most American cities I've been to. I love the trees and all the plants in the street markets.

    1. Well, thank you for saying so Evan and I'm glad that I have helped in some way. That was the intention - to show how wonderful it is. Very gardenesque, rich with culture, too. You'd dig it.

  7. Such an inspiring post...now I want to go there.

    1. Good! I think you would find a lot to keep you busy if you went...such a great, rich culture.

  8. oh man, i love the atmosphere there. I need to go one day!

    1. You'd love it, Fifi. Incredible art, people and the food - OMG. One day a street market set up shop OUTSIDE our FRONT DOOR at the bed and breakfast (they do it every Monday, apparently), literally, and we just opened the door, two tacos please (about .90 each), and BAM that was lunch. Incredible, home made lunch.

  9. Oooooh. I imagine you brought home some goodies. Although, probably not that easy to transport the Paper-mache dogs--which I would have wanted. Fun post.

    1. Oh, wouldn't that be fun, Patricia? I did get two small paper mache skeletons which I covet. Maybe I should learn to make them! By the way, for some odd reason, your comment was marked as spam but I just caught it! Sorry about that :)

  10. Fantastic. I bet it was amazing in person.

    1. It was, Mindy. Very festive, just a positive, upbeat vibe all around.

  11. It is now officially top of my wish list for places to visit! Fantastic place and fantastic post! Thank you!

    1. Yay! Thank you for reading and commenting, Jane. I really hope you get to go and enjoy the warmth of Mexican culture.

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