In the 1960s, Mexico City’s extensive Metro system was under construction when transport workers tunneled directly into the remains of a pre-Columbian pyramid, buried beneath the city floor. Delayed, but not deterred, the transport authority simply built the Pino Suárez Metro station around the structure, creating a small plaza with an open ceiling where the pyramid can be viewed today. For locals, there is nothing particularly remarkable in this unconventional merger. In Mexico’s capital, the astonishing, almost mythical mix of cultures is common. History, both glorious and brutal, is always near at hand. Baroque palaces rise above streets noisy with traffic, creaky coffee shops filled with seniors sipping café con leche stand beside generic convenience stores, and contemporary galleries adjoin hole-in-the-wall bakeries and auto-repair shops.
Amid the urban sprawl, there are lovely residential enclaves, architectural landmarks, and a multitude of cultural treasures, from artist Frida Kahlo’s childhood home to the dazzling pre-Columbian artifacts at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. For those who love to eat, there is no better place to explore Mexico’s varied palate. In fact, eating is a veritable civic obsession, with the city’s famous food scene running the gamut from elegant fine dining to relaxed taco stands.
Mexico City often defies expectations. Many descriptors associated with the capital—crime, pollution, poverty—belie a city that is beguilingly friendly, rarely gruff, and invariably worth the effort it takes to explore. Come expecting one place and you’ll likely find another. Contrasts, both jarring and delightful, define this mad metropolis, one of the most singular places on Earth.