One of my main concerns about coming to Mexico was not getting to spend enough time in nature. Back in Ireland I am never more than an hour away from a mountain, forest, lake, beach or river and I don’t have to battle my way through horrendous traffic to get there. Whenever I am travelling, I need regular contact with nature to keep me sane and although I volunteer in an urban garden in Mexico City and grow my own food in my roof garden, I need somewhere concrete-free once in a while to truly feel revitalised.
You can imagine my delight then at finding out that Mexico City is home to the largest city park in Latin America: Bosque de Chapultepec and within the city boundaries you’ll find at least 10 major green areas, including forests and national parks, that offer all sorts of activities for nature lovers, and 12,000 ft (3,657 m) peaks for any hiking fanatics.
For this week’s video post, I checked out two options, Bosque de Chapultepec, located in the heart of the tourist zone, and Desierto de los Leones, a little further out from the city centre.
Twice the size of Central Park in New York, Bosque de Chapultepec is the most important of Mexico City’s “lungs” and it is within walking distance of the city’s most touristy neighbourhoods. The park is divided into three sections and contains 9 museums (including the world-famous Museum of Anthropology, the Museum of Modern Art and the Tamayo Museum), the city zoo, the botanic gardens, a theme park, restaurants and cafes, boating lakes, running tracks and fountains, as well as large wooded areas that are perfect for inner-city picnics.
The place is packed on weekends but if you walk around, you’ll find an area secluded enough to make you feel like you are in the woods.
In the crowded thoroughfares you’ll find stalls selling souvenirs, fluorescent green potato chips, little furry monkeys that Mexicans like to attach to their heads as they walk around… as always in Mexico, things can get a little surreal.
You’ll also find Castillo de Chapultepec, the only royal castle in Latin America, perched atop a hill in the park. It’s well worth climbing (or taking the little train) to the top to take in the excellent views of the city below from its gardens and to view some beautiful murals by some of Mexico’s finest muralists in the National Museum of History housed within the castle.
Tucked away behind the Monumento al Escuadrón 201 you’ll find one of my favourite places, the little-known Audiorama, a secret retreat with curved benches for curling up on as you listen to the music piped from speakers dotted among the trees.
Depending on the day it could be classical, jazz or traditional Mexican music. You’ll also see a table full of books that you may can borrow without charge, as long as you return them before leaving the Audiorama.
Check out my tips section for more info on the attractions within Bosques de Chapultepec.
For those of you seeking proper respite, Desierto de los Leones is a national park occupying 1,866 hectares of the Sierra de las Cruces mountain range, west of the city centre.
On the day I went to film my video post, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Edgardo Melgoza, aka “Tiburón”, editor of Latin Cycling Magazine, who showed me why this park is so popular among mountain bikers. See our video here.
I thoroughly enjoyed the drive to Desierto de los Leones. The mountain road climbs gradually giving you time to take in your surroundings as you pass through tumbling hillside villages. We left at around 10am to avoid the morning rush-hour traffic and in 45 minutes had been transported to a pine forest with babbling brooks, hermitages, waterfalls and ravines. Check out my tips section on how to get there.
As we approached the park, we took a winding road lined with pine trees and I rolled down the window to breathe in that oh-so-familiar forest scent. The altitude of the park varies from between 2,600 and 3,700 meters above sea level and when we stopped to take a photo at a stunning ravine, I felt the cool, damp climate of home for the first time in a long time.
Once in the park, visitors can chose to hike or bike the numerous trails,
camp out for the night, visit the 17th century monastery, and/or have a laidback lunch in one of the colourful food stalls and buying some souvenirs before heading back to the city.
A visit to the monastery is well worthwhile. It was originally built in the early 17th century and rebuilt during the 18th century alongside 10 hermitages dotted throughout the forest, with the furthest located at the top of San Miguel Peak.
The monastery was abandoned by the Carmelite monks in 1801 and is now in Government hands so I’m not sure who this was creeping around the corridors…
Many parts of the convent are now open to the public and you can see examples of the monk’s cells, the pitch black spooky underground tunnel system (something definitely breathed on me in there), and the beautiful gardens where you’ll also find the “Chapel of Secrets”, a whispering gallery that allowed the monks to communicate with each other during times of imposed silence.
There is a restaurant in one of the pretty courtyards. It is much more expensive than the food stalls outside but the surroundings are worth it if your budget can stretch to it.
The convent also offers guided tours and holds various events throughout the year.
So, two great ideas for getting into nature without leaving Mexico City. As I mentioned in my introduction there are so many more green spaces in the city (I hope to be able to post on them in the future), and in most neighbourhoods, shady plazas are never more than a few blocks away, meaning you never really feel like you are trapped in a concrete jungle, even here, in one of the most populated cities on earth.
Don’t forget to check my tips section for more ideas for getting into nature in the city.