So this week I’ve been out and about discovering my new neighbourhood. It’s called La Condesa and I am totally captivated. Before arriving I had been anxious about finding my bearings in such a vast city (1,485km²), but I really needn’t have worried as it’s divided up into 16 boroughs (delegaciones), which are further divided into 350 neighbourhoods (colonias). As a tourist you are probably only going to visit about 10 colonias depending on the length of your stay.
Each colonia is like a unique town with its own characteristics and charm and they are laid out in such a way that visiting Mexico City is almost like visiting a number of adjoining villages. It’s perfect because you can pick a colonia to visit, take cheap public transport to get there, then spend a few hours or longer exploring everything the neighbourhood has to offer.
Bugs and bike rides
As you will see in my video, I was lucky enough to have a guide to show me around La Condesa. I got talking to the chef in my hotel, Gerardo Delgado (Gerry for short). He makes the most fantastically creative food – a fusion of Mexican and European cuisine, and over a surprisingly delicious grasshopper (chapulines) and chipotle chilli omelette, he offered to take me on a bike ride around the neighbourhood. Mexican people really are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. It reminds me a lot of Ireland in that the locals are only too happy to show a foreigner why they are famous for their hospitality.
Being bikeless, Gerry kindly borrowed a friend’s Ecobici card for me to use that day. Ecobici is the extremely successful bicycle-sharing program that was introduced in 2010 and the good news is that it is now available to tourists as well as residents! You apply for a card that you swipe at any of the 275 stations spread throughout 19 colonias and you are allocated a bicycle to use for 45 minutes at a time (see video). To avoid fines, you must leave the bike back at a station before your time is up and wait 5 minutes before taking another one. For tips on how to register, prices etc., please visit my tips section.
It is true what they say about Mexican drivers. They can be crazy on the roads and they haven’t fully embraced the concept of sharing their precious space with cyclists. I was pleased to see that my neighbourhood has wide tree-lined pedestrian pathways between the two lanes of traffic. These are known as camellones and I highly recommend you use them wherever available. There are also a couple of roads with dedicated bicycle lanes. However, these are few and far between so please be extra cautious when cycling in the city. If you happen to have a cycling helmet at home, bring it with you! Otherwise, there are plenty of shops in which to buy one once you are here. Cycling has become very trendy recently in Mexico City so you might even pick up a really unique design.
La Condesa is an area made up of several colonias located on the west side of Avenida Insurgentes. “Condesa” means “Countess” and the neighbourhood is named after the Countess of Miravalle whose estate covered this whole area during the colonial period. The neighbourhood is certainly photogenic with its eclectic mix of lovingly restored Art Deco and Art Nouveau architecture interspersed with more modern (but never sky-scraping) buildings, pop-up food vendors and kitsch shrines to the Virgin of Guadeloupe, all surrounding large leafy parks. Many of the buildings you see today stem from the 1920’s and 1930´s – the neighbourhood’s architectural golden age, and although the Roma neighbourhood has the edge these days in terms of hipness, Condesa will never lose its vintage charm.
What strikes me about La Condesa is the number of trees and green spaces, the lack of tall buildings and the quirky architecture. The neighbourhood is divided into blocks and I would happily cycle around all of them stopping to take pictures every few metres. I didn’t feel like I was in a city at all. It’s more like a beautiful village where most of the streets are lined with heavily-loaded citrus fruit trees, tumbling bougainvillea and an array of tropical-looking plants and flowers. If you come in during springtime when the jacaranda trees are in full bloom, you can cycle amid a confetti of lilac flowers that decorate your hair as well as the windshields of the interminable lines of parked cars.
The commercial hub of the neighbourhood consists of the area that expands outwards from Tamaulipas. This bustling three-quarters of a mile-long street is lined with bars, restaurants and cafes as well as a number of independent shops and galleries. During the day, the outdoor terraces are packed with a mixture of cool cats tapping away on their laptops or tablets while having coffee, executives on business lunches and tourists enjoying a cool beer while pouring over their maps.
As well as a number of small plazas, there are two main parks, Parque España and Parque Mexico. They are both quite substantial in size and serve as a haven to smooching lovers, fitness fanatics, dog-lovers and children playing under the watchful eyes of their parents. As well as offering a welcome respite from the blazing sun and city sounds, in both you will find free WIFI, outdoor gym equipment and even temporary art exhibitions.
Make sure to visit the Bella Epoca Cultural Centre located on Avenida Tamaulipas. This Art Deco building is home to one of Latin America’s largest bookstores and you will find a number of foreign language books under its 2,000 square metre glass ceiling, as well as a cafeteria and armchairs for browsing (trying before buying is perfectly acceptable here).
Just across the road, fans of lucha libre as well as lovers of all things kitsch, will be delighted by the offerings to be found at the Hijo del Santo store on Tamaulipas. The legend of El Santo (the Saint), folk hero, film actor and Mexico’s most emblematic luchador, lives on through his son Jorge, el Hijo del Santo (The Son of the Saint). Jorge donned the infamous silver mask from 1982 until he retired from professional wrestling in 2014.
Between painting, making documentaries and appearances, he now dedicates his time to running the store which commemorates his iconic father and lucha libre wrestling in general, in the form of glittering masks, action figures, collectors’ items etc. He happened to be there the day I visited and was happy to pose for photos! Just look out for the man in the mask when you are passing by.
Also worth a visit is either of the two Nevería Roxy ice cream parlours located in the neighbourhood. First established in 1946, this old-fashioned icon offers weird and wonderful flavours made from real fruits. I recommend you try the flavours you aren’t likely to find back home such as zapote or mamey (typical Mexican fruits).
For atmosphere Nevería Roxy shouldn’t be missed but for a real treat, head across the road to the recently opened Pantera Fresca. The Spanish owners are more than happy to let you try before you buy and their ice cream is the best I have tried so far. For anyone with a disgustingly sweet tooth like myself, I recommend the paleta de cajeta (caramel ice cream on a stick), relleno de cajeta (filled with caramel) and finished with a baño de chocolate (a chocolate coating). Just tell them you want the one the Irish girl always orders 😉
You’ll find that most ice cream shops in Mexico offer two types of ice cream: nieves and helados. Nieves are made with water and delicious chunks of real fruit. Any of them are delicious but I particularly like the ones with mango and chilli (mango con chile). Helados are made with milk/cream and I highly recommend you try the ones with elote (corn). I know it sounds weird, but trust me!
The night life options are endless in La Condesa and you really will be spoilt for choice. Whether you are in the mood for tacos and pulque, tapas and mezcal, live rock, Irish bars, hipster clubs or “your-name’s-not-down-you’re-not-coming-in” type exclusive venues, you will not be disappointed in LA Condesa!
If you want more information on what to see or do in the neighbourhood, or any recommendations during the time you are here, just let me know via any of my social media channels. I’ll be more than happy to help!