Captain Tony's

Adventure Guide

THE Outdoors "Adventure Guide" for world  travellers

You’ve probably enjoyed the wonderful sun-drenched beaches. Now consider spending a few days exploring historic Mexico City.
Story and pictures by Tony Jones. (a.k.a. Captain Tony)

So you’ve visited Mexico on several occasions, each time drawn back by the reliably wonderful weather, golden beaches, luxurious hilltop villas, endless choices of culinary delights, and seemingly never-ending sporting activities and nightlife.  Perhaps like most visitors, you wandered away from the beach for a few hours to visit pyramids of the Maya on the Yucatan, or the ancient city of Teotihuacan?   

All very enjoyable, but Mexico has much more to offer those visitors wanting to complement physical relaxation with intellectual stimulation.   

Next time, consider stopping over for a few days in Mexico City. Founded in 1325 by the Aztecs, there are literally hundreds of places of cultural and historic interest within two or three hours drive of your downtown hotel.   

During my recent visit, I stayed at the Hotel Casa Blanca.  Offering comfortable accommodations at reasonably affordable rates, the hotel is conveniently located in the historic quarter, only a few minutes walk to the city’s main cultural and business activities. From this base, you have easy access to about 2,600 restaurants, 100 museums, 50 art galleries, and the many convention centers. 

Here are just two attractions of special interest to those of you wanting to explore “something different” within a one hour drive or train ride of the city center, and just a few minutes apart.  *

The Delores Olmedo Patino Museum. Situated at 5843 Avenida México in the town of Xochimilco, (So-chi-milko), the museum occupies what was originally the main house of the Hacienda La Noria that dates from the sixteenth century. 

Dolores Olmedo Patino purchased the ruins of this once magnificent ranch in 1962, converted it into what is now a world-class center for Mexico’s cultural heritage, and then donated it in trust to the people of Mexico. 

First opened to the public in September, 1994, the museum features the works of Mexico’s three most important artists, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Russian-born Angelina Beloff.   

The collections, as well as the beautiful furnishings that once graced Dolores Olmedo’s home, have been divided into several galleries.   

The main gallery and Room 2 contain many of the paintings and murals of child prodigy Rivera. The portrait of his mother, painted when he was only ten years old, astounded art critics with its simplistic brilliance. 

Room 3, the original dining room, is devoted to the inventiveness and skills of the Maya.  Also on display in this room is Rivera’s last painting, the unforgettable “The watermelons.”   

The well-planned circuitous route leads into The Kitchen. Laid out as typical of colonial times, even the traditional stove is a unique work of art.  Here, you will see specially commissioned silver tableware and porcelain literally fit for an Emperor.    

The tour continues with some of Mexico’s finest lithographs, drawings, and paintings until reaching my favorite displays relating to the pre-Hispanic custom of the "Altar to the dead." 

Several large rooms are crowded with highly colorful masterpieces in various woods and metals, glass, papier mache’ and other materials.  Mainly rural in origin, they reveal incredible diversity of imagination as artisans depict birds, freakish beautifully dressed human skeletons, and plant life.   

While the museum building is the jewel, its setting is a vast expanse of well-manicured lawn, plants, mature trees and a glorious rainbow of flowers. 

Look carefully, and you may catch sight of the original Mexican hairless Xoloitzcuintle dog. 

Tip: Seniors and children under six admitted no charge.  Free admission to all on Tuesdays.

Xochimilco – Mexico’s hidden Venice
Until the 19th century, Xochimilco, a Nahuatl word that means "garden of flowers," was a lake and the main water catchment area for Mexico City.  

Urban encroachment, land fill and water run-off have gradually turned the area of about 125 square kms. into raised agricultural fields called chinampas, flower markets, and residential housing sectioned off like a jigsaw puzzle by 140 kms of peaceful, winding canals.    

First recognized as a tourist attraction in the 1920s. European guidebooks romanticized the gardens and described Xochimilco as "the Venice of Mexico." As testament to the site's historic value, UNESCO declared Xochimilco a Cultural Heritage Site in 1987. 

In 1993 as part of a multi-million dollar ecological rescue project, the federal government divided the land into a traditional area and an ecological park. Both areas offer excellent bird watching. 

Chinampas, or "floating gardens" are formed by alternating layers of aquatic weeds, muck, and earth packed inside rectangular cane frames firmly rooted to the lake floor. They are anchored to the lake bottom by trees planted along the edges of the fields. 

Today the region depends on tourism to maintain jobs for thousands of workers - from musicians to cooks to craft vendors.  Access to the canals is free, but tourists can hire a colorful, flower adorned wooden punt, or trajinera, for about 150-200 pesos an hour.  Sit back and relax as the boatman poles gently underneath towering cypress trees, past gardens overflowing with an amazing variety of sweet-smelling flowers, neat waterfront homes, and vegetable gardens.

Before it appears into view from around the next bend, you hear the sounds of marimba, salterio, or mariachi music drifting along the surface of the canal from a trajinera carrying a smartly dressed group of musicians.  Other trajineras may be seen carrying musicians serenading young lovers, or excited school children enjoying a day on the water.   

Hungry or thirsty? Then wave over yet another trajinera and buy spicy, locally produced foods, or a refreshing soft drink.   

Most important. Have camera ready, for you are guaranteed to take some of the best reminders of your trip to Mexico, along with all the"usual" pictures of sand and sea.     

* It is advisable to use the services of a tour operator, taxi, or limousine driver rather than risk getting flustered driving a rental car in this huge city of twenty-three million people, eight million cars, and unfamiliar traffic conditions.

For further information:

Mexico Tourism Board
Mexico City Dept. of Tourism
Delores Olmedo Museum

Copyright © 1999 Adventure Guide