Densely populated Mexico City has never been the country’s biggest draw card. Tourists would rather guzzle tequila and tuck into tacos while watching the turquoise ocean lap the shores of one of the beautiful coastal towns, but many of these places offer a Westernised version of Mexico – one that’s foreign even to Mexicans.
Sprawling, chaotic and unapologetic in its rawness, Mexico City is permeated with a palpable energy. With its Jozi-like landscape and Capetonian pace, the city is one of contrasts: quiet enclaves with pastel-coloured buildings, courtyards and leafy parks wedged between congested highways and towering corporate buildings. Find yourself in a sleepy tree-lined street among old mansions and it’s hard to believe that you’re in one of the busiest cities in the world.
There’s also no end to Mexico City’s history, culture, food and design (it’s the World Design Capital for 2018), which attract globetrotters from far and wide. You need only to spend a day getting lost in the trendy Roma district or the ancient Centro Histórico to discover just how compelling this dynamic place is.
sleep: hotel carlota
This glass-fronted, high-design hotel is one of the newest and most stylish additions to the city. There are 36 simple, industrial rooms and suites created in collaboration with local Mexican designers who use elemental materials such as wood, glass, marble and concrete. The swimming area, with its bright blue lap pool, restaurant and bar, is the central point of the hotel. Rooms looking onto the courtyard can get noisy, so check into one of the suites that face outward.
Ranked number 12 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Quintonil is helmed by Jorge Vallejo – the protégé of Mexico’s renowned chef Enrique Olvera. The cool, dark restaurant is lined with wood and filled with elegant tables and chairs. Diners can expect vegetable-driven dishes, such as cactus with beetroot and seaweed, and charred avocado with escamoles, all made with Mexico’s simplest, finest ingredients.
drink: romita comedor
Housed in a 19th-century building, this bright and airy eatery resembles a greenhouse. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow sunlight to flood through the restaurant and help lush plants creep up the walls on all sides. For the perfect afternoon tipple, order a clamato preparado: a tomato cocktail rimmed with lime and a spicy, sour, salty concoction called Tajín. For an extra kick, top it up with beer and make your own michelada.
Shop for items by local artisans from one of Mexico’s most beautifully curated homeware stores. At Onora, located in the Polanco district, there’s no shortage of carefully crafted products filling the cool space: woven palm-leaf baskets from Oaxaca (a region known for its traditional basket weavers), table runners, cushion covers and hand-woven throws.
see: museo soumaya
This museum is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. Designed by Mexican architect Fernando Romero, the gleaming silver structure stands tall and strong in the affluent Polanco district. It is open to the public, includes a restaurant and houses more than 66 000 privately owned artworks ranging from pieces by Auguste Rodin and Salvador Dalí to Mexico’s own Diego Rivera. Inside, the building has a similar architecture to that of New York’s famed Guggenheim Museum, with ramps that wind all the way up to the top floor.
This article originally appeared in House & Leisure’s Small Spaces issue.