7 Days In Magnificent Mexico City

It’s Saturday night, and the music is so loud on Amberes Street that I can barely tell which bar is playing which tune. Smiling, laughing LGBTQ couples are wandering in and out of the various festively colored venues, which line the sidewalks like a queer Latin American version of Bourbon Street. My husband Angel and I duck into an aptly named locale called Boy Bar for some drinking and dancing, knowing that if we don’t like the scene, there are nearly a dozen other options within walking distance.
This lively street scene isn’t the only way to experience Mexico City as an LGBTQ traveler, but for those who crave after-dark excitement, it’s a pretty good way to start. Regardless of your personal travel style, however, this thriving metropolis is likely to have something to make you happy.
Mexico City is a world-class destination in many ways. Tourism officials claim that the Mexican capital has more museums than any other destination in the world except London, and they’re probably right. In addition, this was the first city in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, way back in 2009 (Argentina was the first Latin American nation to do so, but that was after Mexico City had already done so).
“In Mexico City, there’s a lot of freedom to be who you are,” said Frank Sandoval, a professional dancer and freelance model who I met during a photoshoot in the trendy Roma district (which was the setting for the much-awarded film, Roma). “You’re not forced to live a double life here. You can be who you are, and the laws and government support you.”
Sandoval has had a chance to compare his hometown with destinations around the globe, thanks to his work as a dancer aboard multiple cruise lines. “Gay life in Mexico City is very sophisticated, compared to many other places in the world,” he said. “We have dance clubs, theaters, bars, recreational zones, and openly gay events. Mexico City is impressive and very cosmopolitan, and you can find a lot of interesting things everywhere you go. In addition, it has a beautiful climate, and you can enjoy a lot of activities outdoors.”
Indeed, there’s a lot to recommend in Mexico City, whether it’s the culture, the history, the cuisine, the nightlife, the shopping, or the pleasant climate (its elevation, at more than 7,000 feet creates a subtropical highland climate that’s never super hot or super cold). Considering how big it is, Mexico City is relatively easy to navigate (although you should avoid taking any kind of vehicle during rush hour). Ubers are more reliable and cheaper than taxis, and you can also use Turibus, the hop-on, hop-off tour bus service that stops at most of the top tourism destinations. The Metro system is an efficient way to beat the traffic, and we’ve also enjoyed using Bird, the new scooter sharing service; just download the app, and you’re ready to activate and go.
Regardless of how you get around, a logical place to begin your first visit is at the Zocalo, one of the world’s largest city squares, which stretches across the historic city center (often called the Centro Histórico). At first glance, you’ll only see the city’s colonial his- tory present in the architecture of the massive Catedral Metropoli- tana (Metropolitan Cathedral), which was consecrated in 1656, and various government buildings that flank the square. But stroll a bit, and you’ll see the ruins of the Templo Mayor complex, which was home to the largest temple of the Mexica people, who founded a city called Tenochtitlan in 1325. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed much of it when they founded Mexico City atop the conquered city, but you can view a fascinating array of restored ruins in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A walk down the pedestrian street called Calle Madero brings you to more attractions, including the Torre Latinoamericana (Latin American Tower), which has an observation deck and was the tallest building in Latin America when it opened in 1956; and the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a gorgeous cultural and perform- ing arts center that opened in 1934. The building’s Neoclassical and Art Nouveau exterior and stunning Art Deco interior make it a much-photographed landmark.
A ride along the Paseo de la Reforma, a broad boulevard designed by Austrian military officer Ferdinand von Rosenzweig in the 1860s, is an impressive way to arrive at yet another must-see part of the city: Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest), an expansive park that stretches nearly 1,700 acres. International travelers are most likely to visit for the park’s noteworthy museums, especially the Museo
Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum), which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best anthropology museums; if you’re a fan, you’ll need an entire day to appreciate the facility’s extensive collections of ancient artifacts fully.
Also worth a visit to the park is the Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle), a stately former residence completed in 1863 that was the official residence of Emperor Maximilian I from 1864 to 1867. Today, the imposing hilltop residence serves as home to the Museo Nacional de Historia (National Museum of History), with interesting exhibits about the nation’s history. Modern and contemporary art lovers should also make time to stop at the Museo Rufino Tamayo, a venue that exhibits the work of the Mexican painter Tamayo, as well as other artists.
Art and design buffs will have lots to love in Mexico City. In the upscale neighborhood of Polanco, the eye-catching Soumaya museum, opened in its current location in 2011, is known as much for its architectural style as its contents, thanks to the building’s interesting curves and 16,000 hexagonal aluminum tiles. Inside, you’ll find sizeable exhibits from a collection of more than 66,000 works spanning some 30 centuries, with notable works by Rodin, Dali, and Tintoretto, to name a few.
Speaking of art, it’s impossible to discuss Mexico City’s creative
Scene without mentioning two world-famous figures: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The lives of these fascinating icons are on display at the Museo Frida Kahlo, a museum in the peaceful Coyoacan district that’s also known as the Casa Azul (Blue House). Set in Kahlo’s birthplace and family home, it offers a fascinating glimpse into her life, her possessions, and her art. A quick Uber ride away is the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivery Frida Kahlo (Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo House-Studio Museum), which is set in the twin, attached homes where the couple lived and work. If you’re sightseeing this part of the city, and you love 20th-century architecture, consider a stop at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (the National Autonomous University of Mexico, known by its initials, UNAM), which has a campus that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its design by some of Mexico’s biggest architects of the last century, as well as its murals by Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros.
A must-see itinerary for first-time visitors is Xochimilco, a city borough famous for its pre-Hispanic network of canals, which you can glide across aboard colorful trajinera boats. Also worth a visit in this far-southern area of the city is the Museo Dolores Olmedo, a museum housed in a historic hacienda that belonged to famed businesswoman and philanthropist Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Her former home today is best known for exhibiting a large collection of works by two of her close friends, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Also interesting is the family of resident Xoloitzcuintli, Mexican hairless dogs that were Olmedo’s favorite breed.
There are lots to see outside the city, too. One of the most memorable day trip destinations is Teotihuacan, the ruins of a city found- ed sometime around 200 B.C. Located about 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, this breathtaking site is set along the Avenue of the Dead, where you can climb more than 240 steps at the Pyramid of the Moon and 260 steps to the Pyramid of the Sun.
There are countless other attractions and activities around the city, from Broadway-quality theater to over-the-top Lucha Libre wrestling and museums dedicated to everything from shoes to the history of crime. In Mexico City, you’ll never lack things to do.
LGBTQ life in Mexico City is vibrant and diverse, and you can find nightlife to suit just about every taste. The thriving epicenter is the Zona Rosa, a centrally located neighborhood that lies off of Paseo de la Reforma. Every weekend (and many weeknights, too), Amberes Street throbs with the beats of multiple bars and dance clubs, most of which are welcoming to all genders and ages. Kinky, on one corner, attracts a young crowd of LGBTQ people and their friends with plenty of pop music for dancing, while Boy Bar is, as the name implies, more focused on the boys, with three floors of different musical styles and a stripper bar section with a back room on the first floor.
Within a few blocks of Amberes, you’ll find several other fun nightlife options. Vaqueros is a decidedly unique cowboy bar that packs in lots of men wearing big hats, jeans, and patterned shirts, while next door, El Almacen is a small-but-lively venue with plenty of drag shows and drink specials. Below it lies a dance club called El Nuevo Cabaretito Neón (you can call it just Caberetito Neón), where the drag shows are complemented by a small dance floor, electronic D.J. music, and enthusiastic strippers who leave nothing to the imagination.
The bar that’s most oriented toward the bear community (although everyone is welcome) is the appropriately named Nicho Bear & Bar, a Zona Rosa favorite where drinking and socializing are the main focus. For a more exclusively male scene with a randy ambiance, consider a quick Uber ride to Tom’s Leather, a bar that, in spite of the name, has very little to do with leather. What it does have, however, are good D.J.s, fearlessly naked strippers, and an expansive back room.
The upscale neighborhood called Polanco is home to two equally upscale LGBTQ nightclubs: Envy and Guilt. Live D.J.s, a well- dressed crowd, and the ability to reserve a table make this a top choice for some night owls.
In Mexico City’s historic downtown, LGBTQ nightlife has yet another vibe. La Purísima is a Bohemian nightclub with religious-themed décor that might be deemed offensive by some devout types, and go-go dancers of every stripe and gender identity. Across the street is Marrakech (locals sometimes call it simply Marra), an equally alternative dance club. Both get packed on weekends, so much so, in fact, that you should arrive before 9 P.M. if you want to avoid standing on the street waiting to get in.
For a historical and current overview of LGBTQ life, consider a tour with Go Man Go, a local tour operator that offers not one but three different LGBTQ tours. The first, “Walking Gay History & Monuments,” packs centuries of LGBTQ history, from Aztecs to modern-day politics, into a fascinating three-hour tour of the historic city center. Part two continues where the first tour leaves off, highlighting more recent gay life downtown, including gay barrow. Part three heads to the Zona Rosa for a walking tour of modern-day LGBTQ nightlife, with admission and a welcome drink included at six different bars.
The biggest annual must-do event for the LGBTQ community, of course, is the Marcha del Orgullo LGBTTTI, Mexico City’s LGBTQ pride event, which takes place on the last Saturday of June. I’ve been lucky enough to attend on three different years, and it’s one of my favorite pride events on the planet, thanks to its grand size, relaxed ambiance, and festive mood. People really get into pride here, and you’ll see all kinds of creative costumes, as well as a diversity of ages, genders, and body types. Unlike the massive New York City pride parade, the procession in Mexico City is more relaxed, with no police barriers, so you can easily divide your time between observing and participating. The march starts at the Angel de la Independencia, the large angel monument on the edge of the Zona Rosa district, and runs down the grand Paseo de la Reforma Boulevard, ending with a festival and concert on the Zocalo downtown.

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