8 Reasons To Love Mexico City

Mexico City was one of our favorite destinations.

8 Reasons To Love Mexico City

Mexico City was one of our favorite destinations. The food, the people, the culture: everything blew us away. Here are eight reasons why we can’t wait to return.

1. It’s safer than you think.

Located smackdab in the middle of the country, Mexico City isn’t prone to the drug violence plaguing the U.S.-Mexico border. Sure, you want to stay vigilant and stick to the beaten path, but you’ll find Mexico City isn’t the dangerous, crime-ridden place some would have you believe. Read more: Is Mexico City safe?

2. It’s cheap.

One U.S. dollar currently nabs you 15 Mexican pesos. Street tacos can be had for pennies. A high-end meal for two with wine and multiple courses will set you back $75. Entry into most museums is just a few dollars, and silver jewelry sells for $10 to $20.

3. You can eat grasshoppers!

On the menu, look for chapulines, or toasted grasshoppers. They’re squishy, sour and, surprisingly, not disgusting. After the waiter brings your order, you may need to down a few shots of mescal to summon the courage to try one. Just a slight breeze and those suckers look alive.

Grasshoppers from Al Andar in Mexico City

Grasshoppers from Al Andar in Mexico City. Watch me eat one!

4. The food is amazing.

In addition to bugs, you’ll also find delicious and cheap homemade soups, grilled cactus, fresh seafood and some of the best guacamole you’ve ever tasted in Mexico City. Each restaurant serves a house salsa, and fresh lime slices adorn every table. Where to eat in Mexico City.

5. The museum scene is world class.

Tourist officials claim Mexico City has more museums than any other city. We didn’t have time to count, but trust us, there are a lot. The most famous is Museo Nacional de Antropologia, home to relics from the Mayan, Aztec and Olmec civilizations. The best part of this museum is the grounds. The gardens are filled with life-size replicas of ancient villages, pyramids and temples.

A boy rests on a temple in the gardens of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. This was our favorite Mexico City museum. Here’s why »

6. It’s like Venice. Sort of.

When the conquistadors arrived, Mexico City was called Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec empire. The Aztecs lived on a series of manmade islands connected by footbridges. When the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlan, they drained the lake but spared an area called Xochimilco. Today, Xochimilco’s canals are traveled by colorful flat-bottom boats full of partiers, mariachi bands and food vendors. Sundays are an especially lively day to cruise the canals.

A trajinera cruises the canals of Xochimilco. Watch a video from our day at Xochimilco.

7. It’s not Cancun.

Most visitors to Mexico don’t venture past the jewelry hawkers and blanket vendors hustling at the cruise ports of Cancun and Cozumel. There are no spring breakers in Mexico City. Which makes it a more authentic, and also a little more difficult, place to visit. Learn a little Spanish and carry a good map.

8. Beer cocktails!

Why settle for a plain old Corona and lime? Mexico City serves up some mean beer cocktails. A michelada is a mix of beer, lime, hot sauce and spices. Word on the street: this is a delicious hangover cure.

Michelada

Had too many tequila shots last night? Cure what ails you with a michelada, Mexico’s answer to the Bloody Mary. Photo by T.Tseng/Flickr.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Day of the Dead

When the conquistadors arrived in Mexico 500 years ago, they were a little creeped out by how the natives honored the dead.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The Day of the Dead

When the conquistadors arrived in Mexico 500 years ago, they were a little creeped out by how the natives honored the dead.

Every August the Aztecs would break out the skulls of their departed relatives and kick off a month-long party that celebrated death, the dead, and the afterlife.

“Weird,” said Hernán Cortés.

The tradition has now morphed into a two-day event held every fall. Many of the rituals from the centuries-old tradition remain, though today you’re more likely to see partygoers waving skulls made from sugar than actual bone.

Bust out your ofrenda, grab some marigolds, and get ready for a trip to the cemetery. Here are five things you (probably) didn’t know about the Day of the Dead.

The Day of the Dead rituals are not based in fear

The Day of the Dead coincides each year with Halloween, the night many of us dress up like zombies and ghosts and threaten to punk our neighbors unless they give us a trial-size Snickers bar. The way we celebrate it, death is something to be feared.

But back in the day of the Aztecs, death wasn’t as scary. Many believed in the afterlife. Depending on how one died, he or she may pass on to any of a number of underworlds, overworlds or heavens.

On the Day of the Dead, the spirits of the deceased come back from the afterlife to party with the living. The holiday is a time to celebrate, not fear, the dead.

Dia De Los Muertos Festival, Los Angeles, 11.01.10

Photo by Rob Sheridan/Flickr

The Spanish tried to kill the Day of the Dead

The conquistadors disagreed with the natives’ whole death-is-an-extension-of-life thing. They saw the ritual as savage and sacrilegious. They tried to eradicate the Day of the Dead festivities, but they wouldn’t go away.

A compromise of sorts was reached. The natives got to keep their celebration, but it was moved from August to November to coincide with the conquistadors’ All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The month-long merrymaking was shortened to two days, Nov. 1st and 2nd.

Today, it’s one of the biggest celebrations in Mexico

Trumpet Players

Photo by Tj Morales/Flickr

The Day of the Dead is now one of the biggest holidays in Mexico. Celebrations vary by region, but the rituals usually include building an altar to welcome the spirit home. Families might also make a trip to the graveyard to clean up the deceased’s resting place.

Vigils are held. Marigolds, a flower symbolizing the fleetingness of life, are laid on gravesites. The favorite food of the deceased is eaten, along with pan de muerto, a sweet bread topped with strips of dough that look like bones.

The living make offerings to the deceased: toys for the kids, tequila for the adults.

The Day of the Dead is now celebrated throughout the world

In Peru, family members dance on graves and in Haiti they pour moonshine on crosses. The celebrations are also prevalent in areas of the USA with large Mexican populations, like California and Texas.

Dia De Los Muertos Festival, Los Angeles, 11.01.10

Photo by Rob Sheridan/Flickr

If you want to get in on the fun, building an altar is pretty easy

In Mexico the Day of the Dead altar is called an ofrenda. These are usually built on a raised platform and decorated with photos, fruit and sugar skulls. Water is sometimes left for spirits thirsty after crossing over from the next world.

You could make an ofrenda with some colorful cloth, flowers, and cookies. Or you could just light a candle and pause for a moment to reflect.

It may be called the Day of the Dead, but it’s the living who get to decide how to celebrate.

Mexican Day of the Dead

Photo by Barney Moss/Flickr

Mercado San Juan, Mexico City’s Ultimate Market

The butcher’s cleaver slices through the pink flesh, hitting the board below with a “thock.”

I’m too close.

Mercado San Juan, Mexico City’s Ultimate Market

The butcher’s cleaver slices through the pink flesh, hitting the board below with a “thock.”

I’m too close. A spot of blood hits my shoe.

Mercado San Juan butchers

Butchers working their magic on a carcass at Mercado San Juan.

We’re not in Whole Foods anymore.

Nope, we’re at Mercado San Juan, the shopping destination for Mexico City’s professional chefs, local foodies and travelers with cookbooks in tow.

Here you’ll find some of the city’s finest fish, produce and meat. The dead eyes of recently-killed quails, eels and chickens line the stalls, along with cheeses, fresh salsas and precarious pyramids of avocados. If your recipe calls for crocodile, wild boar or sting rays, this is the market for you.

Mercado San Juan salsa and vegetables

A stand devoted to salsas at Mercado San Juan.

It’s an awesome assault of sights, smells, and, if you hit the food stalls at the back, tastes.

Mercado San Juan rotisserie chickens

Screw cooking. There are tons of stands selling prepared foods, including rotisserie chicken.

Mercado San Juan’s history dates back to the Spanish conquest. The market existed to serve the Spanish their wines and cheeses from the old country.

The settlers could also pick up a slave or two during their visit.

Today, Mercado San Juan dabbles only in the trafficking of raw and prepared foods.

Video

Check out more in the video below.

Go

The market is located near downtown on Calle de Ernesto Pugibet, No. 21, Centro.

Salud!
– Helen Anne

PS Want to learn more about Mexico City’s food scene? Here are some tips on where to eat. Maybe you’ll try some grasshoppers while you’re there?

Museo Nacional de Antropología: The World’s Coolest Museum?

Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is hands-down one of the world’s coolest national history museums.

Museo Nacional de Antropología: The World’s Coolest Museum?

Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is hands-down one of the world’s coolest national history museums. Other travelers agree. It’s the highest recommended Mexico City attraction on TripAdvisor, nabbing more than 2,200 “excellent” ratings.

The thoughtfully laid out museum tells the stories of civilizations that called Mexico home way before the Spanish arrived. Plan to spend at least a few hours exploring the expansive collection of relics, statues, and personal artifacts.

You’ll dig it. I promise.

Aztec sun stone

The Aztec section of the Museo Nacional de Antropología.

Aztec Sun Stone

The most popular item on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología is the 25-ton Aztec Sun Stone. It was stashed away in Mexico City’s Zocalo, or city center, for safekeeping from the Spanish conquistadors.

While most of Mexico City’s other temples and relics were destroyed during the conquest, the Aztec Sun Stone’s hiding place wasn’t discovered until 250 years after the fighting ended.

The almost 12-foot sculpture is covered in carvings documenting Aztec creation myths. The pained face of the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh grimaces at its center.

Aztec sun stone

The 25-ton Aztec Sun Stone is the centerpiece of the Aztec exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Antropología, and one of the highlights of the museum.

The Olmecs May Have Been Giants

In another room, huge stone heads weighing 20 tons hail from the time of the Olmecs, one of Mexico’s oldest cultures.

The Olmecs lived along the Gulf coast of southern Mexico from 1200 to 400 BC. The heads, ranging in size from five to 11 feet, are believed to represent tribal rulers.

Olmec head

The Olmecs, one of Mexico’s oldest civilizations, may have carved these giant heads to honor their leaders.

Teotihuacan Extra Credit

If you’re visiting Mexico City, you have to check out the nearby ruins of Teotihuacan.

Once one of the world’s leading cities, Teotihuacan thrived for hundreds of years before being mysteriously destroyed and abandoned around 700 AD.

On display at the anthropology museum are life-size representations of Teotihuacan’s pyramids, some of the largest in the world. Bodies believed to be sacrificed during ancient rituals are also part of the exhibit. You can see how the victims’ hands were bound behind their backs before burial.

teotihuacan facade

The replica of a temple that once stood at the ruins of Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City.

teotihuacan sacrifice

On display are the skeletons of people believed to be ritually sacrificed by one of Mesoamerica’s leading civilizations.

Oops, We Found a Garden. And It’s Awesome.

When taking a supposed shortcut to another exhibit, Greg and I accidentally stumbled upon the museum’s gardens. What a great mistake.

Hidden in the gardens were life-size replicas of the tombs and temples that stood before the conquest transformed Mexico’s cityscape.

Thoughtfully arranged plants and secluded trails heightened the experience of exploring the ancient villages.

museo nacional de antropología gardens

A temple replica in the Museo Nacional de Antropología gardens.

museo nacional de antropología temples

A boy rests on the staircase of a temple while behind him women carefully descend the steep and narrow steps.

Go

Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología is located in Bosque de Chapultepec, a 1,655-acre park that offers an appreciated break from the city’s traffic and congestion.

The museum is free to residents – and subsequently very busy – on Sundays. Go during the week. You’ll have to pay 57 pesos, roughly $4.40 USD at the time of this post, but you’ll also avoid the crowds.

VIDEO: Xochimilco, Aztec Life in Modern Day Mexico City

Five hundred years ago, Mexico City looked a little different.

VIDEO: Xochimilco, Aztec Life in Modern Day Mexico City

Five hundred years ago, Mexico City looked a little different.

Instead of crowded roads, there was water. The honking red and gold taxis were preceded by boats. In place of today’s bars, restaurants and cathedrals sat piles of mud, reeds and tree roots.

Back then Mexico City was Tenochtitlán, capital of the Aztec empire. The city stretched over a series of man-made islands called chinampas. For years, these piles of earth gave the Aztecs easy access to Lake Texcoco’s fertile shores and ample fish supply.

And then the Spanish came along.

Xochimilco Mexico City

Xochimilco is the only place in Mexico City where you can experience how the Aztecs lived before the Spanish arrived.

Xochimilco embarcaderos

Men share a snack on the embarcaderos of Xochimilco.

They squashed the floating city, drained the lake and built new monuments from the rubble of the Aztecs’ temples. The Spanish spared only one corner of Tenochtitlán: Xochimilco, the area’s main source of food.

Hey, destroying an empire makes you hungry.

Today, Xochimilco is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a popular day trip from Mexico City.

XochimilcoTrajineraDriver

A trajinera driver pushes his boat down the canals of Xochimilco.

Xochimilco Trajinera

We cruised the canals in a trajinera, or flat-bottomed boat, called the Lorelay.

On Sundays the 100-plus miles of canals overflow with flat-bottomed boats called trajineras. It’s a total party. There’s singing and dancing. Boats loaded with cooks and musicians patrol the canals, offering chile rellenos and mariachi songs in exchange for a few pesos.

Get a feel for Xochimilco in the video below.

Travel tip: When we hailed our taxi to Xochimilco, the driver offered to wait and take us back to the city. We didn’t think that was necessary. Big mistake. It took us forever to find a taxi that would drive us home. It’s worth the extra USD $20 or so to have a guaranteed safe ride back to your hotel or apartment.

Safety in Mexico City: How to Hail a Cab

Mexico City taxi

Cab safety is a hot topic in Mexico City guidebooks.

Safety in Mexico City: How to Hail a Cab

Cab safety is a hot topic in Mexico City guidebooks. Most recommend visitors only ride in taxis booked through the authorized sitio stands that are sprinkled throughout the city. This is great advice, providing you can find a sitio stand.

Mexico City is huge. And it’s not designed for tourists like many other major world cities. There are no pretty “you are here” maps. Entrance signs are hard to find. And good luck finding any information in English.

You will undoubtedly find yourself walking in circles, cursing yourself for not entering any sitio stand numbers in your phone, and wanting to just hail a cab and get on with your trip already.

Mexico City taxi

A cab in Mexico City. Photo care of HelloStanley.

While the interwebs may scare one into believing an unauthorized cab ride will end in a robbery, express kidnapping or the like, we hailed multiple cabs during our trip with zero incident.

Our research showed that cabs that met the following requirements were generally safe:

Example of a Mexico City taxi registation

Look for a registration like this in one of the taxi’s windows.

Following the above recommendations sounds easy enough. But Mexico City traffic is crazy. Lanes appear to be suggestions. Stop signs seem optional.

It’s hard to tell if a cab has a picture of the driver on the back window when it’s zipping by at 45 miles per hour.

To overcome this, Greg and I developed a system for hailing cabs. He would stand about 100 feet away from me, a little further upstream in the flow of traffic. When he saw a cab whiz by him with the proper safety documentation he would signal for me to flag it down.

It worked. Sometimes.

As our trip wore on and we became more comfortable in the city, we “risked it” and jumped in a few cabs that didn’t have the driver’s license visible. We might have been lucky. Or maybe the dangers of Mexico City cabs are over-hyped.

One trick we learned was to look for taxis that were in the process of dropping off their previous customers. Hey, if the driver didn’t kill/rob them then we’ll be okay.

Right?

24 Hours in Mexico City

Got a day to spend in el Distrito Federal?

24 Hours in Mexico City

Got a day to spend in el Distrito Federal? Here’s my Mexico City travel guide. A version of this article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman »

Morning

There are few places in the world where breakfast is served with a side of spicy green tomatillo salsa. Mexico City’s Beatricita is one of those places.

Close your eyes and point to one of the four breakfast specials. For less than $6 USD you’ll get cake, coffee, juice and some delicious mix of eggs and beans. All of which you can smother with spicy green salsa. God bless Mexico.

All of this can be yours for less than $6 USD at Beatricita.

All of this can be yours for less than $6 USD at Beatricita.

After thanking the waitress head right out of the restaurant and then left on Eje 2 Pte Florencia. Stop when you see the Angel of Independence, a tall tower with a – you guessed it – winged angel on the top.

Carefully dart across the madhouse of a roundabout to El Angel, built to commemorate Mexico’s War of Independence. Take a free and very short walk around the center of the statue.

A cool kid poses for photos at the base of the Angel of Independence in Mexico City.

A cool kid poses for photos at the base of the Angel of Independence monument in Mexico City.

Now if you’re feeling brave, and I mean really, really brave, rent a red bike from the EcoBici station across the street from El Angel. Why do I consider you brave? Because you’ll be careening through the anarchy of traffic that is Mexico City on two wheels without a helmet.

Carefully – carefully! – coast back to the Angel, down Paseo de la Reforma and take a left at the next roundabout. Follow that road until it ends and take a right and then a left on Ave Sonora. This will take you to Parque Mexico, where you’ll park your bike at the EcoBici stand and explore on foot.

Parque Mexico is one of my favorite spots in Mexico City. Take in the joggers, strolling lovers and families playing with their dogs. Look for the impromptu trampoline setup, complete with a screen around it to catch any toddlers that bounce too close to the edge.

Try to find the fountain of the naked woman pouring two pitchers of water into the basin. It’s okay to say “nice jugs”.

This statue of a woman pouring jugs

Parque Mexico’s iconic statue. It’s okay to say “nice jugs.”

Afternoon

Head west on the road you’re standing on and take a right at Avenida Amsterdam. Look for the awning that says ‘hola!’ This hole in the wall goes by the names Tacos Hola and El Guero. Grab a quick snack of kale or spinach tacos.

After that, make your way up Avenue Oaxaca and then a sharp left on Durango. Flag down a waiter at the Contramar restaurant and make a reservation for 4 or 5 pm. Don’t be deterred if they tell you there’s only seating at the bar. This place is worth it.

Now we’re going to hail a cab. I know. I know. You’ve read so many terrible things online about hailing cabs in Mexico City. You’ll generally be safe as long as the car has the following three items:

If you’re still feeling iffy, there’s an authorized stand up the road off Guadalajara. Look for the man sitting under the sign that says ‘sitio’.

Have the driver drop you off at the entrance to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, easily one of the world’s coolest museums. See the giant Olmec heads and the Aztec calendar. Be sure to walk outside of each section to tour the replicas of the civilization’s homes and buildings.

Replicas from the ruins of Teotihuacan at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Replicas from the ruins of Teotihuacan at the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Evening

Catch a cab in front of the museum – look for one that is dropping off passengers if you’re nervous – and head back to Contramar. Order the seafood soup and a cubana, a delicious mix of beer, salt, lime and hot sauce. (It works. I promise.)

Then head to Hotel Condesa. Walk inside and ask someone to point you to the stairs. It’s a long climb to the rooftop. You forget that Mexico City sits almost a mile and a half above sea level until you have to do anything remotely athletic. Catch your breath as you watch the sunset.

As the night gets darker, Hotel Condesa’s scene gets trendier. If thumping bass and high heels aren’t your thing, or if you just want a change of scenery, hit the road.

Follow the park to Tamaulipa, the main drag of bars and restaurants. Grab a negroni from the Wallace Whisky Bar. Then follow the road to Av Michoacán and take a right.

The lime soup at restaurant Xel Ha in Mexico City.

The lime soup at restaurant Xel Ha in Mexico City.

We’re going to get a late dinner at Xel-Ha, a no-frills diner that serves food from the Yucatan. Order the lime soup and any of the house specialties on the menu.

After dinner head back the way you came to end the night at Malafama, a pool bar and art gallery.

Don’t be weirded out that the bouncer asks to pat you down before you enter. They’re just keeping you safe.

VIDEO: Mexico City’s Zocalo

Since the time of the Aztecs, Mexico City’s Zocalo has served as the city’s political, cultural and religious hub.

VIDEO: Mexico City’s Zocalo

Since the time of the Aztecs, Mexico City’s Zocalo has served as the city’s political, cultural and religious hub.

It’s hot. Chaotic. Crowded. And a total blast to visit.

Mexico City zocalo

Mexico City’s Zocalo, also known as the Plaza de la Constitucion, is one of the largest public squares in the world.

One of the largest public squares in the world, the Zocalo is officially known as the Plaza de la Constitucion. The nickname “Zocalo” comes from the Spanish word for “pedestal.” In the 1800s, plans were made to build a monument to commemorate Mexico’s independence here.

The monument’s pedestal, or base, was constructed. Nothing more. Locals have referred to the plaza as the Zocalo ever since. The name stuck and spread. Other Mexican towns now refer to their main square as the Zocalo.

In Mexico City, the Zocalo sits in the middle of the city’s Centro district and contains many of the area’s top sites, including the Catedral Metropolitana, the Templo Mayor and the Palacio Nacional, home to Diego Rivera’s famous “Epic of the Mexican People” mural.

Diego Rivera’s famous Epic of the Mexican People mural in the Zocalo

Diego Rivera’s famous “Epic of the Mexican People” mural in the Zocalo’s Palacio Nacional.

Note the steps that lead down to the entry way of the Catedral. This building used to sit at ground level. The Zocalo, and many areas of the city, is sinking into the mud that made up the bottom of Lake Texcoco, which was drained for the construction of the city that stands today.

Heads up: everyone in the Zocalo is looking to make a buck. From the organ grinders, to the beggars, to the men selling children’s toys on blankets in the street.

For a few pesos, a group of Aztec revivalists dressed in feather headdresses will remove the impurities from your body by performing an incense ritual known as a limpia.

I found these revivalists fascinating. Click below to watch scenes from a limpia and get a feel for the Zocalo. At the end I tell you where to go to pay moderately-inflated prices for drinks and views of the Zocalo from above.

The Mysteries of Teotihuacan

The 200-plus foot Pyramid of the Sun, one of the tallest pyramids in the world.

“This is my office,” Carlos San Roman says, gesturing out the driver side window to the streets of Mexico City.

The Mysteries of Teotihuacan

“This is my office,” Carlos San Roman says, gesturing out the driver side window to the streets of Mexico City.

Billboards advertising Chili’s baby back ribs, a Sylvester Stallone movie (“solo en cines”), Sears and Corona hover over dated red and yellow taxis, Volkswagen Beetles and motorcycles grappling for space.

Behind them, the hazy outlines of the mountains and volcanoes that frame the Valley of Mexico. The pollution stings our eyes and tickles our throats.

See below for a video of what we saw out the cab window on the ride from Mexico City to Teotihuacan.

San Roman is our guide for a day trip to Teotihuacan, an archaeological site 45 minutes northeast of Mexico City. Here, the most influential city in Mesoamerica thrived for hundreds of years before it was destroyed and abandoned around 700 AD.

Today is my fiance Greg’s 30th birthday. We’re celebrating with a climb up the Pyramid of the Sun, one of the tallest pyramids in the world.

Guide Recommended. Not Required

A five-hour tour with San Roman, a guide and interpreter for more than 20 years, runs $155 US for up to four people.

A guide is not necessary to tour Teotihuacan. Public busses from Mexico City run a mere $8 US round trip. But posts on travel forums about armed robberies on the busses – whether founded or not – steered us into hiring San Roman.

Though plenty of passengers have reported trouble-free rides and police check passengers leaving Teotihuacan, issues may occur when the bus stops at stations on the ride back to the city.

There are no police checking people there,” San Roman says.

So we ride in his 2006 Camry. Past cornfields. Past smokestacks. Past tottering cities of cinderblock.

Finally, we see it: the 200-plus foot Pyramid of the Sun. It’s an imperfect triangular mound with staggered levels, a muddy grey facade, and a steep staircase that visitors climb to the uneven top.

The Pyramid of the Sun at Mexico's Teotihuacan

The 200-plus foot Pyramid of the Sun, one of the tallest pyramids in the world.

The smaller Pyramid of the Moon sits a half mile to the north via the Avenue of the Dead. Two miles south is the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.

The original purpose of these roads, temples and pyramids is unknown. Even the names are made up.

Teotihuacan’s Mysterious End

The Aztecs discovered Teotihuacan and named it “the place where the gods were created” some 600 years after the city was mysteriously destroyed and abandoned around 700 AD.

“It went from 75,000 people to 5,000 overnight,” San Roman says.

Some theories blame the exodus on a war with outside communities. Others say the city was destroyed during an internal revolt.

The pyramids were restored in the 1900s. Today the Avenue of the Dead is filled with vendors pushing sombreros, jewelry and miniature versions of the Aztec calendar. They don’t hassle us as much as they do visitors without guides.

IMG_2887

Vendors line the Avenue of the Dead, pushing sombreros, jewelry and miniature versions of the Aztec calendar.

The steps of the Pyramid of the Sun are steep and uneven. The high altitude – Mexico City sits almost a mile and a half above sea level – and the beers and tequila we consumed at lunch force us to stop at each level to catch our breaths and wait for our heads to stop pounding.

Around us, climbers speak Chinese, Dutch and Spanish. Children dart past. We sidestep those who cling to the few handrails.

IMG_2891

The steep steps of the Pyramid of the Sun.

The urge to climb the last set of stairs on all fours sets in right around the 30-minute mark.

Finally, we reach the top. A temple used to stand here but now it’s just a pile of rocks.

Exhausted tourists wait for their legs to stop trembling before posing for pictures.

Below us the vendors blow through noisemakers that mimic the roar of mountain lions. Loud explosions bounce off the surrounding hills, the sound of nearby towns celebrating their patron saints. Loose dogs rest under the scrubby trees that surround the complex.

I ask San Roman about rumors of an ancient energy line running through the middle of the Pyramid of the Sun.

Thousands flock here on the spring and summer solstices, stopping traffic in their quest to commune with the cosmos. Might the tingling in our legs and lightheadedness be caused by something other than the steep climb and altitude?

San Roman shuts me down.

“That’s a modern invention,” he says.

The steps are just as steep on the way down. San Roman, in his dress shoes and pressed white shirt, bounces ahead of us down the last few steps. He has already caught his breath by the time we reach him and suggests a climb up the ten-plus-story Pyramid of the Moon.

We pass.