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Mexico City, Puebla, Oaxaca


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Okay, we're going from May 11th to May 23rd. I haven't thought through our itinerary much yet, so help me build it.

 

I've been to Mexico City before but not Puebla or Oaxaca. I'm thinking about 4 solid days in Mexico City, 2 in Puebla, and the rest in Oaxaca. My wife has never been to Mexico City, so I definitely want to do the highlights, such as the Zocolo/Templo/Catedral/Bellas Artes, Mercado Merced, Chapultapec, Coyoacan/San Angel, etc.

 

So to start with, I'd love to hear some things that I should pay attention to, like festivals, especially good days to go places (eg, on my last trip to DF we went to the museos on Sunday because they were free), new things to include, etc. I have no intimate knowledge of Puebla or Oaxaca so be liberal with your suggestions. Primarily I would like to know about things the guidebooks don't tell you about and things that are worth it and not worth it that would be in guidebooks.

 

And of course, "not to be missed" food destinations. I generally will eat at 5 places a day on such a trip, more if it's just snackish food, such as El Moro, or mamelas on the street.

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I think the first thing you should be aware of is the heat. The period of time you'll be in the interior of Mexico (Puebla and Mexico City) is the hottest time of year. Even at Mexico City's altitude you can expect temperatures in the high 80's or even low 90's. It is also normally very dry--humidity at that time of year drops into the low teens. I say 'normally' because this year has been odd--we've had rains in February and March that are unheard of, so weather patterns might be different.

 

Because of the altitude, high heat and low humidity, be very sure to stay hydrated. Drink lots and lots of bottled water, many aguas frescas, and not a lot of alcohol, which tends to dry us out rather than hydrate us. Oaxaca will also be hot; April and May are the absolute hottest times here. Try hard to do your touristing in the mornings and spend the afternoons having a long, leisurely comida and a siesta. When the sun goes down, the air will cool off and everyone will be out again.

 

In Mexico City, be sure to go to Restaurante El Tajín and Izote for marvelous food. El Tajín, an older and extremely innovative restaurant, is at Miguel Angel de Quevedo #687 in Coyoacán and open only for comida. Izote is in Col. Polanco and open for comida y cena. You'll want a reservation at either one. Head for Café Tacuba in the Centro Histórico for almuerzo (late breakfast), preferably on Sunday when all of Mexico City and the estudiantinasare there to liven the place up enormously.

 

In the center of Coyaocán, be sure to see the church of San Juan Bautista. Churros and chocolate are everywhere, to buy to carry with you or enjoy on a park bench. And the Frida Kahlo Museum is wonderful, even if it is in the guidebooks.

 

Go to San Angel for Bazar Sábado; it's hokey but lots of fun. You can go to the Diego Rivera studio/house afterward. You might want to head out to the UNAM to see the Juan O'Gorman murals on the library.

 

Try to get to the Museo Franz Mayer, a gem of a small museum in the heart of the city, just behind the Bellas Artes across from the Parque Alameda.

 

In Puebla, go to Los Sapos on a Sunday morning for the antiques flea market. Don't miss the candy stores; Puebla is as world-famous for its wonderful sweets as it is for the talavera pottery. For the hands-down best pottery, go to Taller Uriarte.

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Thanks.

 

Is Izote one of Quintana's? I haven't been to El Tajin or Izote. I wanted to hit one or two Polanco spots on this trip since I skipped them before. I've been to Girasoles, how do they compare? Do you think it's better to go for comida than cena at Izote? I imagine there are a lot of Europeans in Polanco which may make the meals matched better with what us gringos are used to. When you say they're open for comida, would that mean they'd close around 4pm or later? We'd probably want a second option in that neighborhood, too, if you can suggest it. Maybe a place for desayuno or almuerzo.

 

We're definitely planning on spending some time in Coyoacan and San Angel. I've been to the Bazar Sabado and think my wife would like it.

 

btw, I checked weatherbase.com and the temps in DF and Puebla don't seem too bad:

 

http://www.weatherbase.com/weather/weather.php3?s=097667

 

But Oaxaca looks like it's an extra 10 degrees, which actually makes my wife, who is a skinny little 110 lb-er (as opposed to my bulking frame), quite happy. Luckily, neither of us drink so that's not an issue.

 

Thanks again.

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Yes, the chef/founder at Izote is Patricia Quintana. I've only eaten there once, last October, and loved it. I posted about it on another board under another name, but you probably read the post. If not, PM me and I'll point you to it.

 

I believe that El Tajín actually sets the standard for this sort of innovative and preservationist restaurant in Mexico and was the first of its kind. They are only open till about 4PM, and you'll probably want a reservation. Tel: 5659-4447. I especially recommend--along with the rest of the menu--the delicious sopa de lima. The chef/owner is Alicia Gironella de'Angeli; if you go and she's there, please give her best regards from Cristina in Jalisco. I'll be seeing her soon, Dios mediante.

 

I haven't been to Girasoles, so I can't make a comparison for you.

 

Weatherbase.com can lead you astray. Look at the high temperatures for May and you'll see that my prognostication was correct. And of course to get an average of 79 degrees in May, the nighttime lows have to be fairly low--which they are. As I mentioned, once the sun goes down it cools off substantially. The high temperature here in Guadalajara late this afternoon was 89 (with humidity at about 15%) , but it's about 60 right now, at 9:00PM. The breeze is heavenly. The low tonight will probably be around 50. Gives you an average temperature of 69, but it's a little misleading. Try www.weatherunderground.com. My experience of them is that they give you a real idea of what's really going on with the weather, unlike some other weather sites.

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Thanks for the help again.

 

That's the average *high* temperature in May, though. The average low is in the 50s. If you go to worldclimate they only have average temps which put it in the 60s. The thing I'm most not looking forward to is the pollution in Mexico City along with the altitude. The first couple days can be really taxing and I'm wondering if we should just get out of the city as quick as possible and spend time there towards the end.

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Well, check into Taxco. It's an old mining town and the average high temperatures in late May are high 70's, low 80's. The entire city has been named a historical monument. The Castillo Brothers are famous for their silversmithing. I saw a punchbowl by them offered in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue for over $7,000. I believe their sister, an acclaimed silversmith in her own right, operates a small hotel there. And it's only about 110 miles or so south of DF.

 

Here's more information: More about Taxco

 

One thing the Castillos are famous for is combining silver with various semi-precious metals. I have a pitcher by them. It's gorgeous....hand-hammered silver. The handle is a parrot made from malachite and other stones. It's quite the topic of conversation at my Mexican-themed dinner parties. I serve icy cold water in it and it's particularly beautiful when the silver is all frosted over with condensation.

 

Photos of some Castillo pitchers.

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I've spent time in Oaxaca over the last 2 years. I've got a list of restaurants (and there are literally hundreds in Oaxaca), shops, markets, points of interest, etc. I also can recommend a guide for Monte Alban, Mitla, outlying markets, and local artisans if you're into the folkart thing; American ex-pat who is married to a Mexican and has live in Oaxaca for 30 years. Most hotels can also arrange guides, and for a first time visit to Oaxaca this really isn't a bad way to go since it allows you the opportunity to see the area with someone that really knows it and the history.

 

You will want to bring back some of the pasilla Oaxaqueno and some chihuacles as well as good quality chocolate among other things. You will want to visit Teotitlan del Valle and Tlamanalli, Abigail Mendoza's restaurant in T de V (your hotel can make arrangements, it's only open for comida). If you are intersted in purchasing weavings/rugs there, most weavers do accept credit cards but will often give you a discount for cash. If you're paying cash take more than you think you'll need, prices are not cheap. If you go to T de V make sure who ever takes you takes you into the village and not some of the roadside buildings that are there specifically to just sell to the tourist trade. The market in Teotitlan is daily and usually lasts until about noon. As Mexican markets go it is pretty clean, well organized and sedate; you will be just about the only outsiders in it.

 

I would second the class at Seasons of my Heart cooking school. I can also recommend cooking classes at Casa Cerro Segrado in Teotitlan as well as at El Naranja. Check out the web page for the Oaxaca Hotel Group (you'll have to Google, I don't know it off the top of my head). They've got all kinds of info and links for things to do, places to visit, cooking school. My recommendation for a hotel in Oaxaca is Hosteria de la Noria. It's 2 (maybe 3) blocks of the zocalo and very charming. The rooms in front do tend to be noisy, but the ones towards the back are not. Service is excellent and it's one of the few hotels with a very, very good restaurant that attracts locals.

 

I live in San Diego and have found that it's actually easier and faster for me to get to Mexico using Continental via Houston than it is to go through LAX and even, to some extent, Tijuana. Continental does non-stops from IAH to almost every major destination thus eliminating the need to change in D.F. You could fly into D.F. and then fly out of OAX on the way back. Immigration/Customs at IAH is immense just allow a couple of hours between landing and your connection home. It actually goes pretty fast, it's just spread out over a lot of space.

 

No matter how many times you visit Oaxaca there is always something new to see or do.

 

E-mail me directly if you're interested in my lists of things. Spamblocker may filter you out, but I always check that folder for "real" mail before I delete it.

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When were you last in Mexico City? I was there last month and also in 2002, and I noticed that the pollution was much less than in previous years, due to the increased use of natural gas buses. Also, more of the streets in D.F. are one-way now, and that has helped with traffic. I travelled in Mexico mostly from 1976 to 1984, and the traffic and pollution were worse then than now, but I don't know what you are used to.

 

If you wife has never been, I recommend that you take the turibus on the first day, for an initial orientation. I took my brother with me on my last trip, and he had never been before, but we took the turibus near the end of our trip, and I actually learned a lot from the tour that would have been useful, especially regarding the new clusters of restaurants in Condesa, on Av. Michoacán and also on Av. Mazatlán. Also, you can get off the bus and get back on, but they only run every 30-40 minutes, which is not very convenient, if you are using it for transportation. You catch the bus in front of the Auditorio.

 

I love both Monte Albán and Mitla in Oaxaca, but if you are interested in ruins, make a special trip to Yagúl, which is just off the road that goes to Mitla. I took a collectivo to get there, but you can also take a bus or taxi. If you take a regular bus or collectivo, you will have to hike about a mile from the main road to get to the site, but it is a very pleasant hike, provided it isn't too hot. I went in February, and it was very pleasant with nice breezes, but May will probably be about 10° warmer.

 

I really enjoyed Café Dali in Condesa (on Mazatlan at Augustin Melgar) for its guanabana licuado.

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Mmm, I love guanabana. I always sing the the muppets' manamana with the word guanabana instead.

 

My Spanish is a little rusty, reading through the site, do you use headphones for the English version of the tour? Seems very reasonably priced and 3 hours isn't that much time for such an extensive tour.

 

I was last in Mexico City a few years ago. Maybe 4 years ago?

 

Kalypso, I will be emailing you, thanks.

 

I've considered cooking classes, but my wife wouldn't be interested and she might be annoyed if I was off on my own (or rather, she was forced to be off on her own without a beach anywhere in sight) for an extended period of time. Do any offer just like a half day class? Are they expensive? What about just a tour of a market with an English speaker who knows food? Sorry if I'm being a little lazy here.

 

Those are beautiful pitchers. My wife was a bit interested in Taxco after seeing the Globetrekker on Mexico City where they also visit Taxco. So much to do, so little time.

 

What are the rules on bringing dried chiles and other foods back? I'd love to bring back dried chiles and some corn husks for tamales if I can avoid my wife's rolling eyes when I try to stuff them in the suitcase.

 

No suggestions for Puebla yet? Should we just spend more time in Oaxaca and DF?

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Nick....show your wife these photos....Silver by Los Castillos.

 

The platter, and the bowl with the two parrots are particularly stunning. I've seen them in some of the finer artisan shops in Mexico.

 

My pitcher is like the two shown for $849 each. I bought it in Merida, and while it was expensive, was nothing like THAT much. Less than half.

 

If your wife likes the work of Los Castillos, you should keep an eye out during your travels. These and smaller pieces are available at fine shops throughout the country.

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