Mexico City is Mexico’s electrifying capital. It is a world away from the polluted, crime-ridden conurbation it was 20 years ago. Before doing business here, check out Director‘s city guide to where to stay, where to eat and what to look out for when building relationships…
Where to stay
Mexico’s Habita hotel group offers the city’s most design-friendly accommodation. Rooms at its eponymous hotel in boutique-lined Polanco are starkly furnished paeans to minimalism – all functionalist décor and gleaming glass facades. Condesa df – on a tree-lined avenue in its tranquil neighbourhood namesake – is an elegant art déco boutique hotel whose geometric courtyard and angular rooms would make Pythagoras jealous. Habita’s most recent showpiece, Downtown Mexico, is one block from the Zócalo plaza, with the 17th-century colonial building also housing a mezcalería (mezcal bar), chocolate shop and perma-buzzing rooftop bar. Rates are from £115 (Downtown), £141 (Habita) and £148 (Condesa df).
Where to eat
Three eateries in Mexico City make the ‘World’s Top 50 Restaurants’ list. Pujol (16th) leads the way, thanks to inventive dishes such as powdered chicatana ants dipped in coffee mayonnaise or rain fungus tacos. Quintonil (35th) and Biko (37th) offer a modern take on indigenous cuisine (nopal cactus snow anyone?) and Basque-Mexican fusion fare respectively, while Rosetta – run by London’s former Locanda Locatelli chef Elena Reygadas – offers transcendent Italo-Mexican cuisine.
What to see
“In Mexico, surrealism runs through the streets,” said literary giant and long-term resident Gabriel García Márquez. To experience this for yourself, sign up for a Journeys Beyond the Surface walking tour of Centro Histórico. Starting at sense-shredding Zócalo plaza (home to dramatic Spectre scenes), these urban traipses subject you to all manner of intoxicating cameos: skeleton piñatas or roadside shrines to Santa Muerte (or ‘Holy Death’, the Vatican-condemned cult followed by eight million Mexicans), grazing on grasshoppers at food markets or guzzling from buckets of pulque (fermented cactus sap) at pulquerías, darting between traffic and travelling on asphyxia-inducing public buses as you go. As a way of understanding this metropolis of 21 million people (Greater Mexico City), it can’t be bettered.
Along the way, you’ll notice how safe, walkable and green the city is – a far cry from the ‘Mexsicko City’ of the 1990s when travellers were scared off by drug cartel wars, taxi hijackings and smog so bad, birds dropped mid-flight. However, taxi assaults do occur – take a sitio (taxi stand car) or request a radio taxi rather than hailing cabs in the street. Should you have a full day, it’s worth marvelling at the pyramids of ancient Teotihuacán or hiring a brightly coloured trajinera (gondola) to glide Xochilmilco’s Floating
Gardens’ canal network. Director’s tip: visit on Sunday lunchtime – a fiesta of boozing families, floating vendors and tootling mariachi boats.
With face-to-face meetings critical to doing business with Mexicans, business leaders emphasise investing time nurturing these bonds. “You shouldn’t be here [in Mexico] selling – you should be building relationships,” says Ian Cooper, Ener-G’s country manager for Mexico. “If the relationships are there, work will follow.” As Roger Norwich, chairman of Mexican Renewable Energy points out, it can lead to meaningful personal relationships too. “When I go over to Mexico, I’m seeing a bunch of friends – you get to know mothers, sisters, uncles. You jump on a plane and it’s like having a second family – I recently got invited to a three-day family fiesta at a desert winery. If you invest the time, it opens up those doors.”
For the flight
Two of the world’s most feted film directors are Mexican, with two of their early movies offering a great insight into their home city. Y Tu Mamá También (2001) by future Gravity director Alfonso Cuarón follows two privileged (and lustful) Mexico City teenagers on a road trip with an older woman. Birdman auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu’s career was launched with 2000’s Amores Perros, a high-octane film connecting three distinct stories via a Mexico City car accident. Both films star a young Gael García Bernal, who has since enjoyed a successful Hollywood career.
Malcolm Lowry’s 1947 novel Under the Volcano narrates a British consul drinking himself to death on mezcal in Cuernavaca during Day of the Dead festivities. Meanwhile, Democracy Interrupted by Guardian correspondent Jo Tuckman is a well-informed sweep through Mexico’s recent political history, drug wars and all.
The fleet-of-finger guitar work of former busking duo Rodrigo y Gabriela or the ‘tropipunk’ (a mishmash of Latin beats, accordion, ska, rap and mariachi brass) of Los de Abajo both reflect the frenetic energy of their native city.
British Airways flies direct to Mexico City five times a week with return fares starting from £794. Book at ba.com