Mexico City is packed with world-famous travel destinations. These include iconic spots like Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Templo Mayor, and Teotihuacán. And while these famous destinations are compelling, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Mexico City is vast, multi-layered, and complex. So it’s full of amazing lesser-known places. Besides being great places to visit, the relative obscurity means they’re often tourist-free! So, they’re good destinations if you want to escape the hordes at more famous spots. Let’s take a look at a few secret sites in Mexico City.
A peaceful outdoor public library in a grotto right below Castillo de Chapultepec. The entrance is behind the Tribuna Monumental WWII monument. This grotto was a sacred spot for the Aztecs. They called it Cincalco. They believed that the (now blocked) cave entrance here was a gateway to the underworld. Today, this place is a lush and shady oasis. It’s ringed by high cliffs on three sides and studded with benches. There’s a table of books to borrow while you lounge (although they’re mostly in Spanish) and speakers play relaxing music. Address: Avenida Paseo de la Reforma S/N, Bosque de Chapultepec Section I
This House Museum is located just a few blocks northeast of it’s more famous cousin – Casa Estudio Luis Barragán. Both homes were designed by the celebrated Mexican architect Luis Barragán. The minimalist Casa Gilardi features saturated color, clean lines, and masterful use of natural light. Highlights include the yellow-drenched main hallway and the red, white, and blue swimming pool in the dining room. This home is private property, and tours are given by the owners. Reservations are recommended. Address: Calle Gral. Antonio León 82, San Miguel Chapultepec
Callejón del Aguacate
Some say this alley in Coyoacán is one of the most haunted spots in Mexico City. Local legends tell of ghosts, spirits, and witches, with stories of blood sacrifices and black magic. A secret tunnel is said to connect the alley with nearby Capilla de Santa Catarina (https://goo.gl/maps/MJNagsZSLtx6168q8). Paranormal fans will love this spot! And even if you don’t believe in ghosts, it’s still a fun place to explore. I’ve visited the alley twice. Once at noon and once after midnight. During the day it’s mostly deserted, only slightly creepy, and with many good photo ops. At night it’s another story. After dark it’s totally empty and feels downright spooky, although I didn’t see any fantasmas! The alley runs about 1,115 feet (340 m) east to west just south of Avenida Francisco Sosa. Address: Aguacate 19-31, Colonia Santa Catarina
This charming residential barrio is overshadowed by it’s more famous neighbors: San Ángel and Coyoacán. Chimalistac was once an Aztec settlement, and means “place of the white shield” in Nahuatl. Later the area was settled by Spanish Conquistadors. And although many original homes were replaced by modern structures, most are hidden behind high rock walls. So the barrio still has strong colonial ambiance and resembles a pueblito, or small town. There’s cobblestone streets, peaceful plazas, and ancient churches. Chimalistac is bisected by Parque Paseo del Rio. This snake-like green space winds north to south, cutting through the entire length of the neighborhood. It follows the natural path of a now dried-up river. And although the old río is long gone, the ancient colonial pedestrian bridges that spanned it remain. They’re some of the oldest bridges in Mexico City. You’ll find them clustered together near the center of the park. Other notable sites in this barrio include Parroquia San Sebastián Martir, Cámara ó Ermita del Secreto, Casa Gálvez, and La Fuente en el Huerto. Address: Avenida Paseo del Río, Colonia Chimalistac
Another diminutive old barrio in far southern Mexico City. Like Chimalistac, Tlalpan still retains a strong Spanish colonial vibe. It’s got historic buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and an old-fashioned plaza ringed with cafés and restaurants. The most famous site in Tlalpan is probably Capilla de las Capuchinas Sacramentarias. This gorgeous convent was designed by celebrated Mexican architect Luis Barragán, with help from German artist Mathias Goeritz. Down the street from the chapel is Casa Chata. This mansion housed North American troops during the U.S. invasion of Mexico. Now it’s a library and research center, with a picture-perfect carved wood front door. The enigmatic pyramid at Cuicuilco is about 1.3 mi (2.1 km) northwest of the old center of Tlalpan. Address: Plaza de la Constitución S/N, Colonia Tlalpan
Fuente Monumental de Nezahualcóyotl
A monumental 13,455 square foot (1,250 Sq m) fountain in Bosque de Chapultepec Section I. Luis Ortiz Monasterio created it in 1956. And it’s dedicated to Nezahualcóyotl, the Tlatoani of Texcoco (1402-1473). It’s shaped like a massive L. Waterworks run down the length of the long side, with a narrow wooded plaza adjacent. The water flows into a trough from dozens of disk-shaped spouts (and coyote heads), studding the fountain walls. Between the disks are bas reliefs depicting eight different scenes from Neza’s life. At the L’s base is large two-level open square. It features an enormous carved stone statue of Neza. He’s flanked by a basket of arrows and shield, and holds a tablet carved with a hummingbird. On his crown is an ollin, the third eye symbol. The prominent bas relief glyphs on the tezontle-tiled wall behind him represent the Aztec Triple Alliance: Tlacopan, Mexico-Tenochtitlan, and Texcoco. Address: Avenida H. Colegio Militar S/N, Bosque de Chapultepec Section I
Hospital de Jesús
Conquistador Hernán Cortés founded this hospital in 1524. So it’s one of the oldest Spanish Colonial buildings in Mexico City. And amazingly, it’s still a working hospital! A drab modern hospital facade hides what’s left of the older building. But pass through the lobby, down the hall, and you’ll find twin two-story courtyards. Both have fountains, and are overgrown with lush old-growth gardens. The two patios are divided by a spectacular staircase and ringed by carved stone columns. At the base of the stairs is a bronze Bust of Hernán Cortés. It was created by renowned Spanish artist Manuel Tolsá. Upstairs covering one exterior wall, is a mural painted by Mexican artist José Clemente Orozco. It depicts Aztec life before the Spanish came. Orozco started working on the mural during the 1940’s. Though he didn’t finish, it’s still quite large and beautiful. And on the ground floor of the other patio, there’s a small pre-Columbian monolith, displayed on a pedestal. Address: Avenida 20 de Noviembre 82, El Centro Histórico
As you can see, many off-the-beaten path sites in Mexico City are quite interesting! These less-famous destinations make ideal alternatives to more crowded and popular sites in CDMX. And with the exception of Casa Gilardi, all of them are totally free! Would you like to learn more about Mexico City? Get a copy of my book Mexico City: The Ultimate Travel Guide.
Read More: 7 More Secret Spots in Mexico City (Part II)