Mexico City has many must-see landmarks like the Zócalo, Palacio de Bellas Artes, Ciudad Universitaria, and Palacio Nacional. These famous Mexico City tourist attractions are important, but they’re just the beginning! In the first part of this series, 7 Secret Spots in Mexico City Part I, we explored little-known, but compelling, destinations in CDMX. In this post, I’ll show you more secret spots in Mexico City! Just like with the first ones, the obscurity of (most) of these places means they’re often tourist-free! So they’re good places to go if you want to avoid the hordes at more famous spots! Let’s take a look at a few more secret sites in Mexico City.
This tiny sub-barrio in the northeast corner of Roma Norte only takes up one or two blocks. It’s a peaceful spot, with narrow twisting alleys, public art, cobblestone streets, ancient church, and shady plaza. The vibe here feels different from the planned-out grid of streets surrounding it. And that’s because this spot actually IS older! In pre-Columbian times, La Romita was called Aztacalco. It was a small Aztec beach-front town, on the island of Tenochtitlán in Lake Texcoco. After the Conquistadors took Mexico – and drained the lake – this was one of the few indigenous barrios allowed to remain (close to the City center). Franciscan Friars built the Rectoria San Francisco Javier here in 1530, along with Plaza de Romita in front. In those days the mostly native population that lived here was segregated from the surrounding barrios. And so later on, La Romita became a refuge for criminals, and was an infamously dangerous area. Today though, the barrio is safe, and it’s a very pleasant place to visit. Address: Plaza de Romita S/N, Colonia Roma Norte
Museo del Cárcamo de Dolores
Diego Rivera painted this amazing mural inside an enormous water tank, back in 1951. “Agua, el origen de la vida” or “Water, source of life” was originally commissioned to decorate the City’s new hydraulic water plant. And so this masterpiece was actually totally submerged underwater, for years! Eventually though, the plant was shut down, drained, and converted into this small museum. The water-themed mural here measures 2,100 square feet (200 Sq m). You can view it from above, by walking around, and looking down into tank. (A small portion is hidden, in the adjacent tunnel, and can’t be seen.) In front of the museum is the Fuente de Tlaloc. This monumental fountain was also created by Rivera, and depicts a two-faced version of the Aztec rain god. (The mural is clearly a masterpiece, but some think the fountain is Rivera’s ugliest work.) Visit CDMXTravel for more museum information. Address: Avenida Rodolfo Neri Vela S/N, Bosque de Chapultepec Section II
Museo de El Carmen
A colonial art museum inside a 17th century ex-monastery in southern Mexico City. Built in 1615, the huge complex was once home to an order of Carmelite Nuns. So the interior is austere but also has many exquisite details. There’s gold leaf carvings in the vestry, bathrooms with blue and white Talavera-tile washing basins, and original period furniture. The fine art collection here is mostly from 17th-18th century. It’s mostly Catholic-themed items like sculptures and oil paintings, and also features works by Miguel Cabrera. But the real “secret” is in the basement. Descend the stairs, down into the cool, quiet, dimly-lit crypt below the building. There you’ll find twelve real mummies displayed in glass-covered coffins. They were former parishioners who were buried under the building, then naturally mummified by soil conditions. Their bodies were later discovered by treasure-hunting soldiers (they were looting the church during the Mexican Revolution). Address: Avenida Revolución 4 & 6, Colonia San Ángel
An intricate and brightly-colored medieval Korean pagoda at the northwest corner of Bosque de Chapultepec. It’s an exact replica of the 8th century original at Pagoda Park in Seoul. South Korea gave it to Mexico as a gift during the 1968 Olympic Games. And it’s still well-maintained by the Embassy of South Korea. This section of the park is reserved for senior citizens. But if there aren’t any events taking place, the guards at the gate will let you inside to see the pagoda. The entrance gate is located about 579 feet (177 m) south of Metro Auditorio, on Calzada Chivatito. Address: Paseo de la Reforma & Calzada Chivatito, Bosque de Chapultepec Section I
Plaza de los Arcángeles
A beautiful Spanish Colonial plaza, located about one block southwest of Plaza San Jacinto (site of the weekly Bazaar Sábado). This intimate and well-tended square is a true hidden gem. With its irregular shape, it feels more like a private garden than a public plaza. It’s ringed with cobblestone streets, high-end walled homes, and has a bubbling fountain at the center. There’s a carved cantera stone bench at each corner of the park. And each one is carved with the name of an archangel: Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael. The best time to visit is late March and early April, when the bougainvillea flowers bloom. Address: 2A Frontera 37, Colonia San Ángel
This 57-story modern skyscraper on Paseo de la Reforma is no secret! The prominent tower – built in 2008 – stands 807 feet (246 m) tall. So it’s one of the tallest skyscrapers in Mexico. The real “secret treasure” here is the lobby. This site was once home to an early 20th century mansion. And so when the new tower was built, instead of demolishing the old house, the shell of original structure was preserved, and fused with new building. The contrast between the dramatically-lit European Gothic cathedral arches, modern glass flooring, and enormous steel support beams is striking. To visit the preserved structure inside the tower lobby, just go inside, and ask a security guard for permission to take a closer look (you can’t go upstairs). You can also visit the Mac store next door. It’s housed inside part of the old mansion, although it isn’t as dramatically lit as the tower lobby. Address: Paseo de la Reforma 483, Colonia Cuauhtémoc
Mexico City National Cemetery
Established in 1851, the picturesque United States military graveyard in San Rafael takes up a narrow one-acre plot of land. This pleasant place is extremely well-preserved, and seems more like a park than a cemetery. There’s a bubbling fountain, lush grassy field, foot path, palm trees, and perfectly manicured hedges. At the south point is a white obelisk monument with a dedication in English:
To the honored memory
of 750 Americans
known but to God
whose bones collected
by their country’s order
are here buried.
These unknown soldiers were killed during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). After the conflict, their bones were collected from battlefields around the City, then buried in a common grave under the obelisk. The high walls surrounding the cemetery also have crypt niches, holding the interred remains of another 813 North Americans (mainly civilians). Most of the civilians in these walls weren’t killed by violence. They died in Mexico City later on, after the war. This cemetery is official United States soil, just like an embassy. So, it’s run by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), which manages U.S. military cemeteries world-wide. Address: Virginia Fábregas 31, Colonia San Rafael
Obviously there are many lesser-known sites in Mexico City that are well-worth visiting! These less-trafficked destinations make ideal alternatives to the more crowded popular sites in Mexico City. And with the exception of Museo de El Carmen, all of them are actually free! Would you like to learn more about Mexico City? Get a copy of my book Mexico City: The Ultimate Travel Guide.