Advantages Loads of free stuff to see and do
Disadvantages Can be busy at weekends
The Bosque de Chapultepec, also known as Chapultepec Park is a 1600 acre expanse of green space to one side of Mexico City Centre, which has been a public park since the 16th Century, and remains one of the largest in the world. Within its gates there are many different things to see and do, and I have whiled away many a weekend here.
The park is located on the outskirts of the city, to the west of the main attractions such as the Zócalo. I have walked from there to here, and it took over an hour, so is not recommended (the route, along Reforma, is not too interesting). Being so large, it can be entered from various directions and is served by various Metro stations including Chapultepec, Auditorio and Constituyentes which are a much better option.
While the various attractions within the park have their own schedules, it should be noted that the park itself gets locked up at night, usually around 5.30pm, which is quite early (it's still light here at that time, and this would make a great place for running after work). Entry to the park itself is always free, though some of the individual attractions have a fee.
Within the grounds of this massive park you can find a number of museums, many of which warrant reviews of their own. These include:* The well-known Museo Nacional de Antropología which is located north of Reforma (a large road which passes through the park). You can add this museum into a day in the park but really it is a visit in its own right. Open daily except Monday (and free on Sundays) this museum includes a dozen different galleries displaying a magnificent collection of artefacts from various eras. If you want to learn more about the history of Mexico and the different indigenous groups, this is the place for you.
* Quite near to here (or, given the scale of the park, very near to here) and two art galleries, the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Museo Rufino Tamayo. The former showcases modern Mexican art, while the latter shows paintings and sculptures by Mexican artist man Rufino Tamayo and his wife Olga. Both museums are worth a visit though neither needs the sort of time the Anthropology museum deserves. The gardens of the Modern Art museum are especially nice and calm compared to the rest of the park. Both these museums are free on Sundays too.* The Castillo de Chapultepec (fun fact: where they filmed the Leo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet) is on top of a hill towards the east side of the park. You can either climb it yourself, which takes maybe 10 - 15 minutes of hiking, or you can ride up in the fugly train (one of those mini-trains you often find in seaside resorts). I have climbed it twice and never caught the fugly train, and the climb is really not as bad as the train drivers naturally want you to believe. There are two reasons for climbing the hill - to enter the castle, or simply for the views of the city. You cannot climb the cathedral tower in Mexico so the two main vantage points are here and the Torre Latino Americano. Go to the top of both and you can see pretty much all of the city. The castle (free on, you've guessed it, Sundays) was not a place I found too interesting because the exhibition on at the time I went was about Buddha and essentially consisted of room after room of cross-legged statues, and a final room of cross-legged people meditating. One of the most fun things was actually here where we tried to work out whether they were being paid to sit there all day, or had just been overcome by the need for a little quick contemplation. Something slightly odd about the museum was their requirement to not only see but scan your ticket every time you went through a door (and, being Sunday, these were all free tickets). Want to enter the Buddha room? We need to scan you. Want to leave it? We need to scan you. Want to go out onto the terrace? We need to scan you.
* There are a few other museums within the park which I have yet to explore. These are the Museo Tecnologico, the Museo del Niño (children's museum) and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. All of these are to the west of the park, and therefore are best accessed from Metro Constituyentes, whereas I tend to walk in from the gates near Metro Chapultepec, but the latter especially is supposed to be worth seeing, so I must make the effort.
Though you might not think so having read the above, the museums are not really the main attraction of the park, because there are so many other things to do. Obviously, you can go for a nice walk along the paths as you could in any park, but Chapultepec also offers some additional attractions. For example, there are several large lakes on which you can hire boats and there is the famous Monumento a los Niños Heroes which is a monument honouring the young army cadets who died defending the castle in 1847 from the mean ol' Texans with whom Mexico was currently fighting. To the west near the museums, there is a rather random fountain by the muralist Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo's bloke) while to the north of the park you can find the Sala de Arte Siqueiros, the former house of a fellow muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Finally, the park boasts some pretty botanical gardens and a popular zoo, though being somewhat anti-zoos I have not been to the latter.Though the park is never quiet, it is especially busy at weekends, when locals who work during the week flock there for some family time. As such, many additional things are put on on Saturday and Sunday. Every time I have been there have been both street performers and choreographed stage shows (all free) near the main gates to the east. The shows tend to be performed by children from local dance schools, while the street performers range from scantily clad Aztec dancers (similar to those found in the Zócalo) to drama troupes performing weird little skits. I saw one where someone had died and two dubiously costumed teams, the angels and the devils, had to compete for a God-like character to determine whether the guy's soul would go to heaven or hell. Some acrobatics, audience participating and a few jokes I didn't quite understand later, he was safely dispatched to the pearly gates as the crowd cheered. I can honestly say I had never before seen anything like this. It was brilliant.
The main tree-lined paths starting near the Monumento a los Niños Heroes and heading west towards the Lago Chapultepec (one of the three lakes) are lined with stands and stalls selling a wide-range of things. Here you can buy cold drinks, sweets, candy floss, fresh fruit pots, ice cream, tortillas, weird meat snack things covered in chilli powder and all sorts of other stuff. There are also a couple of sit down cafes in the park. People sell helium balloons, princess tiaras, cuddly toys, various Mexican souvenirs, cameras and batteries in case you've forgotten then. You can have your photo (or your child's photo) taken with Winnie the Pooh or Elmo, though only in Mexico would you consider these costumes at all similar to the "real" thing (in other words...in any other country they'd be a law suit waiting to happen).
EATING / DRINKING / SHOPPING
When I first moved to Mexico City I lived a few blocks from the park and regularly went there when I wanted some fresh air - it really is a green oasis in an otherwise smoggy city. There is so much to do that I never did the same thing twice, and I still have more to see. People say Mexico City is dangerous, and they say parks can be dangerous, but I have felt perfectly safe in both the city as a whole and in Chapultepec since my arrival. You have to be sensible as in any big city, but I personally felt more nervous at times in New York than I ever have here. It's a pretty place to relax, a fun place to explore and a great place to escape the general bustle and noise of the city. Definitely recommended.
FURTHER INFORMATIONGeneral: http://www.mexicocity.com.mx/chaprk.html
The zoo: http://www.chapultepec.df.gob.mx/Museo del Niño: http://www.papalote.org.mx/papalotemuseo/
Museo Nacional de Antropología: http://www.mna.inah.gob.mx/Museo Rufino Tamayo: http://www.museotamayo.org/
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