Before the arrival of the Aztecs, Mexico City was little more than a few scattered villages, flourishing agriculturally due to their situation atop an aquifer – Lake Texcoco. Today, over twenty million people call the “Alpha City” of North America home, and with an estimated 5,000 citizens inhabitant of every 3 km², Distrito Federal is the most populous of the Western Hemisphere. Diversified into sixteen self-contained districts (delegaciones), the Distrito Federal is recognized for the dense proliferation of historical landmarks; archaeological ruins and colonial architecture. Crowned by the 16th Century Catedral Metropolitana to the North, and Palacio Nacional to the South, the Zocálo dominates Centro, itself a motivation for many aspiring travelers to discover the archaic city.
Adopted by the city's creative community during the 1950's, the chic Zona Rosa (located just West of Centro Historico) underwent an extensive period of re-birth over four decades. Once dominated by upscale colonial renaissance mansions, Zona Rosa is now etched with corridor shopping malls; trendy, pedestrianized plaza eateries such as El Pendulo, and entire blocks dedicated to the city's avid club-goers. Stretching down toward the leafy fringe of Chapultepec Park, Zona Rosa is met by Colonia Condesa – modernly considered an extension of the bohemian art district. Considered one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Cuauhtémoc District, Condesa is a great place to explore boutique specialist stores such as Rosarios Bookstore, or merely lap up the distinctly Bohemian atmosphere with a glass of wine at Amsterdam Avenue. Colonia Roma too retains much of its European elegance. Its pristine, leafy avenues bear a distinctly Parisian mileu, lined by tens of cultural centers and art galleries, such as Museo Objeto del Objeto and Casa Universitaria del Libro (University House of Books).
Prior to the official term of Mexican President Álvaro Obregón, the South-West Delegación of Distrito Federal was known as San Ángel, its reach extending from the border with Miguel Hidalgo, to the foot of Triangulo Mountain. Delegación Álvaro Obregón was renamed in honor of the early 20th Century President, assassinated in the area just after winning yet another term in office. Mexico City is sprinkled with commemorative monuments to the Premier - one of the earliest being the ponds at Colonia Chimalastac. Located in the far West of Álvaro Obregón, Sante Fe is the fastest growing business district in Mexico City, characterized by a thoroughly modern, high-rise cityscape, centered around Latin America's third largest shopping mall - Centro Comercial Santa Fe.
Sante Fe City draws many comparisons with Colonia Polanco, located within Delegación de Miguel Hidalgo. Polanco real estate is on a par with the city of Sante Fe, owing to the extensive revitalization and expansion of the area – not least of which includes the shopping district and Masyryk. Offering mezzanine dining amenities; stylish designer boutiques and a cache of rooftop bars, Centro Comercial Antara Polanco remains one of the most popular non-central shopping destinations for tourists. Lincoln Park adds a touch of cosmopolitan sophistication to the once colonially rich neighborhood, decorated with shallow, square ponds and shaded picnic areas ideally suited to families with children.
Once the urban retreat of the late Diego Rivera, Coyoacán has transformed from a quiet suburb, into a modern Mecca for fans of Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky and and the nouveau impressionist. Casa de Leon Trotsky (where the theorist met his fate in 1940) draws thousands to the quietude of Colonia Del Carmen, as does Museo de Frida Kahlo, home to a cache of fabulous art. Museo Nacional de las Culturas Populares can also be found here; a celebratory exposition center for indigenous art and folk culture through the ages. Spread across an area just over 1,480 km², Distrito Federal yields a horde of creative attractions ranging from the ancient pottery of San Pedro, Cuajimalpa, to the Beaux-Arts houses of Azcapotzalco – now a series of 17th Century fine arts galleries. There's little chance you'd ever manage to complete a tour of them all in one visit, however Cuajimalpa is a great starting point for discovering the roots of Mexican art.
Encompassing an area of 312 km², Tlalpan is by far the largest Delegación of Mexico City, yet surprisingly nowhere near as populous as Iztapalapa and Iztacalco combined - crammed with 2.5 million inhabitants. Over 80% of Tlalpan's topography is classified as protected forest, including Parque Nacional Bosque de Pedregal, a park well known for its walking and hiking trails. Tlalpan shares its Western border with Magdalena Contreras, a rural district also known for its myriad of green space. Los Dinamos National Park has seen a significant influx of thrill seekers in recent years, owing to the rise in popularity of rappeling and zip-wire sports on offer.
At an altitude of 2,250 meters above sea level, South Eastern Milpa Alta is the coolest place in Mexico City, and a popular spot for para-gliding. Adjacent Xochimilco is a great day out for the less energetic, offering cruises upon ancient Aztec canals known as the “Floating Gardens of Xochimilco” and delightful ruins to explore. Although nestled just North of Milpa Alta, Tláhuac bears little of its rugged character. Settled beside a huge glacial lake, San Pedro Tláhuac is a peaceful contrast to Centro and features a number of interesting attractions, such as the checkered 16th Century Agua de Vida Church and Cerro de la Estrella, upon which there are a number of ruinous Mesoamerican sites.
Commercial developments are rife within Mexico City, yet few have (if any) association with New York – that is apart from the World Trade Center of Benito Juárez District. Commissioned in 1947, within a lush space known as Parque de Lama, it is thought the Mexican landmark formed a blueprint for the construction of New York's own tower complex in the 1960's. Today, World Trade Center serves both commercial and touristic purpose, with a Polyforum, crafts market and dining pavilion open to visitors. Northernmost Venustiano Carranza and Gustavo A. Madero District are often overlooked by visitors to Mexico City, however, both feature an abundance of craft and clothing markets. Gustavo A. Madero's Mercado 25 de Julio is loved by locals, primarily for the rock bottom discounts to be had on everything from shoes and shawls, to metal-worked photo frames welded from aluminium. If you're thrifty and you know how to haggle, Mercado 25 de Julio should be a serious consideration for all your holiday souvenirs!