It’s Saturday night, and the music is so loud on Amberes Street that I can barely tell which bar is playing which tune. Smiling, laughing LGBTQ couples are wandering in and out of the various festively colored venues, which line the sidewalks like a queer Latin American version of Bourbon Street. My husband Angel and I duck into an aptly named locale called Boy Bar for some drinking and dancing, knowing that if we don’t like the scene, there are nearly a dozen other options within walking distance.
This lively street scene isn’t the only way to experience Mexico City as an LGBTQ traveler, but for those who crave after-dark excitement, it’s a pretty good way to start. Regardless of your personal travel style, however, this thriving metropolis is likely to have something to make you happy.
With a population larger than New York City, Mexico City is a world-class destination in many ways. Tourism officials claim that the Mexican capital has more museums than any other destination in the world except London, and they’re probably right. In addition, this was the first city in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage, way back in 2009 (Argentina was the first Latin American nation to do so, but that was after Mexico City had already done so).
“In Mexico City there’s a lot of freedom to be who you are,” said Frank Sandoval, a professional dancer and freelance model who I met during a photoshoot in the trendy Roma district (which was the setting for the much-awarded film, Roma). “You’re not forced to live a double life here. You can be who you are, and the laws and government support you.”
Sandoval has had a chance to compare his hometown with destinations around the globe, thanks to his work as a dancer aboard multiple cruise lines. “Gay life in Mexico City is very sophisticated, compared to many other places in the world,” he said. “We have dance clubs, theaters, bars, recreational zones, and openly gay events. Mexico City is impressive and very cosmopolitan, and you can find a lot of interesting things everywhere you go. In addition, it has a beautiful climate, and you can enjoy a lot of activities outdoors.”
Indeed, there’s a lot to recommend in Mexico City, whether it’s the culture, the history, the cuisine, the nightlife, the shopping, or the pleasant climate (its elevation, at more than 7,000 feet creates a subtropical highland climate that’s never super hot or super cold). Considering how big it is, Mexico City is relatively easy to navigate (although you should avoid taking any kind of vehicle during rush hour). Ubers are more reliable and safer than taxis, and you can also use Turibus, the hop-on, hop-off tour bus service that stops at most of the top tourism destinations. The Metro system is an efficient way to beat the traffic, and we’ve also enjoyed using Bird, the new scooter sharing service; just download the app and you’re ready to activate and go.
Regardless of how you get around, a logical place to begin your first visit is at the Zocalo, one of the world’s largest city squares, which stretches across the historic city center (often called the Centro Histórico). At first glance, you’ll only see the city’s colonial history present in the architecture of the massive Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral), which was consecrated in 1656, and various government buildings that flank the square. But stroll a bit and you’ll see the ruins of the Templo Mayor complex, which was home to the largest temple of the Mexica people, who founded a city called Tenochtitlan in 1325. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed much of it when they founded Mexico City atop the conquered city, but you can view a fascinating array of restored ruins in this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A walk down the pedestrian street called Calle Madero brings you to more attractions, including the Torre Latinoamericana (Latin American Tower), which has an observation deck and was the tallest building in Latin America when it opened in 1956; and the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), a gorgeous cultural and performing arts center that opened in 1934. The building’s Neoclassical and Art Nouveau exterior and stunning Art Deco interior make it a much photographed landmark.
A ride along the Paseo de la Reforma, a broad boulevard designed by Austrian military officer Ferdinand von Rosenzweig in the 1860s, is an impressive way to arrive at yet another must-see part of the city: Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest), an expansive park that stretches nearly 1,700 acres. International travelers are most likely to visit for the park’s noteworthy museums, especially the Museo Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum), which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best anthropology museums; if you’re a fan, you’ll need an entire day to fully appreciate the facility’s extensive collections of ancient artifacts.
Also worth a visit in the park is the Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle), a stately former residence completed in 1863 that was the official residence of Emperor Maximilian I from 1864 to 1867. Today, the imposing hilltop residence serves as home to the Museo Nacional de Historia (National Museum of History), with interesting exhibits about the nation’s history. Modern and contemporary art lovers should also make time to stop at the Museo Rufino Tamayo, a venue that exhibits the work of the Mexican painter Tamayo, as well as other artists.