The Charm of Coyoacán

Day-tripping to Coyoacán was one of our first outings away from the main hub of Mexico City.  I had heard of this dreamy borough many times when planning our trip.  It is well-known for its quaint and historic zócalo as well as the home of Frida Kahlo, La Casa Azul.

On our first trip to Coyoacán, lying south of the city, we were still fairly new to navigating “getting around.”  We managed to hop on the metrobus and ride as far as we could to the south of the city.  When we arrived, we walked through the streets of residential Coyoacán before arriving to the center.  On our way, we passed by a beautiful, expansive park, Viveros de Coyoacán, where people were enjoying brisk runs in the late morning.  It was perhaps the most green we had seen in the city since moving and offered a nice respite from the cement jungle.  It also serves as a tree nursery.  Lovely buddhist sculptures lined one trail, intriguing us and reminding us of peace.

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We had planned to simply walk around the central square and then head to Casa Azul for the afternoon.  Other than that, we didn’t have much of a plan and were going to rely on Google Maps to get us around.  We enjoyed passing by the old, but well-cared for homes, admiring the historic architecture and beautifully landscaped courtyards.  The pace was much slower, we felt wonderfully alone as we walked through the streets.  We would return on subsequent occasions in search of relaxation (and bags of some of our favorite coffee).

Once we arrived to the zócalo, we had worked up a bit of an appetite.  We strolled around the magical coyote fountain and loaded up a list of nearby restaurants on TripAdvisor (this is my personal favorite to learn about nearby gems).  Though there were many nice restaurants with al fresco seating around the square, we knew that many times these types of places are aimed at feeding tourists mediocre food at soaring prices.  Eventually, we settled on Los Danzantes.  It was situated on the square overlooking the fountain and highly recommended for its delicious, intentional Mexican cuisine and lovely ambiance.

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While the menu was indeed pricier than we usually experienced in the city, the dishes and cocktails were well worth it and still well below the price of a similar experience in the US.  On our first occasion to Los Danzantes, I enjoyed a local grilled fish and their house mezcal and mango cocktail.  It was one of my first cocktails with mezcal and definitely wouldn’t be my last.  I fell deeply in love with the smoky flavor dancing in the tartness of the fruit.

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Later, when we visited Oaxaca City, we learned that Los Danzantes’ original  restaurant was there.  We walked over to enjoy dinner there one night, but sadly for us the restaurant was so well-known that we would have needed a reservation days in advance.  A few months later, when we visited Coyoacán with family, we did get to enjoy it again.  Since I had learned more about traditional Oaxaceña food and Los Danzante’s specialty with the cuisine, I ordered some traditional favorites including Hoja Santa and Huitlacoche, alongside the house dragonfruit mezcal drink of course.  Hoja Santa is a popular herb that has been used since Pre-Hispanic times for its sacred use. Now it is often served over a hot plate of melted queso (cheese), accompanied with salsa verde.  The dish perfectly balances the slightly bitter, but fresh and aromatic flavor of the herb with salty fats and tangy tomatillos.  Huitlacoche, or corn smut, is Mexico’s truffle.  The corn kernels have transformed into succulent, buttery fungi which are often served hot as a filling to quesadillas, or in this case mixed with other fresh ingredients such as corn, peppers, and cheese in a bread bowl.  I highly recommend both of these treats to anyone who visits.

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People who visit Mexico City know that the street hustle for artisan wares is rampant just about anywhere you go.  Coyoacán is no different as families do approach to sell goods while you eat at the restaurant.  The offerings are generally enjoyable to peruse though, including woven blankets, local honeys, chapulines (grasshoppers for eating), or a romantic table-side guitar serenade.  Overall, I think it adds to the charm of the center.

After eating ourselves into a coma, we decided to stop by a local coffee shop we had seen on the way into town for a quick icy pick me up.  While there is nothing traditional about Café Negro, this is a great place to stop for coffee.  They serve up a variety of hot and cold caffeine fixes in a nicely decorated modern oasis.  For a little over $10, you can purchase 2 pounds of coffee…coffee that became our favorite in the city for its smooth, chocolatey notes.

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Later, as we walked towards Frida’s home, we did run into this other interesting spot.  We never did check it out, but for the dog lovers out there…you can get your coffee, peruse art, and have your dog visit the vet at the same time!  Love it!

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We eventually made it to Casa Azul.  Full disclosure.  Before moving to Mexico City, I enjoyed crafting, drawing, and painting myself.  Occasionally, I had visited a gallery or two that hosted some works that I enjoyed.  But really, I just did not have mental and emotional energy for art as I overworked and stressed myself on a daily basis.  It seems crazy to me now, seeing as how art is really an opportunity to replenish.  But when I was struggling just to get through the motions of the day, I guess you could say art just wasn’t a priority.  So with that being said, I was looking forward to visiting the Blue House really for its historical charm, but I didn’t know much about the life that Frida or Diego lived and didn’t have much serious interest in them as artists.

Pause, while I get my picture taken in front of the prominent blue walls outside.

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Now continuing…I was really impressed with the exhibit at Casa Azul, which has now been transformed into a walk-through museum showcasing original furnishings, art, and plaques detailing the stories of Frida’s and Diego’s lives.

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Learning about Frida’s life, in particular, became a sudden fascination as I read intently about the losses she had endured.  A terrible car accident resulting in inability to bear children to term, a tragic pregnancy loss, and the loss of her leg all influenced her lifestyle and art tremendously.  Self-portraits were completed by virtue of a mirror facing down from her wooden canopy bed. The beautifully ornate dress that has become synonymous with her name was rooted in insecurities about herself.  Her marriage seemed to be one of accommodation as her and Diego both held other lovers in open.  Her art and home seemed to come alive as I walked through.

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On this particular day, the museum was hosting a special exhibit on the dress of Frida Kahlo.  It was quite spectacular to see the original, extravagant designs that fashionably incorporated braces for her back and leg.

In terms of bang for your buck in Mexico City, this museum is a bit pricier than most.  Admission is between $10 and $12 USD depending on weekday or weekend visit.  In addition, expect to pay $2 for permission to take photos without flash throughout the museum.  Yet, it is an experience that I think is very worth while.  For people who enjoy art, design, a look into lifestyles of the past, or are just nosy about interesting people’s lives, this museum has a lot to offer.

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There are many other interesting places in Coyoacán that I have wanted to visit, but those will have to wait for later.  For people seeking less visited museums, check out the Alfredo Guati Rojo National Watercolor Museum or the National Museum of Pop Culture.  Or just spend the afternoon admiring the warm colors and sounds of children playing in the plazas.  It doesn’t matter too much the destination so long as you are ready to open yourself up to a leisurely rhythm.

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