SPRINGTIME IN THE CITY – The Heart and Lungs of México: Chapultepec Park

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.13.42 PMBy Carole Reedy

Bosque de Chapultepec, Grasshopper Hill, Chapultepec Park–all names referring to the wonder of this Garden of Eden, smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. No other city can lay claim to a park that includes nine museums, a zoo, lakes, movies, theater, concerts, a castle, an amusement park, and more.

Chapultepec means Grasshopper Hill in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. This area was a retreat for Aztec rulers before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. The largest park in Latin America, with 686 hectares, it is twice the size of New York City’s Central Park. Chapultepec is located on Paseo de la Reforma, beginning just after the beautiful fountain of the Diana and continuing to the statue of the Fuentes de Petróleo. It’s easily accessible by the buses that run down Reforma or by METRO (east end stop is Chapultepec on the pink line, while the west end stop is at the Auditorio on the orange line).

The Castle

The most impressive structure in the park has to be the Castle of Chapultepec, residence for the heads of state during the Colonial period. (In 1940, the residence for the President was changed to Los Pinos, just down the road to the west.) The castle can be seen towering over the park from Paseo de la Reforma. Enter the castle via a tram that runs inside the park and gather your entrance fee of 50 pesos, though, as with all government museums, Sundays are free days. The castle is a delight in itself, but it is also a fine historical museum. To understand a brief history of this country, stroll through the museum on the first floor for a quick lesson. On the upper floors you will find the rooms Emperor Maximilian and his wife th Carlotta, still decorated in the French style of the 19 century. Don’t miss the five stunning stained-glass windows of the Goddesses Pomona, Flora, Hebe, Diana, and Ceres.

On weekends, free concerts are given at 1 pm on the open-air terrace on the top floor. You can view the entire city while listening to a string quartet or piano sonata. In 1957, artist David Siqueiros was commissioned by the government to paint a mural entitled “From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution.” Made up of three large panels (4500 square feet in all), the grand mural lives in its own room on the first floor of the castle. It’s a ‘must-see.’

The Museums

Of the nine museums in Chapultepec, the most impressive is the world-renowned Museum of Anthropology. Here you will find collections from all Mexico’s cultures (Pre-classic Era, Teotihuacán, Toltec, Aztec, Oaxaca, Gulf Coast, The Maya, and Northern and Western Mexico). Other museums in Chapultepec include The Rufino Tamayo Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Natural History (at the Castle), Papalote Museum for Children, The Technical Museum, and artist David Siqueiros’ former home (now a museum called Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros), filled with the painter’s remembrances and works of art.

For Kids (of all ages) You’re never too old for these delights:

Chapultepec Zoo, free to all.
Most spectacular are the lovable pandas, descendants of the original pair donated by the People’s Republic of China in 1975. Also of interest are the endangered Mexican grey wolf and the hairless Xoloitzcuintle, the only surviving species of dog from the pre-Hispanic era. All animals live in large open-air enclosures. Don’t miss the bird sanctuary, the Aviario Moctezuma, where toucans, macaws, flamingos, and parrots soar.

La Feria is an old-fashioned amusement park with “scary” rides and a white whale show. It’s open 10 am to 6 pm Mondays through Fridays and until 9 pm Saturdays and Sundays.

Papalote Museum for Children is a hands-on, interactive museum for kids who flock here to lie on a bed of nails, join an archeological dig, and play myriad science and technical games, all supervised by a friendly staff. You can also take in a show at the 3D IMAX theater.

Paddle Boats: Envious onlookers peer in from Reforma as families picnic, play, and paddle away the afternoon on Lake Chapultepec. You can rent the paddle boats for an hour or a day.

Stroll the Botanical Gardens, enjoying the fountains and sculpture. In February and March, the blooming jacaranda trees cast a purple glow over the park.

The Casa del Lago is a cultural center (accesible from the zoo entrance on Reforma) that offers a multitude of activities. In any given week, you’ll find theater events, movies, poetry readings, art exhibits, and more.

The grand Auditorio Nacional (seating 10,000) is the center of entertainment for the city. Here appear the most famous rock bands and entertainers from all over the globe, opera transmissions from the Met in New York, and ballet and dance groups. Don’t miss the smaller venues just behind the Auditorio. The Lunario, seating 500, is home to more intimate concerts in a cabaret setting. Enjoy a glass of wine and a light meal while listening to a jazz or salsa group. Transmissions from the National Theater of London are a recent addition to the repertoire of the Lunario. It is here that opera lovers enjoy seminars and lectures given by world-renowned expert Sergio Vela, Mexico’s very own.

Unique events occur regularly in the park. For example, each March, a production of Swan Lake is performed at the Isleta del Lago Chapultepec.

Walking, Biking, Running
There isn’t a better way to know Chapultepec than to take in the fresh air provided by nature. Chapultepec is known as the “lungs of the city” for its many trees providing oxygen to the metropolis. You can spend hours walking, running, or biking the trails through this park, where millions of people since the rule of the Aztecs have retreated from the madding crowd.

Carole Reedy is a resident of México City and is happy to answer any questions you may have. carole_reedy@yahoo.com