Mexico City, Mexico: surroundings

Most major cities found in the Central Mexican Plateau have histories dating back to pre-Aztec times. At the time of the Spanish conquest, these cities were under the rule of a triple alliance between Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlancopan.

One such city, Cuernavaca, has been admired since before Hispanic times. Located south of Mexico City, Cuernavaca attracts tourists with its music and floral arrangements as well as its leisure centers and water parks. Palacio de Cortes has a great exposition of Diego Rivera murals and hosts the Cuauhnahuac museum that offers colonial art and archeological artifacts.

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To the south west of Cuernavaca lies the pre-Columbian archeological site known as Xochicalco (House of Flowers). According to legend, the ruins were discovered during the Mexican Revolution when General Emiliano Zapata noticed bullets bouncing off the green hill he was defending. The hill turned out to be a buried pyramid. The pyramid’s ceremonial square, found at the top, leads to the well ornate Temple of Quetzalcoatl.

From Cuernavaca a multitude of monasteries stretch out clockwise, leading through a wonderful mountainous chain. The trip offers a great view of the 5,426m high active volcano, Popocatepetl, and its dormant 5,426m brother Itzaccihuatl. Subject of legend and veneration since the time of Quetzalcoatl, Popocatepetl has erupted at least 36 times, last major eruption being in 820. In 1993 this great stratovolcano started awakening again, shaking the earth while releasing clouds of gas, ash and rock. Although Popocatepetl today is closed off to climbers, Itzaccihuatl remains accessible.

The first veritable metropolis in the western hemisphere, Teotihuacan, stands north-east of Mexico City. The ancient city had a longer life than its eastern counterpart, imperial Rome, and was the biggest city in the Americas until the Aztecs built Tenochtitlan 700 years later. Temples and squares riddle the ancient site along the Avenida de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), decorated with sculptures and murals. At the northern end of the avenue stands the Pyramid of the Moon while at its southern end is the larger Pyramid of the Sun.

Other recommended places to visit, around Mexico’s capital are Cholula with its surroundings, the city of Puebla surrounded by the highest volcanoes in Mexico, the regional capital of Tlaxcala, the lush green state of Hidalgo and the church of Tepotzotlan.