A Photographers’ Guide to Mexico City

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Wander the streets of Mexico City’s Centro Histórico with photographers Brett Gundlock and Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock who lived there for three years before returning to Canada – and who revisited their old stomping grounds back in February while on assignment for Air Canada enRoute.

Where to eat, drink and explore in Mexico City

Perhaps the best way to capture the essence of Mexico’s capital city is by visiting the cinematic neighbourhood of Centro Histórico: it may have a centuries-old past, but it’s also the heart of modern-day Mexico. Aztec emperor Montezuma, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés, peasant armies and all the Mexican presidents have walked through its cobblestone streets. There’s a chaos to the Centro Histórico that one can learn how to manage, but never master. Streams of people walk this way and that. Someone holding too many parcels stops abruptly in front of a window display, while a hurried man on a bike-cart nearly takes you out at the knees.

October 20, 2020
Palacio de Correos’ gilded lobby
Agave plants in Plaza Garibaldi
Palacio de Correos’ gilded lobby.
Agave plants in Plaza Garibaldi.
Walking two dogs across the rainbow stripes of a Centro Históric street
The (literally) vibrant streets of Centro Histórico.

A fog of roasting coffee from Café Villarias beckons you down Calle López. Once fuelled up, head to the city’s grandest example of neo-classical architecture: the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The impressive white marble cultural centre sits beside Alameda Central, a park notorious for lovers canoodling on benches and children playing in water fountains. The best view of the Bellas Artes is from the terrace café in the nearby Sears store.

Coffee beans at Café Villarias
Coffee beans at Café Villarias.
A couple sitting together on a bench designed as a bird in Mexico City
A cyclist riding by La Casa de los Azulejos in Mexico City
A touch of whimsy in the city.
The exterior of La Casa de los Azulejos – or, in English, the House of Tiles.

More outstanding architectural specimens await, from the Palacio Postal gleaming gold from its polished brass details to La Casa de los Azulejos, its facade cloaked in blue and white tiles. However, the most interesting scenes are the hustle and bustle of the streets. The buildings play backdrop to the violinist on the corner who is quickly admired by the family of three on a motorbike making their way through stopped cars and jaywalking pedestrians.

A traditional Mexican breakfast at Café de Tacuba
Dig in to a traditional Mexican breakfast at Café de Tacuba.
A bustling brunch hour at Café de Tacuba
Dig in to a traditional Mexican breakfast at Café de Tacuba.
Brunchers at Café de Tacuba.

Nearby is Café de Tacuba, a classic restaurant patronized by locals and tourists alike for their traditional Mexican breakfast. From there, walk on to the Zócalo, the main square of Mexico City. It’s bordered by the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace. Templo Mayor, an archeological site of a great Aztec temple is nestled to the east of the cathedral. For a terrific view of the site, head to the rooftop patio at El Mayor for snacks and a drink.

A taco menu and a shelf of soft drinks in a Mexico City restaurant
Street food on a Mexico City street
A taco vendor’s menu of the day.
Food stalls galore.

No Mexico City outing would be complete without some street food. You can find a stand serving tacos el pastor, marinated spit-grilled pork served on a tortilla, a stone’s throw in any direction. Bean-stuffed, blue corn tlacoyos cooked over a comal bring joy to vegetarians. When you’re done eating, enjoy a cold cerveza at Cantina Tio Pepe’s and marvel at the 1870s vibe.

A tlacoyo to go in Mexico City
A tlacoyo to go.
A fresh fruit street vendor in Mexico City
A street vendor’s fresh goods.
A man plays his guitar on the streets of Centro Histórico in Mexico City
A street vendor’s fresh goods.
A musician serenades pedestrians in Centro Histórico.

Travel photography tips for Mexico City

There is an art to photographing on the streets of Mexico City. It is easy to get swept up in the beauty of the ancient neighbourhood of Centro Histórico, but respect and manners are paramount. If you want to photograph a vendor’s stall in Mercado de San Juan, buy something, don’t just snap and run. An organ grinder likely won’t mind if you take a frame or two after dropping five pesos in their hat. Language may seem like a barrier, but a simple smile and a motion with your camera will generally lead to a head nod.

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