We spent a full day in Coyoacan, the first half at the Frida Kahlo Museum and the second half just exploring Coyoacan. A Nahuatl word meaning “place of coyotes”, Coyoacan was the first Spanish settlement of Hernan Cortes. He is believed to have attacked and decimated the mighty Aztecs from this settlement and made Coyoacan the first capital of New Spain. The coyote symbolism is repeated in many places across this city.
The whole neighborhood, located south of central Mexico City, is filled with narrow streets that are quiet and tree-lined. We walked some in the morning before visiting Casa Azul. Following our visit, we first made our way to Cafe El jarocho, which has been in the neighborhood since 1953. Our plan was to get our first taste of the Cafe de Olla, a spiced Mexican coffee. Now I am not typically a fan of black coffee but this one made me a believer. Steeped in coffee, cinnamon, and raw dark sugar, it had enough taste to make it a winner. I thought I smelled vanilla as well but I couldn’t be sure.
With a couple of cups of the Cafe de Olla in our hands, we strolled across the street to the benches along the sidewalk, enjoying our coffee as well as some people watching. There were shops of all kinds and there was a steady stream of visitors. After researching some local restaurants, we chose one called Aura Vegana, which was a little walk away from the central area. but the weather was pleasant and again the streets were dappled in shadows.
A health food restaurant, it was quite small with just a couple of tables. There was a single waitress and beyond our table, we could see a chef cooking in the small kitchen. We ordered tagliatelle, fried rice, and a noodle dish. The portions were larger than we expected. While very healthy, the dishes tasted bland to our palate. But perhaps, we should have expected that from a health food restaurant, to begin with
To walk off our lunch, we first went to the Mercado de Coyoacan, where all kinds of stores coexist. No matter what one is searching for, from fruits, vegetables and meats to food stalls to handicrafts, clothes, toys, and gifts, this market has something for everyone. We spent some time here, just enjoying the maze of shops and let our senses be assaulted by the colors, the aromas, the sights and sounds of the shopkeepers and customers. We bought some mugs as souvenirs, before leaving the market.
From here, we walked south along Ignacio Allende until we reached Plaza Hidalgo. This is the historic center of Coyoacan. It has the Municipal House on one side, also known as the House of Cortes, although this structure was constructed at a later date. We sat on the steps of the bandstand debating if we should attend the Lucha Libre, as the sun slowly marched across the sky. The afternoon was pleasant and there wasn’t much of a crowd.
Eventually, we made our way across the park to the Parraquia San Juan Bautista. One of the oldest churches in Mexico City, its construction was begun under the auspices of Hernan Cortes in 1527. Built over the former school for Aztec noble children, the outer entrance belies the beauty of its magnificent interiors. The baroque chapel, the exquisite paintings on the ceilings and the splendor of the church took us by surprise.
Outside once again, we made our way to the Mercado Artesenal, the local handicrafts market. Colorful clothing warred with toys and treasures of all kinds here. From wood to glass to leather to cotton and everything in between, we jumped from store to store taking it all in. We bought some Mexican style dresses for us girls while the buys window shopped.
By now, we were ready to head back home. Just outside the market was a cart selling Elote or corn. They had the grilled corn slathered with mayonnaise and white cheese. And the corn kernels that were spiced. We ordered both kinds and enjoyed them, standing on the street corner, waiting for our Uber taxi to show up.
Our original plan had been to finish the Frida Kahlo museum, tour Coyoacan and then visit Xochimilco, the warren of canals that is crisscrossed by colorful boats called trajineras. The canals grant access to the floating gardens or chinampas, an innovative method of agriculture, unique to this area. Visiting the canals would have meant skipping a tour of Coyoacan and missing the Lucha Libre, so we decided to make it a quiet afternoon and skipped the Xochimilco experience altogether. This worked out well for us as we had planned a visit to Teotihuacan the next morning. But we hope to get back to Mexico City someday and finish the Xochimilco boat ride.
Coyoacan was a nice break from the traffic and hubbub of Mexico City. It has a quaint old-world charm that makes it definitely worth a visit.