Today we are talking about the real, purely “Mexican” Mexico – the most populous district (neighborhood) of Mexico City – Iztapalapa. With more than 1.8 million inhabitants, this district is not much visited by tourists, and yet it is one of the centers of religious and cultural life in the city.
Here, Mount Cerro de la Estreia (known as Huizachtépetl in pre-Hispanic times) offers a stunning view of the city and is home to the Museo Fuego Nuevo, an interesting museum of architecture and history.
Now let’s take it one step at a time.
Best things to do in Iztapalapa
The first thing worth seeing in Iztapalapa is the 1,000 hectares of Cerro de la Estreia National Park located in the southwestern part of the county. The national park is easily accessible from the Cerro de la Estrella or Atlalilco metro stations.
The park was established in August 1938 and now functions as a religious archaeological center from pre-Hispanic times as well as a nature reserve and recreation area.
Mount Cerro de la Estrella has been considered a place of strength and energy concentration since ancient times, so some locals undergo a “cleansing” here. When you climb the path with eucalyptus trees, in the morning at one of the corners sits a male shaman who plays, sings and for money conducts a session of purification of the soul and gets rid of negativity. I do not know how true it is, but I tried to swoon over the man, he had a very unkind look in his eyes.
It is best to visit the national park at Iztapalapa for a whole day. If you come here in the morning, be sure to bring warm clothes, because, although it is a small height, it is still quite fresh. There are no problems with food neither on the mountain, nor on the way from the subway station. They sell water, food and delicious freshly squeezed juices and smoothies (and you can also ask for a juice mix – for some reason the mix of beet juice with orange juice and carrot juice with tangerine juice is very popular with the locals).
Mexicans come to Cerro de la Estrella Park for morning jogs and sports (there are playgrounds everywhere), and walk their dogs. According to my observations, dogs in Mexico are very fond of, many dress their pets in bright costumes.
As for the park’s vegetation, in addition to the eucalyptus, there are also conifers, including ponderosa pine and white cedar. The combination of eucalyptus and needles gives a stunningly clean and, as I put it, “delicious” air. There are many interesting plants, near some of which are plaques with botanical descriptions and wise sayings.
Of the animals here you can meet squirrels, but not often. If you want to interact with Mexican squirrels closer, I recommend visiting the park in the Coyoacán area.
But back to the park.
The hill where the park is located was in pre-Hispanic Mexico the site of the New Fire ritual, held to find balance and order in the universe. This ceremony was performed only once every 52 years. Now part of the New Fire ritual can be seen during the traditional festivities of the peoples of Mexico on Mount Cerro de la Estrella each year on November 19.
When the Spaniards came to the country and converted the population to Christianity, it was here in the Istapalapa National Park during Holy Week in 1843 that the first religious ceremony, the Passion of Christ, took place.
The hill played the role of the place where Jesus was crucified. Now this religious festival and procession with crosses gathers over a million Mexicans every year in Istapalapa, both from Mexico City and other cities.
Museo Fuego Nuevo
The next must-see site is the Museo Fuego Nuevo, an archaeological and historical museum that has been in operation since 1998.
Mode of operation of the museum:
- Tuesday-Friday: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Saturday, Sunday and public holidays: 9:00 – 18:00
The museum, whose building has a very original form, was created to protect the archaeological sites that were discovered on the northern slope of Mount Huizachtépetl. The architectural design, created by David Peña, represents the inextricable link between past and present. In the museum you can see reproductions of an ancient calendar and maps dating back to 1580, as well as learn the history and see objects used in the New Fire ceremony. The museum building is also used for the presentation of new books.
Finally, one of the most important reasons to visit Iztapalapa is the observation deck overlooking the city. It is better to come here when the weather is clear, because when it is cloudy, it is impossible to see half of the beauty.
The national park Cerro de la Estrella itself is officially open daily from 9:00 to 18:00. We’ve been there even later (the entrance to the park is not closed), but in the evening you don’t feel very comfortable: there’s some suspicious characters wandering around.
In Iztapalapa you can eat street fast food cheaper than in the center.
Everything here is for locals, so if you want to see the “lively non-tourist” Mexico City – Iztapalapa is a must-visit.