On our recent getaway to Mexico City, my two young daughters and I sat in the lush garden courtyard of our hotel, the Four Seasons, one afternoon and debated how we wanted to spend our evening. Should we head to Arena Mexico to see the theatrical spectacle of the flamboyant luchadores — Mexican wrestlers — fight it out with acrobatic-style moves while the crowd cheered them on? Or, did we want to learn how to make tamales and sopes topped with ingredients like beans, salsa and mole negro at Casa Jacaranda, a small cooking school situated in a 1913 home in the chic Roma neighborhood?
Mexico City is well known for its many cultural attractions, including more than 100 museums and a flourishing arts and design scene. But the city’s appeal as a family-friendly destination hasn’t come to the forefront until recently. In a bid to attract more tourists, some hotels are stepping up their amenities for children, and tour operators are offering itineraries with an eye on the younger set.
Our time in the Mexican capital was limited, but the choices for activities here seemed endless, and we were torn throughout our trip between many appealing options such as the two in question at that moment.
Our appetites eventually won over, and we passed the night away with Casa Jacaranda’s two owners, Jorge Fitz and Alberto Estua, a couple who reside on the belle epoque home’s top floor, mixing corn husks with shortening for tamales, and pressing corn dough into circles for our sopes. We steamed the tamales in boiling water and cooked the tortillas on a griddle and topped them with black beans, beef and just-made guacamole.
As we ate the dishes we had labored over, Mr. Fitz told me that the children’s cooking classes were only a few months old. At two hours long, they were abbreviated versions of the school’s full-day sessions, but they still gave children and their parents a snapshot of traditional Mexican cuisine. “We had repeated requests for lessons where parents and kids could cook together so we decided to start them, and they’ve already been a big hit,” Mr. Fitz said.
As my daughters Meenakshi, 9, and Amrita, 5, and I discovered, there’s plenty here to occupy families like us, and the list, cooking classes at Casa Jacaranda included, keeps growing.
The Mexican-based travel company Journey Mexico arranged our itinerary, and the head of its Mexico City office, Lillian Aviles, told me that the company has seen the number of its customized, private family trips to the city double in the past year from 20 to 40 — ever since it started promoting Mexico City as a destination that could engage kids.
Parents with school-age children typically favor beachside destinations in Mexico such as Riviera Maya, she said, but the same travelers who visit the country again often want to spend a few days in the capital city to explore renowned museums and dine in internationally famous restaurants. “Mexico City is one of the world’s largest cities so it’s natural that people want to see it,” Ms. Aviles said. “The city’s hospitality industry is definitely catering more to kids, but even without organized activities, there’s plenty for them to see and do.”
She was right: Meenakshi and Amrita were as engaged as I was on our trip to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacán, in the southern part of the city. It’s a colonial-style home that’s painted a rich blue and has an interior patio with a beautiful garden with blooming flowers. We especially enjoyed seeing Ms. Kahlo’s wardrobe of dresses displayed on mannequins, and her brushes and easel, along with the mirror that she used to paint her self-portraits.
Afterward, we went to the San Ángel neighborhood, also in the city’s southern part, and walked through the vibrant crafts market where dozens of vendors were selling colorful piñatas, which, naturally, Amrita and Meenakshi wanted to buy. They cost only $1 each and with their bright hues — reds, blues and greens among the bunch — and varied shapes like stars and cones, they were works of art. I quickly agreed, and as we continued our stroll through the market, they talked excitedly about the candies they wanted to fill inside their new toys.
On another day, we explored the nearly 1,700-acre Chapultepec Park, in the heart of the city and across the street from our hotel. It’s the largest urban park in Latin America and has museums, restaurants, a zoo and plenty of paths for biking, walking and running.
The children’s museum, Papalote Museo del Niño, was definitely their favorite park attraction: The sprawling space had around 180 interactive exhibits, and they couldn’t get enough of the towering Ramon Tree, which they were able to walk through and which taught them about different forest ecosystems. And we spent at least an hour in the large garden, which had samples of the various kinds of soil and plants found in humid forests, wetlands and other ecosystems in Mexico.
The city has at least a half-dozen other museums suited for children that we didn’t get a chance to visit. They include the Museum of Popular Art, where kids can participate in workshops on how to make Mexican crafts such as piñatas. Also, Mucho Museo del Chocolate, the Chocolate Museum, showcases the history of cacao in Mexico and has a chocolate lab where kids can make Mexican chocolate by grinding cocoa beans on a volcanic stone called a metate and even create sculptures with chocolate paste.
Ms. Aviles, of Journey Mexico, has two children, ages 3 and 12, and said that when given a choice on how to spend a free day, both plead for a visit to the Chocolate Museum. “They drink hot chocolate when they’re there and leave with the chocolate that they’ve made,” she said. “Chocolate is their favorite food on earth so obviously the museum is a winner.”
Hotels around the city where business travelers were previously the main guests are also stepping up to accommodate their growing number of young guests, according to general managers of these properties. The Four Seasons, a contemporary building with a large inner garden that’s a haven from the bustling city, for example, significantly amped up its children’s programming in 2017 to draw in younger guests and leisure travelers: On Sundays, the property has free activities, such as making Mexican crafts with a local artist, and holds special events throughout the year like an Easter egg hunt and games and an ice-cream cart near its outdoor pool come warm weather. “We wanted to find fun ways to entertain the more and more kids staying with us,” said Jose Adames, the hotel’s general manager.
Of course, the point of going to Mexico City wasn’t to spend time at a nice hotel, but when we wanted a break from sightseeing, the property’s warm ambience and diversions were a pleasant respite.
The culmination of our trip was grand: We awoke at 4:30 a.m. on our last day to make the 45-minute drive to Teotihuacan, the once mighty Pre-Hispanic city that’s now a Unesco World Heritage Site. There, we climbed inside a hot-air balloon and as the sun started to rise, we soared over Teotihuacan’s two large pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.
I was terrified, but my daughters were exhilarated and held my hands to keep me calm. The pyramids were an incredible sight from the sky and equally captivating from the ground when we climbed up their steep staircases to the top following our ride.
Our vacation in Mexico City had come to an end, at least this time. To our delight, we had immersed ourselves in art, culture, cuisine and nature all in one getaway. Next time, thosewrestlers, which we missed seeing, along with many other new diversions, awaited us.
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