As one of the largest cities in North America with more than 20 million residents, Mexico City is flush with spooky, strange, and surreal sights. From the island of decaying dolls to grasshopper grub to colossal quesadillas, here are 10 wonderfully wacky things to see and do.
1. The Isla de las Munecas (Island of the Dolls)
Photo courtesy of Isla de Las Munecas.
Pediophobics beware! But if you’re a fan of the movie Chuckie, this place is right up your creepy alley. In the canals of Xochimico, just south of Mexico City, sits The Isla de las Munecas. Legend has it, Don Julian Santana — a local farmer — was unable to save a drowning girl. To appease the girl’s spirit (which purportedly haunted the place), he began hanging dolls from the island’s trees. A half-century later, roughly 1500 dolls, all in different stages of decay — from disheveled to decapitated — are strewn about. According to Santana’s cousin, who now runs the site as a tourist attraction, the dolls come alive at night, whispering and turning their heads. Hail a trajinera (colorful canal boat) at Xochimico for 350 pesos ($24) per hour for the two-hour ride to the island.
2. Water Monsters, a.k.a., Mexican Walking Fish
Sweet little slimy salamander spotted in the canals of Xochimico.
Axolotls, a nearly extinct four-legged salamander species found only in central Mexico, are also hanging out in Xochimico’s canals. Take a tour with De La Chinampas — you may see the little creatures while exploring the floating island farms built by the Aztecs, plus you’ll stop at an Axolotl zoo, of sorts. Here, you’ll learn all sorts of cool factoids about the so-ugly-their-adorable amphibians. For example, they breathe oxygen and excrete urine through their gills (handy skill!) and reproduce in their larval state. Three-hour farm tours aboard a canal boat, including lunch, are 350 pesos ($24 USD) per person.
3. Mummified Monks
Video by Jose Alonso.
In 1916, while searching for buried treasure to redistribute to the poor, the Zapaptistas (a Mexican Robin Hood-style army of the early 20th century) discovered a dozen mummified monks. On display in velvet-lined coffins in the former monastery, now Museo de El Carmen, the mummies are estimated to be more than 300 years old. Admission is 52 pesos ($4 USD).
4. Danzón Dancing
Most nights, California Dancing Club looks like any other nightclub. However, every Monday from 6-10 p.m., get ready for a Back to the Future-style flash back to Cuba, pre-embargo. Dapperly dressed pachucos (Mexican zoot-suiters) and their elegant lady dance partners hit the floor for danzón (Cuban dance) to popular Caribbean tunes of the 40s and 50s.
5. Lucha Libre Wrestlers
Paula Froelich takes on the Red Dragon at Arena Mexico. (Andrew Rothschild/Yahoo Travel)
The U.S. may have WWF, but nothing tops watching luchadores (Mexican pro-wrestlers in colorful masks) dramatically duke it out. Most weekends and some weekdays, you can catch a Lucha Libre match at Arena Mexico or Arena Coliseo. Ringside tickets are $10-$15 USD. Or, just watch Paula Froelich, Yahoo! Travel editor-in-chief, as she hops in the ring with the Red Dragon, one of Mexico City’s most famous wrestlers.
6. Kitschy Cakes
Jiggly superhero at Ideal Pastry Shop, Mexico City
Jello molds in the likeness of the Incredible Hulk or Winnie the Pooh — in all their gelatinous glory — make a trip to Pasteleria Ideal worth the stop. But the real eye-popping display of desserts is upstairs. An entire floor is dedicated to demo cakes — from brightly colored wedding cakes taller than a pro basketball player to Lucha Libre-themed birthday cakes.
7. Bug Grub
Larva and worm tacos at El Hidalguense, Mexico City.
Chapulines (fried and seasoned grasshoppers) are to Mexicans what popcorn is to Americans: a favorite salty snack with an addictive crunch. In the historic district of Mexico City, fried whole grasshoppers, crickets, and even stinkbugs are sold in heaping piles — wings and all — at Mercado San Juan de Pugibet. We recommend the garlic-chili seasoned ones. Once you get over the initial horror of munching on insects, they’re pretty tasty and protein packed. Don’t miss the chicatana salsa (made from Oaxacan flying ants). Or just tuck into some ant larva or agave worm tacos at El Hildaguense.
8. World’s Largest Quesadillas
Known as machetes due to their sword shape, these tortilla treats are a go-big-or-go-home gastronomical experience. Head to Las Machetes de Amparito restaurant in the Guerrero neighborhood for a handmade, 25-inch long tortilla filled with lots of good stuff, such as potato with chorizo, poblano peppers, or pancita (beef stomach). Popular with locals as well as tourists, expect a 20- to 30-minute wait on the weekends.
9. Mexico City’s Leaning Tower of Pisa
Promise, I’m not that bad of a photographer. The church is simply sinking.
Your wonky vision has nothing to do with the amount of tequila you consumed the night before. Where Pisa, Italy has one leaning structure, Mexico’s capital city has hundreds. Why? Thanks to the Spanish conquistadors’ genius idea to build a city atop a drained lake bed, the city is sinking. In fact, scientists estimate some parts of the city have submerged 42 feet in the last century! Take an architectural walking tour with historian Anilú López Beltrán (email@example.com; 52 55 2701 4201) to witness the most severely sunken sites, like the Palacio de Bellas Artes and Santa Veracruz church.
10. 1988 Redux
Photo courtesy of Patrick Miller Club.
Feeling footloose on a Friday? Don your legwarmers and head to the Patrick Miller dance club. Named after a famous Mexican DJ, Patrick Miller hosts a themed dance party — mostly 80s or 90s era — every Friday. Expect breakdancing, laser lights, neon graffiti, and of course clubbers sporting big hair, neon spandex, and Boy George makeup.
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