Explore Mexico City
Around 3km east of San Ángel lies Coyoacán, another colonial township that has been absorbed by the city. Even before the Conquest it was a sizeable place. Originally the capital of a small lakeshore kingdom, it was subjugated by the Aztecs in the mid-fifteenth century. Cortés based himself in Coyoacán during the siege of Tenochtitlán, and continued to live here while the old city was torn down and construction began on the capital of Nueva España. It remains far less touristed than San Ángel, although the plazas are pretty lively, especially at weekends. The focus of the area is the spacious Plaza Central (Plaza Hidalgo and the Jardín del Centenario).
Nearby, in the small Plaza la Conchita, the Capilla de la Concepción has a wonderful Baroque facade. Overlooking the square, the distinctive red Casa de la Malinche (not open to the public) is the house in which Cortés installed his native mistress – and where he allegedly later murdered his wife shortly after her arrival from Spain. No visit to Coyoacán is complete without strolling out to the northern reaches of the suburb to the two main sights, the Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky museums.
Coyoacán’s Plaza Central is one of the city’s main stomping grounds for artists, artisans and musicians. It is actually made up of two adjoining plazas – Plaza Hidalgo and the Jardín del Centenario. Bars and cafés ring the plaza. On Sunday, there’s a market in the Plaza Central, and the area is taken up by stalls and various rock, folk and reggae bands. It’s far and away the most fun place in the city to buy your souvenirs (T-shirts make good buys here, some of them hand-painted), though most of the stuff can be found cheaper elsewhere.
The Plaza Central is also home to the sixteenth-century church of San Juan and the small Palacio Municipal (also known as the Casa de Cortés), said to have been built by Cortés himself. Inside the palacio are two murals by pupils of Rivera’s – one by Aurora Reyes depicting the Conquest, and one by Diego Rosales showing the torture of Cuauhtémoc. The latter is particularly apposite since it was in Coyoacán that the Aztec leader was tortured and finally killed. The murals aren’t open to the public, but if you ask at the tourist office in the same building (just inside the main entrance, t55/5658-0221) they might let you take a peek at Reyes’s mural, in the Sala de Cabildos, a municipal office. The other mural is in the capilla (registry office), which is only open if there’s a wedding on – should you stumble upon one you can discreetly put your head round the door for a quick look.
The Museo de Culturas Populares, close to the Plaza Hidalgo at Av Hidalgo 289, has colourful displays on popular cultural forms, mostly dolls, masks and costumes. Avenida Hidalgo also leads to the Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones – to find it, continue down Avenida Hidalgo for about 300m, and bear left down General Anaya, which leads directly to the museum (crossing División del Norte on the way), a fifteen- to twenty-minute walk.