The third-largest city in Mexico (with four million in the metro area), and capital of Nuevo León, Monterrey is a dynamic, hard-partying showcase for contemporary Mexico, though the heavy industry that made its wealth has far less importance these days – the biggest steel works closed in 1986. While the vast network of factories, the traffic, urban sprawl, pollution and ostentatious wealth that characterize the city are relatively recent developments, the older parts retain an air of colonial elegance. The city’s setting, too, is one of great natural beauty – ringed by jagged mountain peaks, the Cerro de la Silla, or “Saddle Mountain”, dominates the landscape. But what makes Monterrey really outstanding is the abundance of modern architecture and the bold statuary sprouting everywhere, expressions of Mexico at its most confident.
Most visitors’ first impressions of Monterrey are unfavourable – the highway roars through shabby shantytown suburbs and grimy manufacturing outskirts – but the city centre is quite a different thing. Here, colonial relics are overshadowed by the office buildings and expensive shopping streets of the Zona Rosa, and by some extraordinary modern architecture – the local penchant for planting buildings in the ground at bizarre angles is exemplified above all by the Planetario Alfa and the Instituto Tecnológico. The city in general rewards a day of wandering, but there are three places specifically worth going out of your way to visit – the old Obispado (bishop’s palace), on a hill overlooking the centre, the giant Cervecería Cuauhtémoc to the north and the magnificent Museo de Arte Contemporáneo (MARCO).
Of Monterrey’s two main markets – Juárez and Colón – the latter, on Avenida de la Constitución, south of the Macroplaza, is more tourist-oriented, specializing in local artesanía. Incidentally, the best of Monterrey’s flea markets (pulgas; literally, fleas) is also held on Constitución: market days are irregular, but ask any local for details.
In addition to the national and religious holidays, Monterrey has a number of exuberant local festivals.
Festival Internacional de Titeres
(mid-July). This puppet festival is particularly appealing to kids, with Mexican and international puppeteers holding shows in the city.
Festival Internacional de Cine de Monterrey
(end of Aug) wwww.monterreyfilmfestival.com. The Monterrey film festival is one of Latin America’s largest, showcasing the best Mexican, Latin American and international films, as well as organizing lectures and other free events.
Festival Internacional de Santa Lucía
(Sept/Oct) wwww.festivalsantalucia.org.mx. Massive celebration of performing arts, with international dance, music and theatre (this replaced the former Festival Cultural Barrio Antiguo).
Festival Internacional de Danza Extremadura-Lenguaje Contemporáneo
(end of Oct) wwww.festivalextremadura.org. Scintillating dance festival with a heavy emphasis on local and Mexican troupes (contemporary), as well as some international guests.