The third-largest city in Mexico (with over four million in the metro area), and capital of Nuevo León, MONTERREY is a dynamic 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. 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 cluster of world-class museums around the Macroplaza.
Spanish conquistador Diego de Montemayor founded Monterrey in 1596, at a spring close to the current location of the Museo de Historia. Steel production began in 1900, fuelling an economic boom that continues today, with Cemex (the world’s third largest cement company), FEMSA (Coca-Cola Latin America and owner of the OXXO convenience stores) and Banorte among the many companies based here – the business district of San Pedro Garza García, now Mexico’s richest community, contains some of the highest skyscrapers outside Mexico City (on completion, the Torre KOI is set to become the tallest in Mexico at 276m). Once known as one of the safest cities in Mexico, Monterrey’s sense of calm was rattled by Hurricane Alex in 2010, causing severe damage costing an estimated M$16.9 billion. That same year, conflict between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas began to spread to the city for the first time, culminating in a terrifying arson attack on the Casino Royale in 2011, in which more than fifty people were killed. Things have improved dramatically since that low point, and if you take the usual precautions (especially at night) you are unlikely to have any problems.