Bosque de Chapultepec, named for the chapulines (grasshoppers) that populated it long ago, is the city’s largest park, a great green refuge from concrete, traffic, and dust. It’s also home to a castle, a lake, an amusement park, the Mexican president's official residence, and five world-renowned museums.
You can easily spend an hour at each Bosque de Chapultepec museum, with the exception of the Museo Nacional de Antropología, which is huge compared to its sister institutions. There you can have a quick go-through in two hours, but to appreciate the fine exhibits, anywhere from a half day to a full day is more appropriate. Tuesday through Friday are good days to visit the museums and stroll around the park. On Sunday and on Mexican holidays they're often packed with families, and if you get to the Museo Nacional de Antropología after 10 am on a Sunday, you can expect to spend considerable time waiting. If you have time to visit only one of Bosque de Chapultepec’s museums, make it the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
POINTS OF INTEREST
MUSEO DE ARTE MODERNO
The Modern Art Museum's permanent collection has many important examples of 20th-century Mexican art, including works by Mexican school painters like Frida Kahlo—her Las dos Fridas is possibly the most famous work in the collection—Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Olga Costa. There are also pieces by surrealists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington.
LA FERIA DE CHAPULTEPEC
This children's amusement park has various games and more than 50 rides, including go-karts, a Eurobungy, spinning teacups, and a montaña rusa—"Russian mountain," or roller coaster. Admission prices vary, depending on which rides are covered and whether meals are included.
EL PAPALOTE, MUSEO DEL NIÑO
Five themed sections compose this excellent interactive children's discovery museum: I Communicate, I Am, I Belong, I Express, and I Understand, together comprising more than 200 exhibits. There are also workshops, an IMAX theater (note that tickets are discounted if purchased with museum tickets), a store, and a restaurant. Although exhibits are in Spanish, there are some English-speaking staff on hand.
ZOOLÓGICO DE CHAPULTEPEC
In the early 16th century Mexico City's zoo, in Chapultepec, housed a small private collection of animals belonging to Moctezuma II; it became quasi-public when he allowed favored subjects to visit it. The current zoo opened in the 1920s, and has the usual suspects, as well as some superstar pandas. A gift from China, the original pair—Pepe and Ying Ying—produced the world's first panda baby born in captivity (much to competitive China's chagrin). New arrivals include two pairs of California condors, making this the only zoo outside of the United States raising the endangered birds. The zoo includes the Moctezuma Aviary and is surrounded by a miniature train depot, botanical gardens, and lakes where you can go rowing. You'll see the entrance on Paseo de la Reforma, across from the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
BOSQUE DE CHAPULTEPEC
This 1,600-acre green space, literally the Woods of Chapultepec, draws hordes of families on weekend outings, cyclists, joggers, and horseback riders into its three sections. Its museums rank among the finest in Mexico, if not the world. This is one of the oldest parts of Mexico City, having been considered a sacred place and inhabited for centuries by native tribes as far back as the Toltecs and Teotihuacanos. Several Aztec kings had their effigies carved in stone here. The Mexica poet-king Nezahualcóyotl had his palace here and ordered construction of the aqueduct that brought water to Tenochtitlán. Ahuehuete trees (Moctezuma cypress) still stand from that era, when the woods were used as hunting preserves.
At the park's principal entrance, one block west of the Chapultepec metro station, the Monumento a los Niños Héroes (Monument to the Boy Heroes) consists of six asparagus-shape marble columns adorned with eaglets. Supposedly buried in the monument are the young cadets who, it is said, wrapped themselves in the Mexican flag and jumped to their deaths rather than surrender to the Americans during the U.S. invasion of 1847. To Mexicans that war is still a troubling symbol of their neighbor's aggressive dominance: it cost Mexico almost half its territory—the present states of Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada.
Other sights in the first section of Bosque de Chapultepec include three small boating lakes, a botanical garden, and the Casa del Lago cultural center, which hosts free plays, cultural events, and live music on weekends. Los Pinos, the residential palace of the president of Mexico, is on a small highway called Avenida Constituyentes, which cuts through the park; it's heavily guarded and cannot be visited.
Most visitors enter through the first section of the park, near the Chapultepec metro stop, close to the Museo de Arte Moderno. This is a great place to people-watch, especially on weekends. The less crowded second and third sections of Bosque de Chapultepec contain a fancy restaurant, the national cemetery, a children's museum, and more.
CASTILLO DE CHAPULTEPEC
The castle on Cerro del Chapulín (Grasshopper Hill) has borne witness to all the turbulence and grandeur of Mexican history. In its earliest form it was an Aztec palace, where the Mexica made one of their last stands against the Spaniards. Later it was a Spanish hermitage, gunpowder plant, and military college. Emperor Maximilian used the castle, parts of which date from 1783, as his residence, and his example was followed by various presidents from 1872 to 1940, when Lázaro Cárdenas decreed that it be turned into the Museo Nacional de Historia.
Displays on the museum's ground floor cover Mexican history from the conquest to the revolution. The bathroom, bedroom, tea salon, and gardens were used by Maximilian and his wife, Carlotta, in the 1860s. The ground floor also contains works by 20th-century muralists O'Gorman, Orozco, and Siqueiros, and the upper floor is devoted to temporary exhibitions, Porfirio Díaz's malachite vases, and religious art.