At the center of enormous and chaotic Mexico City, lies a 686-hectare (1695-acre) shady sanctuary of quiet lagoons, groves of trees and grassy expanses covered with families having picnics during the weekends. This oasis in the urban jungle is called Chapultepec Park, Nahuatl “Hill of the Grasshoppers Park,” named for the rocky bluff that rises from its center.
Upon that hill is Chapultepec Castle, a Spanish Colonial construction that was briefly the seat of the short-lived Mexican Empire. It lies atop a far more ancient foundation, the home of Texcoco’s philosopher-king, Netzahualcoyotl. According to historians, he originally laid out the park in the 1420’s.
The remains of his old aqueducts and gardens—including more than 1,000 enormous ahuehuete trees, a behemoth species related to the redwoods purportedly planted here during his reign—form the nucleus of the park. But Chapultepec is likely much older, as artifacts dating to the Olmec era (1,500–400 BC) suggest that this place had been sacred centuries before.
Today, this enormous park is one of Mexico City’s must-see attractions, home to its finest collection of monuments, museums, fountains and diversions. Most of the park is free and could easily absorb several days of your vacation if you let it. And why not?
You could invest a full day at the Museum of Anthropology, the most famous and worthwhile of the park’s several museums. It is a tour of Mexico’s remarkable history, from the massive stone Olmec heads, to Spanish Colonial artifacts, as well as its modern cultural diversity. The National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle, the Rufino Tamayo Museum which celebrates one of the city’s most famous painters and the fantastic Biological Gardens are all also well worth a visit.
There is plenty in the park for children and families, from the pandas at the Chapultepec and paddleboats on the lake, to La Feria Chapultepec Magico, an amusement park with some 50 rides including the impressive looping rollercoaster, El Cascabel (The Rattlesnake). But the Jardin de Adultos Mayores, Garden of Older Adults, is open only to people over 60, where they can relax, play cards, dance, and flirt amidst the quiet fountains and pavilions without screamy grandchildren interrupting their afternoon.
There truly is something here for everyone.
Since 2002, the park has been undergoing a massive, and much-needed, rehabilitation program. Many attractions—such as the 500-year-old Baños de Moctezuma, a pool built during the Aztec era—are still under construction and off limits. But with so much more to explore, you can save that for your next trip, as you’ll be busy just trying to scratch the surface of all this ancient park has to offer.