Another Beautiful Mountain City: Monterrey, Mexico
After going to Colombia and having a blast in the beautiful city of Medellín last weekend, I figured that this weekend’s trip to Monterrey would be fairly low-key. On the contrary, I discovered another awesome city with its own unique culture and a totally different feel from Mexico City. Just check out this random dance performance I ran into on Saturday night!
Like Medellín, Monterrey is a bustling city that’s surrounded by mountains in basically all directions (but without a cable car unfortunately). This means it’s another place where natural beauty meets urban sprawl for some very interesting landscapes.
If you’re only coming for a weekend like I did, there are a bunch of interesting things packed into a relatively small area that’s more or less walkable. In the next section, I’ll describe each unique areas starting with the massive Parque Fundidora, followed by the Paseo Santa Lucía and then the Barrio Antiguo.
Neighborhoods to Explore
1. Parque Fundidora
This sprawling urban space is a great place to start exploring Monterrey. Fundidora is home to a concert venue, a convention center, and an amusement park among other things, as well as a bunch of decommissioned industrial structures.
El Museo del Acero (The Museum of Steel)
In fact, the most prominent attraction is a steel-mill turned museum and lookout deck. Check out this crazy blast furnace towering above the rest of the park!
If you pay a 50-peso entrance fee, you can ride a rickety elevator up the structure and get some great views of the city and mountains. My only complaint is that most of the lookout deck is constructed with grated floor, as you can see in the pictures below. I’m not one to normally get vertigo, but that was a bit much!
2. The River Walk (Paseo Santa Lucía)
The Paseo Santa Lucía runs between Parque Fundidora and the Macroplaza (discussed below), which is the main public square in town that’s home to a bunch of museums and monuments. The Paseo is beautifully designed and definitely a highlight of Monterrey.
This was probably my favorite part of the city because it’s just so relaxing to walk along! There are a few restaurants and shops here as well, so it’s not a bad place to stop for lunch if you’ve already had a few hours under the sun.
3. The Macroplaza and Museums
Once you make it from Parque Fundidora to the Macroplaza, you’ll run into a bunch of monuments and historical structures. In fact, this is the seventh-largest public square in the world and the largest in Mexico. It’s almost as big as Tiananmen Square in Beijing, which holds sixth place on the list. You could definitely spend over an hour exploring everything it has to offer.
From the north end of the plaza where the river walk ends, head south to check out the elaborate Fuente de Neptuno (Neptune Fountain) and the beautiful Arquidiócesis de Monterrey church.
"The Three Museums"
In this area there are a cluster of three museums which are all free on Sundays (at least, they were the Sunday I went). The Museo de Historia Mexicana and Museo del Noreste located at the end of the river walk were pretty standard, but the Palace Museum, which can’t be missed from the plaza, has a beautiful interior with multiple courtyards. All three are nice places to cool down if you’ve out and about all day!
4. Barrio Antiguo
Lastly, this neighborhood famous for its old architectural style is only a short walk from the Macroplaza. There are tons of hip bars, cafes, and restaurants inside the pastel-colored buildings lining the streets.
On Sunday morning, there was also a street market here with vendors selling everything from crafts to antiques.
Two of the restaurants I recommend in the section below are located right in this neighborhood, including one that specializes in Oaxacan food. Read on to learn more about your dining options in Monterrey!
Cuisine wasn’t a highlight here the way it was in, say, Puerto Escondido, but I still found a couple of nice restaurants. One located right on the Paseo was called Tenerias, and their menu had everything from pasta and seafood to Mexican staples. It was on the pricier side, but you’re definitely paying for the atmosphere, and the tacos I had were good.
Another one I liked was called Me Muero de Hambre, a much more casual bar and grill located in the Barrio Antiguo. I had ceviche here and a huge michelada.
If you’re looking for an American-style sports bar, you could try the Sierra Madre Brewing Company. Last but not least, you could check out Madre Oaxaca (if you’re willing to eat Oaxacan food in Northern Mexico). I finally tried a traditional Mexican meal here called chile en nogada, a massive green chile stuffed with meat and other ingredients covered in a creamy sauce and pomegranate. The colors (green, white, and red) are a nod to the Mexican flag, and it ended up being a really great meal!
In general, food in the northern states of the country is known for being both filling and uncomplicated. The quality of meat here is supposed to be high, but there also felt like there might be more American influence on cuisine than in Mexico City. Be adventurous and try something new!
You’ll want to remain aware of your surroundings as Monterrey is generally considered less safe than Mexico City, although the neighborhoods mentioned above all seemed pretty secure and well-populated. I stayed at the Hotel Monterrey and felt safe in the surrounding area.
A Warning About "Mexico's Worst Airline"
This a warning for potential passengers of VivaAerobus, the budget airline I flew with for this trip. If you travel domestically within Mexico, you may come across Viva’s rock-bottom flight prices (e.g., 90 dollar round trips from Mexico City to various other cities around the country). As you might expect, you get what you pay for. The seats don’t recline, you have to print your boarding pass at home or they’ll charge a 5 USD “printing fee” at the airport, and beverages from the drink cart have to be purchased (including water). But my biggest complaint is that I was almost unable to board at all.
People had warned me that VivaAerobus has the reputation for being the worst airline in Mexico, and they cited everything from frequently cancelled flights to poor customer service. In my case, I logged in to check in and print my boarding pass, when I saw the following message:
Basically, there was no option to print a pass, only a message that said, “todos los pasajeros deben tener asiento,” which means “all passengers should be seated.” I called their customer service center to inquire about this, and they told me I would be assigned a seat at the airport, where they would print the boarding pass without a fee.
At the airport, the check-in agent still had no seat for me, but assured me that I would be given one at the gate. Well, after arriving to the gate, I was finally informed that I was a standby passenger (I guess the United Airlines scandal didn’t make waves here in Mexico). I feel like both the agent on the phone and the check-in agent had been dishonest to avoid having to deal with a very unsatisfied customer (me).
So lesson of this story: if you don’t have a guaranteed seat on VivaAerobus and can’t print your boarding pass from home, prepare to possibly miss your flight. What’s even more ridiculous is that seven or eight people were in the same position. Most of us eventually made it onto the flight thanks to no-shows, but not everyone did.
Another possible lesson (this is a theory): if you must fly with this airline, you may want to pay the extra few dollars to reserve a seat while purchasing the tickets. It’s clear to me that they don’t value their customers if they’re overbooking flights so egregiously, so I wouldn’t put it past them to boot a customer who had paid to reserve a seat, but you’ll probably reduce your chances if you do that.
If the stories of cancelled flights and other problems are true, then you still may not make it to your destination in a timely manner. If you can help it, I would say avoid this airline.
Until Next Time...
I know that was a long rant about almost being denied boarding, but once I actually made it to Monterrey I had a really great time! It’s is a huge city with over one million inhabitants, so I’m sure I only scratched the surface of all the cool attractions to see there. I’m hoping to come back soon and explore some more. Unlike Medellín, Monterrey is a viable option for a weekend trip for many American visitors with direct flights from Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, and other major cities. (I still maintain that Mexico City is the best place for first time visitors to Mexico, but to each their own!)
This weekend, I’m showing my very first visitor from the States around Mexico City which I am so excited about! It’s a great excuse to go back to Chapultepec and Teotihuacan (the pyramids) and to practice my in-person tour-guide skills. I’m nearing the point where I should probably write a follow-up post on Mexico City, so keep an eye out for that!