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Mexico City

Passionate, cosmopolitan and so, well, big, Mexico City is a jigsaw puzzle of 400 neighborhoods -- each with its own character. Determined to clean up its smoggy, pick-pocketing image, this city should also be celebrated for its uniqueness: bright Beatles cruising past crumbling facades; mariachi bands in the Centro Histórico; the colonial majesty of the Zócalo; the bold art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo everywhere. Like the country's famous chili pepper, its capital is overwhelmingly hot and at times an acquired taste, but you can't deny it packs a punch.

Things to Do

Old and new mix it up in the Zócalo square, dominated by the colonial Metropolitan Cathedral, the ornate National Palace and several Aztec temples. Fresh air comes with culture in the lake-dotted Bosque de Chapultepec park, where the Modern Art Museum hides Mexican art, and the National Museum of Anthropology hosts Aztec and Maya artifacts. Linger over lesser-known treasures at Caza Azul, where Mexican artist Frida Kahlo lived with muralist Diego Rivera, or catch a gondola ride along Xochimilco's canals.

Shopping

Awaken your senses first thing at La Merced Market amid mountains of fiery chilies, zingy limes and colorful corn. It's just steps from the Centro Histórico's shops selling antiques, books, souvenirs and sweets. Craft shops, boutiques and leading contemporary art galleries are tucked down the streets in bustling Zona Rosa, as is the mazy Mercado Insurgentes craft market -- come ready to haggle. For high-end fashion, jewelry and department stores, head across to Polanco.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Mexico City is always up for a fiesta and its party simply wouldn't be complete without mariachi bands performing boleros and ranchera around Plaza Garibaldi. Just as traditional are the Centro Histórico's raucous cantinas, where the tequila flows as freely as the machismo. The upbeat Zona Rosa is packed with bars, pubs, live-music venues and throbbing clubs spinning everything from salsa to hip-hop. Mingle with a more glamorous crowd in Polanco's fashionable clubs and cocktail lounges.

Restaurants and Dining

Some of Mexico City's best eating is on the street, where a few pesos buys a tasty torta (toasted sandwich) or an incendiary taco. Mariachis serenade at traditional restaurants in Centro Histórico, serving savory enchiladas and feisty chiles rellenos (stuffed chilies). Go global from Italian to Indian in Zona Rosa. Polanco is upping the ante with nueva cocina -- sample some at chic Izote, where Patricia Quintana makes creative use of yucca flowers, cactus and masa (corn flour).

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