48 HOURS: Culture-packed Mexico City with Ford Foundation's Walker

Darren Walker, the author of the book “From Generosity to Justice: A New Gospel of Wealth” takes us through a couple of culture-packed days in Mexico's capital

Chris Taylor
Published : 21 Feb 2024, 08:10 AM
Updated : 21 Feb 2024, 08:10 AM

As part of his work steering the $16-billion Ford Foundation, Darren Walker travels the planet to monitor social justice efforts. But one place stands out for the longtime philanthropy executive: Mexico City.

Walker – author of the book “From Generosity to Justice: A New Gospel of Wealth” – takes us through a couple of culture-packed days in Mexico's capital.

The following interview is edited and condensed.

WHAT I LOVE MOST

Mexico City is a vibrant, multicultural metropolis that’s home to a world-class food, culture and arts scene. I’ve had the opportunity to visit the city many times as Ford Foundation’s Mexico City office has supported organisations in the region on the front lines of social justice for more than three decades.

WHERE TO STAY

I like to stay at Las Alcobas (Masaryk St.), in the Polanco neighbourhood, which is home to excellent eateries, art galleries and shopping. It’s close to the Roma-Condesa Cultural corridor, a beautiful and walkable enclave with tree-lined streets and much to do.

A FUN LOCALE FOR TEAM OUTINGS

Mexico City is home to fantastic museums, such as the National Museum of Anthropology (Paseo de la Reforma and Mahatma Gandhi Street), which offers a fascinating and immersive walk through history, especially of pre-Hispanic cultures.

MUAC, the University Museum of Contemporary Art (Insurgentes Sur Ave), has a wonderful collection and was the first public museum in Mexico to be exclusively focused on modern art.

The Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan (London St) is unforgettable. Walking through the iconic artist’s residence among her furniture, her diary and her cherished garden was nothing short of exceptional.

I last visited in early November and had the chance to see the altars commemorating the Day of the Dead. The atmosphere, infused with candles, incense and mysticism, culminated in an unforgettable memory.

TOURIST TRAP THAT'S ACTUALLY WORTH IT

El Zócalo, the main square at the heart of Mexico City (Constitution Plaza), is the frequent site of many of the important cultural events and a must-see. And it’s worth it to take an architectural tour to see the beautiful amalgamation of colonial buildings, the remains of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, and some of the most amazing murals by Diego Rivera.

BEST WAY TO GET AROUND

Mexico City’s sprawling urban landscape means that traffic is inevitable. It’s best to be strategic when planning travel between neighbourhoods, allowing time to fully immerse yourself in everything the city has to offer.

IDEAL COFFEE SPOT

Rosetta, in La Roma (Colima St), for a sweet guava roll and a coffee.

FAVORITE AREA TO SHOP

If I happen to be in the city on a Saturday, I always try to make it over to San Angel to the “Bazaar del Sábado” (Plaza San Jacinto). It offers a fabulous collection of artisanal goods and artwork crafted by local artists.

Nearby is Pineda Covalin, a store with the most beautiful silk scarves and ties whose designs are inspired by the rich indigenous cultures of Mexico.

SOMETHING ONLY INSIDERS KNOW

The best tacos are at Taqueria Gabriel (Rio Sena St), a must!

CAN'T-MISS TREATS

The pan dulce from Rosetta is the best pastry in town. And the typical sweets from Dulcería Celaya (Ave 5 de Mayo) in Centro Histórico.

BEST DINNER SPLURGE

Mexico City is the ultimate culinary destination, where you can find food from all around the world. But Mexican cuisine at its best is something to experience. Havre 77 (Havre St) is an amazing organic restaurant, led by one of the top chefs in Mexico, Lalo Garcia.

Garcia has two other restaurants: Maximo Bistrot (Ave Alvaro Obregon) and Lalo! (Zacatecas St), both of which are the epitome of culinary excellence.

BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION

A major misconception would be that it’s intimidating, dangerous and unwelcoming. Mexico City is a lively urban center that faces the same challenges as any big city, but it also has the palpable warmth of people willing to help. I was amazed by how easy it is to communicate and get around, especially for non-Spanish speakers like me.

FAVORITE SOUVENIR

Alebrijes, traditional folk art pieces made by local artisans depicting fantastical, colourful creatures. It is said that the first alebrije was inspired by nightmares, but they’re colourful and charming. The perfect small gift or souvenir.

BEST MEMORY

During my recent visit, I had the privilege of connecting with numerous grantees and partners who are deeply engaged in impactful work within the region. A highlight of our collaboration was the participation in the launch celebration of UNESCO's Writers Against Racism Network, held at the Museum of Anthropology. The event proved to be a profoundly moving experience.