Portrait of a Neighborhood: Polanco

Museo Soumaya and Plaza Carso 2

Mexico City is an interesting place. From above, its layout is very grid-like, particularly in the central corridor and proper Distrito Federal. But the whole is city is a veritable potpourri (I love that word!) of rich and poor. Wealthy San Pedro de los Pinos abuts poor Tacubaya. Upper middle class Narvarte backs up to working class Doctores. Charming, arsty Coyoacán borders dodgy Tasqueña.  Etc.

Polanco is one of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. Like San Pedro de los Pinos and other upscale colonias, it borders poorer corners of DF – in this case, Tacuba and Toreo. Parts of Polanco’s northern fringe, Nuevo Polanco, are comprised of endless construction zones that, as such, make the area appear, visually speaking at least, as less safe and less charming. Still, Polanco is a classy neighborhood, one of my favorites in all of Mexico City.

Parking is always a problem in Polanco, so the best ways to access the neighborhood are by public transport or by foot. Paseo de la Reforma, the ritzy east-west thoroughfare that connects downtown Mexico City with outlying Santa Fe, passes along the southern flank of Polanco. Numerous bus routes ply Reforma as well, and the first of three metro stations, Auditorio, stops here as well. The Auditorio National, on the south side of Reforma and directly above the subterranean station, hosts such acts as U2, Coldplay, and Paul McCartney. Metro Auditorio also provides access to Bosque de Chapultepec.

Auditorio Nacional 2

Polanco begins on the opposite side of Reforma, with a series of high rise hotels and luxury apartment towers at heights and with views that suggest Central Park East in Manhattan. It has been said that President Obama stays at the Presidente Intercontinental whenever he visits el DF. If you enjoy statues and monuments, a few points of interest on the north side of Reforma may catch your fancy. A bronze sculpture of Winston Churchill is accompanied by a sign advocating peace. Several blocks to the west, an obelisk honors Latin American hero Simon Bolívar, founder of Gran Colombia (today the nations of Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Guyana). Further east, a northern extension of Chapultepec called Parque Gandhi includes a memorial to the slain Indian leader and advocate for non-violent resistance.

Polanco 9 - Winston Churchill statue

A nearby side street, Calle Tres Picos, leads to the Salon de Arte Público Siqueiros, the former house and studio of muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. In my recent article on Coyoacán, I mentioned that Soviet exile Leon Trotsky went into hiding in Coyo until his brutal murder in 1940. Did you know that Siqueiros played a part in coordinating a previous assassination attempt on Trotsky? Siqueiros served time in prison for the crime, and again in 1960, after he attacked Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos. His painting, “The Cry,” is one of several on display at #29 Calle Tres Picos, and is pictured below:

Sala de Arte Publico Siqueiros 7 - The Cry - by Siqueiros

The main road heading north from Reforma and Metro Auditorio, Calle Arquímedes, leads explorers into the heart of Polanco. A roundabout with several streets splitting off of it allows for numerous diversions. (Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, watches over everything from his bronze perch in the middle of the traffic circle.) Heading east on Presidente Masaryk, then south on Lamartine would take you back to Parque Gandhi and the Siqueiros house, while continuing north along Arquímedes would lead to Avenida Horacio, the main drag in Polanco, where you would find Metro Polanco and a leafy pedestrian median.

Let us head southwest, on Calle Newton, instead. In no time we arrive at Parque Lincoln, a picturesque green space that spans several east-west blocks and features a bird aviary, sculpture garden, Art Deco clock tower (its image featured as the station logo for Metro Polanco), and statues of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. Upscale restaurants line the north and south sides of the park. Have a seat at one of them, enjoy a glass of wine, and watch the pretty people stroll past.

Parque Lincoln 20

Further north, Polanco becomes Nuevo Polanco, a hive of development and one of the new touristic hubs of Mexico City. Nuevo Polanco is technically known as Ampliación Granada, but few Chilangos call it that. I will do as they do. Despite the lack of good public transport, and the fact that the whole area looks still looks like a construction zone, Nuevo Polanco is worth seeking out for its museums and galerías. The business and retail complex of Plaza Carso, owned by none other than Carlos Slim, is home to the recently-opened Acuario Inbursa, Mexico’s largest aquarium. Two competing art museums jockey for position as being among the city’s most eye-catching buildings, each just a stone’s throw from the aquarium.

Museo Soumaya 4 - HIGH CONTRAST

Museo Jumex, owned by the Mexican fruit juice company Jumex, houses a rotating collection of very contemporary art. The building is huge but you can tour it quickly, as the op-art and sculpture art is displayed in large, interpretive galleries, none too crowded. Not to be outdone, the nearby Museo Soumaya, which looks like a giant anvil covered in reflective solar paneling, houses six levels of jaw-dropping art. All told, over 66,000 pieces from Mexico and Europe are displayed here, including the most comprehensive collection of Rodin sculptures in the world outside of France. Even more remarkably, each piece of art is owned by Slim…who doesn’t charge an admission fee in honor of his late wife, Soumaya, who died in 1999.

Museo Jumex 2

The nearest metro station to the touristic heart of Nuevo Polanco is Metro San Joaquín, a 25-minute walk to the east. The route from the metro to Plaza Carso is via the Ferrocarril de Cuernavaca, a former railway track that is now a walking and cycling path. An alternate approach by foot from Metro Polanco, in central Polanco, is to take the pedestrian median west along Horacio for roughly two miles, through Parque América (check out the nearby Parroquia de San Agustín), to Avenida Moliere. Head north on Moliere for three long blocks and you are there. If you are hungry and have tired of street food, the upscale, open-air Antara Fashion Mall features several restaurants, although I personally cannot fathom ever tiring of Mexican street food.

Antara 1

Take a look around as you walk. Polanco streets are named after poets, philosophers, and astronomers. We have Moliere and Arquímedes, sure, but also Tennyson, Aristóteles, and Galileo. Henry Ibsen has a street named after him in Polanco, too (although here it is Enrique Ibsen), as does Edgar Allan Poe. I would imagine that this who’s who of old world scholars and politicos would make each of them proud – you can do much worse than to have a street named in your honor if that street passes through Polanco, one of Mexico City’s plushest and most stroll-worthy neighborhoods.

Polanco 7 - Avenida Horacio

Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

5 thoughts on “Portrait of a Neighborhood: Polanco”

  1. I’ve spent so much time in Polanco. It really is an interesting neighborhood with tons to do and enjoy. But like with all your posts, it makes me feel like I don’t know the city as much as I would think considering I lived there for 19 years.

  2. I was fortunate, Mani, that some of the classes I taught down there were adjacent to Polanco, so if I had a couple of hours to kill between classes, I’d often alight at Metro Polanco or Auditorio and simply go for a walk. A lot of the stuff in Polanco I just sort of stumbled upon. And I haven’t actually made it to the aquarium yet.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting. Un buen día!

  3. I really don’t care that much for Polanco… way too snobby for my taste.
    The Soumaya Museum is interesting, and it’s architecture is impressive. The Jumex Museum on the other hand I thought was a joke. Call me old-fashioned, but I can’t fathom how most of that stuff passes as art.
    Well, to each his own.

    1. Slim’s art collection at the Soumaya Museums in both Polanco and San Angel is simply unbelievable. If anything, there is too much on display; your eye doesn’t know where to look next!

      It will interesting to see how some of the more “interpretive” modern art at the Jumex Museum and galleries like it will age and gain (or not) in monetary value.

      1. Although I enjoyed the Soumaya Museum, not all the critics are enthralled with it. They say that Slim is a better businessman than an art collector, and that (with the exception of the Rodin collection) the museum is a bunch of second-rate art by first-rate artists.

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