Mexico city history

The welcoming El Péndulo has six locations in Mexico City, including this one in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. (Photo: Julie Schwietert Collazo)

Mexico City

Lover of Literature? This is Mexico City for Book Lovers

Modern day Mexico City is a metropolis of layers. Built on a lake, the Mesoamerican past was buried to make way for a colonial Spanish city. These hidden histories now reappear seemingly every time the surface is dug away.

The literary history of the city comes alive in the work of impressive Mexican literary greats such as Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Carlos Monsiváis and Elena Poniatowska, as well as younger writers and poets, including Valeria Luiselli and Yuri Herrera.

The city teems with libraries, bookshops, and stories yet to be told, making Mexico’s capital a treasure trove for book lovers.

An exploration of the city’s book scene should start with breakfast at El Péndulo, a café/bookshop with six locations across the city. Chowing down on a breakfast named after a Mexican author while being surrounded by shelf upon shelf of literary greats and modern classics is a great way to begin the day.

mexico city history
The Biblioteca de México houses some of the country’s oldest and most precious books. (Photo: Susannah Rigg)

Hunger sated, head on to explore the city’s various libraries. The Biblioteca de México, which opened in 1946, houses some of the country’s oldest and most precious books. With volumes dating back to the 1500s and bound in snake leather, book lovers might find their heart beating a little faster than normal.

For a more modern library, the Biblioteca Vasconcelos is an architectural marvel, with lines of books in metal structures that appear to be suspended on air.

mexico city history
The Vasconcelos Library is visited as much for its architecture as for its books. (Photo: Getty Images)

By this time, an avid book lover might be longing to get their hands on some books of their own, so it’s just the moment to head to the street of second-hand bookshops located in the historic center.

Be led by the enticing smell of old books that seems to emanate from Calle Donceles and spend hours delving through volumes and volumes of Mexico’s past in wonderfully named bookshops like Librería Inframundo and Libreriá El Laberinto.

With a book or three in hand, you will likely want to find a spot to read, and Chapultepec Park is just the place. Audiorama is home to a collection of colorful benches found in a clearing among the trees. By each bench is a secret speaker playing different music, from jazz and new age to classical. Pick your favorite sounds and set yourself down to read under the trees.

For an afternoon coffee, head to Vocablo, a café for poets. Not only is the coffee some of the best in the city, there’s also a typewriter where you can take part in a mass poem, which gets published on social media once completed. You can write a card for their post box and take out a note for yourself or even order a haiku alongside your latté.

If you’re still craving more literary adventures, then Casa de la Primera Imprenta is your next stop. Home to a printing press exhibit and the Book Museum (with some of Mexico’s oldest books on display), it’s a book lover’s dream.

Add to that the fact that the first book in the Americas was printed there in 1539 and an Aztec carving of a serpent’s head was found underneath the building, and it’s clear that this location plays an important role in Mexico’s layered history.

As the sun sets, stroll over to the Casa del Poeta to take in one of their nighttime book presentations or poetry recitals, ending your book lover’s journey in an opulent, colonial setting.