Wondering what to do in Mexico City that isn’t in most tourist guides? Desierto de los Leones National Park is the most underrated place for picture perfect natural beauty, history, and great eats!
When people think of the parks and green areas of Mexico City, what usually comes to mind first is Chapultepec Park. While Chapultpec is on most tourist’s to-do list alongside other modern and ancient attractions, what usually is overlooked is Desierto de los Leones National Park. It is hands down my absolute favorite getaway located just outside the business district of Santa Fe, inside the limits of Mexico City (Cuajimalpa). A true sight of natural beauty and fresh air, it is a refreshing contrast to the bustling life of the millions that engulf the megalopolis every day.
It was appointed Mexico’s first ever national park in 1917 and rightly so with it’s many mile span of oaks, firs and pines. Desierto de los Leones translates to “Lion Desert” but is neither a desert nor related to Lions! The park is elevated at an even higher altitude than the majority of the metro area, making the temperatures always colder and damper than the surrounding areas. The chilly drop in temperature, combined with the plethora of living trees, makes the air incredibly refreshing to breathe in and savor.
Amidst the slopes of giant timbers are winding trails for walking and bicycling, areas for picnics and camping, and most amazingly of all, a beautiful monastery dating back from the early 1600’s.
Built in order of the Carmelites, the monastery was originally used as a religious retreat. One hundred years later, the original structure had be demolished and then rebuilt even grander — only to be later abandoned in the late 18th century due to the cold weather. Although the complex was later used during the Mexican Revolution, the monastery still remains and it has been restored and is open to the public. The complex is remarkably picture perfect with courtyards of flowers and gardens that surround a beautiful structured convent. It is eerily tranquil inside the monastery — with a holy soundtrack playing and all! You can also find the Bicentenario Museum, housing photos of the nearby village and a model of the monastary. There is also the Zapata Museum, a room dedicated to the Mexican Revolution with a collection of remembrances.
Perfect for a tranquil stroll, delicious picnic, and clean breathing – this Mexico City park is only open 9am-5pm and closed on Mondays. The park entrance is free and only 10.5 pesos to visit the monastery. Right outside the convent, there are a handful of restaurants selling “traditional” quesadillas (filled with things like corn-fungus, brain, potatoes and pork skin) that are not to be missed.
What makes the Desierto de los Leones a truly unique attraction in Mexico City is that in one of the most populated cities in the world, you can still find a middle-of-no-where haven with an incredible history and beauty.
Update 5/2012: The Monastery has been going through renovations & looks completely different! What do you think of the changes? I think it looks nice but had more character before (see above pictures for ‘before’)