Cuernavaca has long been the favoured getaway spot for Mexico City’s inhabitants. Its historic museums, rustic restaurants and resort hotels make for an enthralling 24-hour trip.
Drive south of Mexico City for around 71km (44 miles) and you will find a very different atmosphere in Cuernavaca. For starters, the altitude is a full 750m (2,461ft) lower than the Mexican capital, the air is most certainly cleaner and there is a permanent sense of growth and greenery in the streets. The German polymath Alexander van Humboldt nicknamed it the “City of Eternal Spring”; quite an accolade from somebody who travelled extensively through the Americas.
Van Humboldt was just one of the many dignitaries, consuls, writers, emperors and expats who came to visit Cuernavaca. Today, more than ever, its proximity to Mexico City and the reliable good weather means that on weekends, tens of thousands of people head to Cuernavaca from the CDMX region. And many, including expats and artists, stayed on, making Cuernavaca their home.
Even Hernán Cortés, the man whose audacity and cruelty led to the downfall of the mighty Aztec Empire, came to settle in Cuernavaca after the fall of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. The imposing Palacio de Cortés (Francisco Leyva 100), his former abode, is a dour, slightly obnoxious building with a turreted roof and only a few, tiny windows in the facade, suggestive of one who lived in near-constant expectation of reprisals.
Things to Do
Today the Palacio de Cortés houses the Museo Regional Cuauhnáhuac, a very worthwhile stop on your itinerary, where you’ll find pre-Hispanic art such as the carved stone animals and the explanations (although only in Spanish) of what they represent in pre-Hispanic culture. Painted on the arcades of the building’s second floor are a series of murals by Diego Rivera called the ‘History of Morelos, Conquest and Revolution’, one of which depicts Emiliano Zapata, the revered Mexican Revolutionary.
Zapata’s legacy is strong in Cuernavaca and the surrounding state of Morelos, and it’s not the only time you’ll see his image. A few blocks away is the Jardín Borda (Av. Morelos 271), which you can reach by passing along Calle Miguel Hidalgo, named after the Mexican War of Independence hero. The gardens here are illustrative of the leafy, flower and fountain-filled spaces that made Cuernavaca so popular with visitors in the first place. Some of the buildings at Jardín Borda contain art galleries, where Zapata features high in the creative imagination.
Across the road from the high walls of Jardín Borda is UNESCO-listed Catedral de Cuernavaca (Miguel Hidalgo 17), with its Churrigueresque main altar. This is one of the oldest Spanish buildings in Mexico, started in 1529, a mere eight years after Cortés defeated the Aztecs. If you’re here on a Sunday, be sure to check out the mass, which incorporates a mariachi band.
The Robert Brady Museum (Netzahualcoyotl 4) is another major sight in Cuernavaca’s Centro Historico that can be slotted into a 24-hour trip. Brady (1928-86) was a wealthy American art collector who travelled the world, looking for pieces to add to his collection, which eventually found its way to his Cuernavaca home, a former monastery, where he lived for the last decades of his life. Today it is an endearing and fascinating museum showcasing much of that collection.
Where to Stay
When the rich and famous are drawn to a place for centuries, you can guarantee some opulent accommodation options are available there. The Hacienda de Cortés (Plaza Kennedy 90, Atlacomulco) is one such example in Cuernavaca. At this 4-star spa hotel, there are nods to its past as a large farm, with old moss-covered ruins, which contrast with the modern facilities such as the pool and sauna. Rooms are spacious with pleasant balconies. The hotel has its own bar and chic restaurant.
For a good value stay in the city centre of Cuernavaca, check out the pretty, blue Hotel Casa Frida (Calle Gutemberg 17). Located only a block away from the lively Zócalo and Palacio de Cortés, the rooms are simple and clean. There’s a roof terrace where guests can congregate and, as the name suggests, there’s a distinct Frida Kahlo theme to the artworks on display in the common areas. Rooms at the back and top floor of the building are generally quieter.
Eat & Drink
It’s not often that you will find an excellent vegan or vegetarian restaurant in Mexico, but Los Campesinos (Comonfort 3) is a true revelation. This centrally located restaurant is immensely popular for always having a variety of vegan options. The prices are improbably low and the setting is within a pretty old building with high ceilings. This place is particularly good for breakfasts and lunches. All breakfast plates come with fruit, bread and coffee or tea.
Another great value restaurant in the centre of Cuernavaca is Restaurante Bar Emiliano’s (Calle Lic. Ignacio L. Rayon 5-C) where many of the dishes come dripping is salsa or various other sauces. The chile en nogada, a house specialty here, consists of a poblano pepper stuffed with picadillo (a mix of fruit and shredded meat) and topped with a creamy walnut and cheese sauce, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. There’s a lovely, rustic interior here and it can get pretty busy on specials nights, such as pozole Thursdays.
Casa Hidalgo (Miguel Hidalgo 6) is the restaurant to check out for an upscale, fine dining experience in Cuernavaca. This traditional building is located right on the Zócalo, above the handicrafts market, and the creativity seeps into the Casa Hidalgo kitchen, with thoughtful twists on traditional dishes from across Mexico. Take, for example, the tacos de pato, a classic Sonoran taco filled with duck and raspberry sauce. There’s a huge selection of spirits such as tequila, and cocktails, but the house specialities are the martinis.
Of an evening, the pedestrianised Fray Bartolome de las Casas is the main street for bars. There’s hot competition for your custom, both via the overworked waiters and the absurdly low-priced drinks specials. At El Rincón Bohemio (Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas 4) you’ll find that drinks, including the cocktails, tend to arrive by the litre. Quantity over quality it may be, but the live music adds to the already buzzing atmosphere along this street. It’s best to plan how you’ll be getting back to your hotel in advance.