Monterrey is Mexico’s second or third largest city. (The statistics are constantly fluctuating between Monterrey and Guadalajara as to which city is bigger.) But, for it’s enormity and importance in Mexico, Monterrey doesn’t get much press. Of course, it isn’t a tourist trap. It doesn’t exude that “Mexican charm” that smaller towns farther south have. In general, people come to Monterrey to work–whether they’re Regios (someone from Monterrey) or visitors. But it’s an easy drive from the Texas border, and does have quite a few attractions. So what are some great things to do in Monterrey, Mexico?
Now, Regios, don’t jump down my throat when I say Monterrey doesn’t exude “Mexican charm.” Monterrey is 100% Mexican. It’s just not stereotypical. It’a a really big city. In lots of cases, it’s not “charming”. One has to take Monterrey on its own terms. When we do that, Monterrey has LOTS to offer!
This is just a very small sample of what Monterrey has to offer:
All cities in Mexico have a central plaza. Farther south in Mexico, they’re known as the zocalo. North of San Luis Potosi, they’re often called the Plaza de Armas. Whatever they’re called, they’ve almost always got an important government building on one side and and church on another side.
Monterrey’s central plaza is a little different, as it is freakishly huge. Better said, it’s not huge, so much as long. This plaza is so big, it’s called the Macroplaza. It’s a plaza worthy of the name. It easily takes 15 minutes to walk from one end to the other–if you’re walking at a brisk clip! I’ve always got little kids in tow, so we have to stop for ice cream halfway through.
Bordering the Macroplaza are plenty of those important government buildings, Monterrey’s cathedral, a conglomerate of three museums worth a visit at the north end, a street with plenty of shopping options on the southwest side of the Macroplaza, and Monterrey’s Museum of Modern Art.
If you’re looking for a well-located hotel in Monterrey, the Hotel Monterrey is right on the Macroplaza. The location couldn’t be better! If your plans mainly involve the downtown Monterrey area, all you’d have to do is park your car upon your arrival in Monterrey, and not get back in it until you’re ready to leave! (Truth be told, though, I have never stayed at this hotel, so I can’t vouch for anything about it other than it’s spectacular location.)
Paseo Santa Lucia
Inspired by San Antonio, Texas’s Riverwalk, the Paseo Santa Lucia connects the Macroplaza with Parque Fundidora–another place one could easily wander around for an entire day! The canal area has been revitalized with tour boats passing every few minutes, fountains bordering the sidewalks on either side of the canal, and green areas and restaurants lining the long path between the Macroplaza and Parque Fundidora.
A ride on the canal boat is a great idea. For one reason, it’s refreshing to be surrounded by a bit of water in sweltering Monterrey. For another, it’s a relief to sit down for awhile, particularly if you’ve just walked the length of the Macroplaza or toured the museums where the Macroplaza ends and the Paseo Santa Luca starts. And Reason Number Three: the walk from the Macroplaza to Parque Fundidora is really very long.
In fact, that may just be the best reason for a canal boat ride! That, and it’s a guided tour, so if your Spanish can keep up, you can learn a little bit about Monterrey, the canal area, and Parque Fundidora!
Parque Fundidora is a huge, centrally-located park in Monterrey. Monterrey’s claim to fame is it’s long industrial history, and Parque Fundidora was the site of a foundry. When the foundry was moved farther outside of town, the area was converted into a race track, and now it is this huge park, boasting a huge theater, convention center, lots of bike paths (and places to rent the bikes, if you don’t have your own), museums, and a Sesame Street amusement park.
If you’re interested in getting a real feel for the area, Horno 3 is a museum dedicated to explaining Monterrey’s foundry industry. Visitors tour what’s left of the foundry, riding elevators all the way to the top of the foundry, providing an incredible view of the park! (And improved knowledge of the steel industry, too.)
If you’re hungry while in Parque Fundidora, there aren’t many restaurant options. There are a number of snack bars, for those looking for nachos, pop, and chips. If you’re looking for a real meal–and a very good one at that–stay in Horno 3 and request a table at El Lingote. It’s on the pricier side, but it is delicious! I was a little nervous about taking my kids there, but they behaved themselves quite well. (If your kids can’t handle a sit-down dinner, it’s best to avoid El Lingote.)
If you’re looking for a hotel in Parque Fundidora, the Holiday Inn is a great one! I hate to recommend a huge, chain hotel, but it’s the only one physically in Parque Fundidora, and it is a nice place to stay. They’ve got a small, outdoor pool (which is surprisingly hard to find in hotels in Monterrey), tennis courts, and a restaurant with a huge and varied breakfast buffet. It’s also right be the entrance to the canal boats on the Parque Fundidora end. This one I have stayed at, and it’s excellent!
Monterrey is nestled in a valley, surrounded by some gorgeous, awe-inspiring mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriente. Just outside of Monterrey is Mexico’s largest National Park, Cumbres National Park.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Cumbres yet, so I can’t say much about it, other than I really want to go there!
However, I have been to Chipinque, and if you’re looking for a place to get outside, above the smog of Monterrey, this is a great place to visit!
It’s on the south side of Monterrey, and I was advised that there are two parking lots: one at the “bottom” near the entrance (even though it’s already pretty high up in elevation!) and another at the top. I was told to park at the top, as it’s less of a hike to get back to your car. It also has a playground with plenty of things for kids to climb on.
And, if you drive all the way to the top of Chipinque, that’s where you’ll find their hotel. If you need a nature retreat, but very close to Monterrey, this sounds like a good one! (Again I’ve never stayed here, but I’d love to, just to have a great reason to explore Chipinque for an entire weekend!)
Chipinque has hiking trails for all levels of hikers. However, the trails aren’t well marked. (I’m not sure they’re really marked at all.) From that top parking lot, we asked directions to one of the nearby, easy trails–we had my kids, plus my 70-to-80-year-old inlaws with us. We followed the directions, and cautiously went down the trail.
And down we went! It was steep, and was really a bad idea for mother-in-law who has a tendency to fall. We kept thinking, if this is the easy trail, what are the moderate ones like?
Miraculosly, we finally got to the bottom without the need to have any little, old ladies airlifted out of the park. When we sat down to catch our breath, we sat right under a sign that proclaimed that trail “moderate to advanced”.
Thanks for the warning, Chipinque!
But after that rest stop, we did find a trail that was legitimately easy: flat, with wide paths, and incredible views of Monterrey below us. After that, The Hubs and The Girl took the trail back up to the top, so they could get the car and pick us up, without the small children or senior citizens trying to hike that moderate/advanced trail back to the top!
For those who are advanced hikers with experience, it’s possible to climb to the very peaks. To do so, you have to register yourself with the park (possibly demonstrating that you, indeed, have advanced hiking skills, and so they know to look for you if you don’t come back after a day or two). There are also guided tours, and I believe tours for climbing with ropes–click here for more details for you advanced hikers!
My hiking skills aren’t that advanced, though, so let me know how it is!
For directions to Chipinque, click here, and scroll to the bottom of the page.
Presa La Boca
One of the things I miss the most about the US is the abundance of water. OK, there’s plenty of water in other parts of Mexico. But this is northern Mexico, and flowing water is rather scarce. So on our trip to Monterrey, I was determined to visit Presa La Boca, one of a series of reservoirs that supplies Monterrey with water.
To be honest, there isn’t much to Presa La Boca. People who have boats bring them out on weekends to go fishing. For those of us without boats, there is a floating restaurant on the lake, and there are people with boats who happily will rent out their boats for a tour of the lake. (We paid $350 for a 25-minute drive to the dam and back.)
Others also offered horse rides on the shore. However, the shore is also the parking lot, and it’s not terribly picturesque, so . . . make of it what you will! Some people were fishing from the shore and some brave kids were wading. However, neither the shoreline nor the water are terribly inviting, so we didn’t test the waters!
I simply wanted to drink a beer on a boat.
I got my wish!
Where is Presa La Boca?
It’s about 25 minutes outside of Monterrey, on the east side, just across the highway from the town of Santiago, a Pueblo Magico. As you’re passing through Los Cavazos on the highway (lots of random furniture stores on the highway, there are a few exits and signs for “embarcaderos”.) Warning: those signs are not very noticeable and the turns are pretty sharp!
Los 3 Museos
Right at the intersection of the Macroplaza with Paseo Santa Lucia are Los 3 Museos: the Museum of Mexican History, the Northeastern Museum, and the Government Palace Museum. For one low price ($40MXN for adults, $20MXN for children and seniors) visitors can enter all three museums.
We went to the Palace Museum 10 years ago, and there were no English translations, but this year, we finally checked out the Northeastern Museum and the Mexican History Museum, and this time around there were translations. Currently, the main exhibit at the Northeastern Museum is textiles, which is art, and therefore needs no translation!
As northern Mexico was never territory of the Aztecs or Mayans, and the cultures who lived here before the Spanish were nomadic, prehispanic culture in northern Mexico tends to get glossed over. However, the Museum of Mexican History does an excellent job of explaining prehispanic history, given the limited space it has to work with! They’ve got a computerized abacus explaining mayan numerals–makes adding and subtracting in Mayan a snap! And they’ve got an interactive Aztec calendar: the Aztec Calendar is made of two interlocking circles (not the same size), so it takes 52 years for the full cycle to repeat itself! (You can spin the calendar and see how it eventually cycles through.)
With its limited space, the Mexican History Museum gives visitors a solid understanding of the different eras that lead up to contemporary Mexico: prehispanic (given that this is the northeast, they do just lump ALL of prehispanic history together, even though there were various stages and cultures), the colonial period, independence, the young republic, the Reform era, Porfiriato, and the Revolution.
Despite the breadth of history that the museum tackles, one could easily get through the Mexican History Museum in an hour or two. (Longer, if you’re like me and have to read every single word.) But it–and the other museums–are well worth a visit!
Do you have any places that you love to visit in Monterrey? Let me know about it in the comment section below!
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